Public Transportation

Policymakers in Washington are saying all the right things about a federal transportation reauthorization bill. They hope to finally tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal surface transportation programs in the next few months after a year and a half of delays and a series of temporary extensions to the previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU. They are optimistic despite no agreement on a plan to fund those programs and widespread acknowledgment that any program based on existing revenues is unlikely to move the nation’s transportation system forward in a meaningful way.

CSG this week issues a new brief in our Capitol Research series entitled “Transit-Oriented Development.” Using the possibility of development around future high-speed rail stations as a jumping off point, it examines the policy options available to states to try to shape how that development occurs. While high-speed rail has suffered a number of political setbacks in recent months, it remains on track in some parts of the country. But regardless of whether high-speed rail is coming to your state any time soon, there is a great deal of useful information in the brief about the role states can play in shaping the kinds of communities Americans say they want and that best serve our citizens, the environment and the economy. I encourage you to read the brief, which examines the benefits of transit-oriented development, the role of state governments in encouraging it, and the experiences of California and many other states in adopting related policies. If the brief piques your interest, there is an abundance of other worthwhile reading I can point you toward as well.

While not a new concept in the public policy lexicon, transit-oriented development is receiving renewed attention as some states and communities ponder a future that may include high-speed rail. States have a vested interest in ensuring that huge investments in rail and transit systems pay off not only in improving transportation but also in creating economic development and helping to bring about healthier, more environmentally friendly and sustainable communities around transit stations. Fortunately, a number of states already have years of experience in using public policy to shape how this development takes place.

Perhaps lost somewhere this week between news of President Obama’s budget and transportation plan and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of high-speed rail in his state is the fact that today, February 17th, marks the two-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, which provided $48.1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects around the country, has received plenty of criticism for not doing enough to revive the economy but also won praise from state governments who saw the infrastructure funds as a godsend during what was otherwise a period of slashed transportation budgets. And, as I reported in a CSG National Report last year, some states themselves won a fair amount of praise for their efforts to meet deadlines, select worthy projects and report on their activities. While the one year anniversary of ARRA in 2010 produced a flood of reports looking at the legislation’s impact, I could find only a handful commemorating this anniversary.

Transportation figured prominently in President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal released this week. The proposal included the outlines of a $556 billion, six-year transportation plan. While some praised the plan for “bold vision,” others believe the lack of agreement on a revenue source to pay for it all and other factors will make it very difficult to achieve that vision.

I’ve written a fair amount over the last year or so about the intersection of transportation and the environment in public policy, about Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth, about Climate Change and Transportation and about Green Transportation. Several new reports on related issues have come across my desk in recent weeks. Here’s a rundown.

Rural highways provide many benefits to the nation's transportation system. But rural areas face numerous transportation challenges including a looming highway capacity crisis. Their challenges are similar to those experienced by urban areas but different enough that they need to be carefully considered as officials in Washington debate a new long-term authorization of federal transportation programs. This brief examines some issues those officials should take into account regarding rural road capacity, congestion, road safety, connectivity and mobility and public transit. It also examines how policies addressing livability and transportation funding may impact rural communities.

As Congress and state legislatures convene this month, the debate over how to fund transportation in this country resumes. Stoking the fire this week is a U.S. House of Representatives rules change that could result in reduced federal transportation spending and a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that assesses the claim by highway advocates that roads “pay for themselves” with gas taxes and other charges to motorists.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

Ridership is on the rise on many passenger rail routes in the Midwest, as is federal support for strengthening the region's passenger rail system. But some newly elected governors opposed new state investments in rail.

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