Public Transportation

While 2013 has been a big year for states considering and approving new transportation revenues, there are signs that a number of states are still struggling to figure out how to pay for maintaining their infrastructure. There’s a plan in Texas to convert some drilling-affected roads to gravel. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has started posting weight restrictions on some of its bridges. I also have a number of other recent items below to catch you up on the last couple of weeks and provide plenty of reading material through the long holiday weekend.

State legislators attending this July’s CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon also had the opportunity to see some of the city as part of a tour organized by First Stop Portland, a Portland State University-housed organization that develops urban sustainability study programs for visiting delegations. Academy participants attended a luncheon at the Mirabella high rise retirement community where they heard remarks from local transportation officials and others. They also toured the transit-oriented South Waterfront, rode the Portland Aerial Tram and Portland Streetcar, saw a bridge currently under construction as part of the Portland-Milwaukie light rail extension that will serve the area and visited the construction site for a new academic campus for Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), one of the area’s largest employers.

The final morning of CSG’s Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon featured a transportation policy roundtable, which included a presentation on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Greg DiLoreto is the 2013 President of ASCE and since 1999 has served as General Manager and CEO for the second largest water utility in Oregon, the Tualatin Valley Water District, which serves over 200,000 in the west Portland metro area. He told policy academy attendees the infrastructure grades in the new report card aren’t acceptable and America is paying a heavy price.

The opening dinner of CSG’s Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon included remarks by Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., professor in the School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University and Director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium. She introduced the group to the city of Portland and its unique approach to transportation and land use planning in a presentation entitled “Toward Sustainable Urban Mobility: Insights from Portland’s Journey.”

We may have overlooked a key demographic shift as we stumbled into the 21st century. At some point in the prior decade, poverty in the suburbs began to grow at a faster rate than poverty in central cities. The number of suburban poor grew by 64 percent between 2000 and 2011; that’s more than double the rate for cities. This new, dispersed poverty offers some fresh challenges for policy makers. Being away from the bustle of the city was always the point of suburban living but this creates a unique transportation barrier as the poor are now  farther away from their jobs and traditional programs which serve them.

Partially in response to a 2009 crash on the Washington, DC Metro system, which killed nine, Congress made safety an underlying concern of federal transit policy. This tragedy, combined with the knowledge that while fatality rates have fallen in other modes, rates incurred from transit have stagnated, became a call for action for the federal government to not only better oversee the safety of America’s transit system but also to fundamentally change the way the transit sector considers safety.

A gas tax increase in Minnesota appears dead for this session. A plan to index Louisiana’s gas tax to inflation failed to win votes this week. And transportation funding plans are moving forward in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania but face political challenges ahead. Here’s the latest roundup of what’s going on around the country as states seek solutions to meeting their transportation needs.

With the days of 2012 dwindling to a precious few, it’s time to look ahead to 2013 and what could be on the horizon for states seeking funding solutions to their infrastructure needs. Could 2013 be the year states move to increase their gas taxes or fees or enact other revenue raising measures? A number appear poised to do so. But, it should be said, that appeared to be the case at the beginning of this year too (see my not very prescient January blog posts here and here). Nevertheless, there is certainly a lot of transportation talk in state capitals in advance of 2013 legislative sessions. So, with no risk of damaging my already abysmal record of prognostication, here’s my list of states it might be worth keeping an eye on next year.

I’m about to head to Austin for the CSG National Conference, where our Transportation Policy Task Force will convene Saturday to hear transportation experts discuss the state of the nation’s infrastructure, the implementation of the federal surface transportation bill known as MAP-21 and the latest research going on around the country on a possible replacement for the gas tax. Before I hit the road, here are a few recent items on transportation funding issues states are grappling with in advance of their 2013 legislative sessions. Gas tax increases, public-private partnerships, TIFIA loans, tolling and mileage-based fees are all getting a look. I also have follow up items on ballot measures considered this year and how the new chairman of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee might wield the gavel.

Before I depart for the long holiday weekend, I thought I would pass along some transportation policy-related links you might want to peruse in between turkey sandwiches, Black Friday sales and endless football over the coming days. There are items below about some potential new transportation leaders in Washington, a starter list of states that might address transportation revenue needs next year, and more.

Pages