Smart Growth

As they age, seniors face many transportation challenges. There are numerous ways state governments can help meet these challenges both for seniors who are still behind the wheel and for those who are no longer able to drive. They include policies to make road and pedestrian infrastructure safer, improve access to public transportation and better coordinate limited transportation resources.

Even as programs that fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure such as Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets and Transportation Enhancements have been targeted for elimination at the federal level, states and localities are demonstrating a continued commitment to them, reflecting the public's desire to have transportation options, leisure opportunities and communities that are healthier and safer. But the infrastructure needs are great, the funding is insufficient and projects are being increasingly scrutinized. 

This week, President Obama banks again on infrastructure investment to stimulate the nation’s economy. Also, a key Senate committee approves a four-month extension of surface transportation programs as a House Appropriations subcommittee passes a 2012 transportation budget that cuts overall spending and Administration-favored programs. There are also items this week on congestion reduction, sprawl and smart growth.

State transportation officials this week called on Congress to take action by September 30th to extend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that funds federal highway and transit programs and to pass a long-term reauthorization of those programs. I also have items this week on the future of infrastructure finance, tolling, public transit, Smart Growth, a model for regional freight plans, Seattle’s new Big Dig and possible restructuring for the South Carolina Department of Transportation following a recent fiscal crisis.

It appeared to be a promising development last week when Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus and Republican Sens. James Inhofe and David Vitter released a joint statement citing “great progress” and “common ground” on a new transportation authorization bill. But there is already significant skepticism that Boxer and her colleagues can deliver a promised six-year bill that would allow state and local leaders around the country to fund long-term transportation projects going forward. And as usual, there is no shortage of opinions on how changes in federal and state policy might help the nation better address its infrastructure needs.

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.

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.

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.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced a government partnership called the Sustainable Communities Initiative. But states and localities have for years led in trying to make communities more sustainable by instilling the principles of Smart Growth.

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