Transportation Planning

The 2012 election offered plenty to digest on the transportation front. From state and local ballot measures to the balance of power in Washington, here’s a rundown of what happened and where you can read more about what it all might mean for the nation’s transportation system.

James Bass is Chief Financial Officer of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). He will speak to members of the CSG Transportation Policy Task Force at the CSG National Conference in Austin on December 1, 2012 (see the task force agenda here and register for the conference here). I interviewed Bass for an article in the October 25th issue of the Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter. Below is an extended transcript of our conversation. He discusses federal transportation funding, the use of public-private partnerships and tolling in Texas, and the Lone Star State’s future transportation revenue needs.

A few items from the last few weeks provide a look at what states are learning about their future infrastructure needs, the harsh fiscal realities they face and how transportation priorities may need to change in the years ahead: The condition of roads in Texas is costing individual motorists as much as $2,000 a year, a new report says. Massachusetts transportation officials say they won’t build any more superhighways and are calling on people to travel by means other than the solo car trip. After the failure of this summer’s transportation sales tax referendum in Georgia, a think tank offers ideas for Plan B. Pennsylvania awaits word from its governor on how to move forward to address that state’s transportation needs. Minnesota officials expect the state’s roads to be in decline over the next two decades as transportation revenues remain flat. Connecticut gets an assessment of how its infrastructure capital program stacks up against other states. And Tennessee re-evaluates its lengthy transportation wish list.

Four reports out this week highlight the potential consequences of not investing in the nation’s infrastructure and how states can make better use of existing resources to improve transportation. Our friends at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) are out with the fourth installment in their “Failure to Act” series, which examines the economic cost of current infrastructure investment trends. The Bipartisan Policy Center and Eno Center for Transportation examine what a reduced federal investment could mean for transportation (and for state and local governments). A report from the Brookings Institution and Rockefeller Foundation outlines ways states can enhance the impact of state infrastructure banks and revolving funds for transportation. And best practices for state departments of transportation are the focus of a new report from Smart Growth America and the State Smart Transportation Initiative.

While MAP-21, the surface transportation authorization bill approved by Congress this summer, had numerous provisions (and a few notable omissions), observers say the legislation’s establishment of transportation performance measures is one of the key reforms with the potential to be truly transformative for the federal-aid highway program. National transportation goals will be emphasized and there will be important roles for state governments and metropolitan planning organizations in developing performance measures and targets. CSG has long been a supporter of state performance measurement initiatives through efforts like our States Perform website. That’s why we jumped at the chance to host an upcoming webinar for Cambridge Systematics that will help the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) design a performance reporting approach that policymakers at all levels will find useful.

A new report says Chicago could reduce congestion and increase mobility by building a $12 billion, 275-mile regional network of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes among other infrastructure projects. The report comes just as several HOT lane projects prepare to come online in other parts of the country, as some toll road projects suffer growing pains, and as new data shows all-electronic tolling may now cost less to collect than fuel taxes. Here are some updates on recent developments.

Ultimately the support of Georgia’s Republican governor, Atlanta’s Democratic mayor, and the local and state chambers of commerce wasn’t enough to convince Atlanta-area voters to vote for a one percent sales tax increase to fund a list of regionally chosen transportation projects. Neither were the Atlanta metro region’s notorious traffic congestion and less than comprehensive transit system. Nor the claims by public officials that there was no “plan B” or better option forthcoming for funding the region’s transportation needs. Instead, it was an unlikely alliance on the “No” side that was able to claim victory for sending the Atlanta region’s Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) down to defeat in Tuesday’s Georgia primary election.

The Council of State Governments hosted the 2012 CSG Transportation Policy Academy June 26-28 in Washington, DC just as Congressional negotiators were reaching final agreement on a new federal surface transportation bill. Eight state legislators from seven states and representing all four of CSG’s regions attended the academy. The group included five legislators who chair transportation committees in their respective states. The policy academy agenda included visits to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Department of Transportation, a bus tour of regional transportation construction projects hosted by the Virginia Department of Transportation and briefings on such topics as the state of the nation’s infrastructure, the importance of infrastructure investment to the economy, the future of the federal-state partnership in transportation and innovative transportation financing options for states including public-private partnerships and state infrastructure banks. Here are some highlights of remarks by policy academy briefers and links to resources where you can learn more.

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.

To the surprise of nearly no one, Congress on Thursday put a week of false starts, political brinksmanship and posturing behind them and approved a new 90-day extension of federal highway authority, the ninth such extension since the federal authorization legislation known as SAFETEA-LU officially “expired” in 2009. With the most recent six-month extension set to expire Saturday and facing a potential halt to highway spending and fuel tax collection as well as the loss of thousands of construction-related jobs, lawmakers reluctantly agreed to extend federal surface transportation programs through June 30th to give them more time to come to agreement on a longer-term measure. But while passage of the extension allows state transportation officials to exhale for the moment, there is plenty of evidence that another temporary extension simply serves to prolong the uncertainty for states and is already prompting many to rethink their transportation investments (and the associated jobs they bring) just as the all-important highway construction season gets underway.

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