New Reports Focus on Port Infrastructure, Federal Transportation Investment, Infrastructure Banks, Best Practices for State DOTs

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.

  • The ASCE’s latest “Failure to Act” report looks at “The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Airports, Inland Waterways and Marine Ports Infrastructure.” The report finds that aging infrastructure and congestion at marine ports and airports and along inland waterways is making shipping more expensive and increasing the cost of goods. ASCE finds that an additional investment of $18.9 billion is needed at U.S. airports by 2020 to protect $54 billion in exports, $313 billion in GDP, 350,000 jobs and $361 billion in personal income. An additional investment of $15.8 billion between now and 2020 is needed on the nation’s inland waterways system to protect $270 billion in U.S. exports, $697 billion in GDP, 738,000 jobs, and $872 billion in personal income, according to the report. Costs attributable to airport congestion are predicted to rise from $24 billion in 2012 to $34 billion in 2020. Costs attributable to delays on the inland waterways system which were $33 billion in 2010 are expected to rise to nearly $49 billion by 2020, the report finds. “The greatest threats to the performance of the inland waterway system are the scheduled and unscheduled delays caused by insufficient funding for operation and maintenance needs of locks governing the traffic flow on the nation’s inland system,” the report says. Previous reports in the ASCE’s “Failure to Act” series focused on Surface Transportation, Water and Wastewater, and Electricity. ASCE’s Managing Director of Government Relations Brian Pallasch will be among the speakers at CSG’s 2012 National Conference in Austin, Texas later this fall. Brian, who has become a familiar face at CSG meetings in recent years (see here, here, and here) will discuss the “Failure to Act” series and provide a preview of ASCE’s next “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” scheduled for release next Spring. Brian will speak at the CSG Transportation Policy Task Force session scheduled for Saturday December 1st from 2:30 to 4:30pm. Registration for the National Conference is available here.
  • Another new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Eno Center for Transportation examines “The Consequences of Reduced Federal Transportation Investment.” The report notes that while the recent enactment of MAP-21, the new federal surface transportation authorization bill, “heralds the beginning of a reform process for federal transportation policy towards a more performance-based program,” it “does not resolve the long-term funding issues surrounding the federal program and instead uses additional general fund revenues to support the program over the next two years.” The report’s authors express the concern that “Congress could choose to resolve the funding issue by shrinking the size of the federal program.” Such cuts if not done in a thoughtful manner that carefully considers the federal role in transportation would be “potentially devastating” in terms of progress toward national transportation goals the Bipartisan Policy Center has previously identified (economic growth, national connectivity, metropolitan accessibility, energy security and environmental protection, and safety). “The most dramatic effects would be economic,” the report says. “In metropolitan areas especially, congestion would increase and transit service would decline. And adverse impacts in these regions would reverberate nationally because the same regions likely to be most affected account for a substantial percentage of national economic activity and growth.” In light of those findings, the report offers four recommendations for Congress: Expanding federal revenues while providing a framework for increased state and local investment; emphasizing additional programmatic reform if expenditures must be cut; including competitive grant programs as a part of programmatic reform; and ensuring metropolitan transportation plays a prominent role in federal legislation. On that last recommendation, the report notes that during the debate in Congress over MAP-21 this spring, House Republicans proposed eliminating dedicated funding for mass transit. “There is no reason we cannot adequately fund rural transportation needs while also supporting metropolitan transportation,” the report argues. “False distinctions between different transportation modes and between the interests of different regions should not be allowed to divide us and thwart progress toward the achievement of national goals.” Like ASCE’s Brian Pallasch, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Emil Frankel and Eno Center’s Joshua Schank were both among the panelists at the 2012 CSG Transportation Policy Academy in June.
  • “Banking on Infrastructure: Enhancing State Revolving Funds for Transportation” is a new report from the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation. The report notes that over the last two decades, innovative finance mechanisms, credit programs and revolving loan funds have become part of the equation for state governments trying to meet infrastructure investment needs in the face of dwindling available funds. But Brookings’ Robert Puentes and Jennifer Thompson of Parsons Brinkerhoff write that although state infrastructure banks (SIBs) have provided billions in financing for more than 1,000 projects since their establishment in the 1990s, that activity has been highly concentrated in just a few states. Moreover, many SIBs are underutilized or currently inactive. The report recommends that states should: “align federal and state roles and responsibilities to streamline project delivery and ensure loan capacity is fully utilized; ensure the long-term sustainability of revolving infrastructure funds by leveraging capitalization and reach a broader range of sponsors and projects; and develop partnerships with local public and private actors so projects have high economic, environmental, or social effects.” The report includes charts highlighting which states have various types of infrastructure revolving funds, the sources of state capitalization for these funds, and the revolving fund/SIB activity (in number of agreements and monetary value) for all states since 1995. Case studies from South Carolina, California, Florida, Virginia, Kansas and Georgia are also highlighted. For additional reading on the subject of state infrastructure banks, check out our 2011 Capitol Research brief. Also of note is this PowerPoint presentation by SIB expert and George Mason University professor Jonathan Gifford at the 2012 CSG Transportation Policy Academy.
  • What can state departments of transportation learn from each other about effective decision making, prioritizing solutions and collaboration between state agencies and local partners? Some potential answers to that question are on offer in “The Innovative DOT: A handbook of policy and practice,” a new report from Smart Growth America and the State Smart Transportation Initiative (an organization whose membership includes 19 state DOTs). The handbook cites several keys to success among state DOTs that have successfully charted a new course for transportation. They include: creating a collaborative atmosphere and culture; including stakeholders and partners beyond the agency; breaking down silos between DOT administrations and across agencies; understanding how decisions are made within the agency; and prioritizing solutions for reform. The hefty 214-page handbook addresses common challenges faced by state DOTs, highlights numerous policy and practice solutions, details strategies for implementation, and relates case studies across eight focus areas, including: finding new sources of dedicated revenues; revenue allocation and project selection; employing appropriate pricing strategies to raise revenues and manage transportation demand; increasing transportation system efficiency; improving options for mobility and access; providing efficient, safe freight access; integrating transportation and land use decision making; and improving DOT processes.