Preview: Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting Features Sessions on Funding, Transparency, Livability and Freight

Next week, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies Annual Meeting, which brings together thousands of transportation professionals from some 70 countries to discuss all things transportation-related. With as many as 100 sessions going on simultaneously at any one time in three huge conference hotels, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. As I’ve learned from attending the meeting in 2009 and 2010, it helps to map out a plan in advance. Here’s a look at my tentative schedule of sessions and events along with some suggested further reading for those who may be interested. You’ll be able to follow me on Twitter (@CSGTransport) and here on the blog starting Sunday.

Sunday, January 23

The conference gets underway with a couple of interesting workshops on Sunday. First up, it’s a session entitled “Transportation Demand Management: Familiar Roles and New Opportunities for State Agencies.” The session will look at the experience of state departments of transportation and other state agencies in implementing transportation demand management.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute Transportation Demand Management or TDM (also called Mobility Management) refers to “various strategies that change travel behavior (how, when and where people travel) in order to increase transport system efficiency and achieve specific planning objectives. TDM is increasingly used to address a variety of problems.”

Sunday’s workshop will examine how states are applying TDM to address such issues as senior and rural mobility, livability, energy sustainability and climate change and explore opportunities for future state involvement in TDM.

The day’s second workshop is called “With or Without the Federal Program: Forging Ahead with State and Local Funding.” It will focus on various funding plans and options states and localities are implementing to move projects forward in the absence of federal reauthorization. Panelists will also discuss communication messages and tools that can be used to make the case for greater state and local transportation funding. We have lots of stuff here on the Knowledge Center on those issues, including our 2009 national report “Transportation and Infrastructure Finance.”

Monday, January 24th

The first session on Monday ponders the question “How Can We Make America More Competitive in World Trade?” Officials from the Departments of Commerce and Transportation will discuss how they’re working together and with stakeholders to improve U.S. competitiveness, facilitate domestic goods movement, and meet America’s export goals.

Then, it’s a session on the “History and Future of the Highway Trust Fund.” Panelists including Jack Basso of AASHTO and former Deputy Transportation Secretary Mortimer Downey will discuss how the Highway Trust Fund has been used to finance Federal highway and transit programs since 1956 and how it might evolve given significant funding needs and dwindling resources. Also on the panel is Kathy Ruffalo-Farnsworth, who served on the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and who spoke at our spring meeting in 2008. Representatives of the Bipartisan Policy Center will speak as well as one of the organizers of a conference that produced a report last year called “Well Within Reach – America’s New Transportation Agenda.” Last October I blogged about that report, which was overseen by two former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation.

Later on Monday, I plan to attend a session on how transportation agencies are planning and designing transportation facilities to be resilient and adaptable to the potential future impacts of climate change. I’ve written before about that issue as well, most notably in a Trends in America brief last year.

Tuesday, January 25th

Tuesday morning, I may end up splitting my time between two worthwhile early sessions. One focuses on lessons learned from the Recovery Act with regards to state transparency and accountability initiatives and how those lessons may be applied to the next federal authorization, which is expected to be more performance-based. While a labor-intensive process, this level of reporting by states is believed to contribute to timely delivery of projects and improved agency relationships. Chapter 3 of my 2010 national report “Shovel-Ready or Not: State Stimulus Successes on the Road to Recovery” focused on these issues in some depth. Among the panelists Tuesday is Daniela Bremmer of the Washington State Department of Transportation, who served on a transportation working group that advised CSG’s State Comparative Performance Measurement Project in partnership with the Urban Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

At the same time (fortunately just around the corner) is a session on recent research regarding Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fees. Researchers from the University of Iowa, University of Maryland and Portland State University will be on hand to review the potential implications of replacing federal fuel taxes with per-mile user charges at the federal and state levels including the cost of converting to such a system. I wrote about VMT in a Trends in America brief last year.

Following that juggling act, I plan to catch a session with researchers giving their perspectives on “Transportation Systems for Livable Communities.” I’ve written extensively on livability and sustainability issues including in a 2009 Trends in America brief.

Later Tuesday is a session focused on the need for more sustainable transportation infrastructure including new kinds of pavement and “greener” roads. I’ll have more on this in a brief later this year, continuing the “Green Transportation” series we began in 2010.

The day wraps up with what may be one of the more anticipated sessions of the meeting. Members of the U.S. Department of Transportation leadership team will discuss the future direction of federal transportation programs and the shaping of the next authorization bill. Among those expected to speak are Deputy Secretary John Porcari, Undersecretary for Policy Roy Kienitz and the head of the Federal Highway Administration Victor Mendez, who once served on our CSG Transportation Policy Task Force, helping to draft our 2008 policy resolution on authorization.

Wednesday, January 26th

Wednesday gets underway with a session called “Moving Surface Transportation Funding Forward: Implications for Highway Freight.” Speakers will debate the merits of increasing the fuel tax, expanding tolling and implementing other fees to fund transportation and the potential impact on the freight industry. Speakers will include Dr. Adrian Moore of the Reason Foundation, who served on the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and who spoke at our CSG annual meeting in 2008 in Omaha. You can read more about freight issues in our Capitol Research brief “Green Freight Transportation” and in a November 2010 blog post.

Next up is a session called “Grabbing the "TIGER" by the Tail - Experiences and Future Outlook.” The session will focus on the Recovery Act-funded TIGER program (the acronym stands for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery), which awarded grants on a competitive basis for capital investments in transportation projects that were expected to have a significant impact on the nation, a community or a region. U.S. Department of Transportation Officials and Congressional staffers are expected to take part in the discussion. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is also scheduled to make remarks. They’ll talk about experiences with the program to date and the future outlook for the TIGER program. That outlook was one of the topics in another of my blog posts earlier this week.

The single largest gathering of the TRB Annual Meeting takes place at Noon on Wednesday. The Chairman’s Luncheon is where new Executive Committee members and officers are introduced and the TRB’s most prestigious awards are presented. Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar will be presented with the George S. Bartlett Award for his decades of work to improve transportation safety and efficiency and for his championship of increased investment in infrastructure. The Chairman’s Luncheon will also feature remarks by Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Last year, I blogged about NTSB’s update on how states are doing in implementing their recommended transportation safety improvements.

Wednesday afternoon concludes with a panel featuring the deputy administrators of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s modal administrations (Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, etc.). They’ll discuss their priorities, programs and progress made over the last two years.

And that will about wrap up another TRB Annual Meeting. I invite you to follow along on Twitter (@CSGTransport) and here on the blog starting Sunday.