Report: $200B Needed Annually for Infrastructure; Future of the Federal Gas Tax; Kentucky’s 1st Diverging Diamond Interchange

A new report from the bipartisan Building America’s Future Educational Fund says the United States needs to invest at least $200 billion a year in infrastructure, including transportation, energy, water and broadband internet. But that could be difficult, especially if some who want to get rid of the federal gas tax get their way. Also this week: Kentucky follows in Missouri’s footsteps in installing a new traffic interchange designed to decrease congestion and crashes in less time and for less money than other kinds of interchanges. Plus, items of note on tolling, public-private partnerships, mileage-based user fees in Europe and bridge work in Massachusetts and Missouri.

Falling Apart and Falling Behind

The Building America’s Future report, entitled “Falling Apart and Falling Behind,” makes the case for strategic investment in infrastructure to allow America to stay competitive in the 21st century economy. Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Developing a national infrastructure strategy for the next decade that makes choices based on economics, not politics. The organization believes an investment of $200 billion  a year will create nearly 5 million jobs over the next decade. That would be nearly half the 12.5 million jobs needed to revive the American economy, the report says.
  • Passing a six-year transportation bill updated to compete in the 21st century global economy. The organization believes the new bill needs to set clear priorities and make hard choices based on increasing economic return and mobility, while reducing congestion and pollution. Maintenance of the crumbling transportation network, freight rail and public transit should be the focus of investment, along with high-speed rail in key corridors and a next generation aviation system, the report says.
  • Being both innovative and realistic about how to pay. The organization recommends creating a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage private dollars and invest in the best big projects. Raising the federal gas tax and indexing it to inflation should be considered once the economy improves, the report says. Long-term revenue-generating options such as congestion pricing and mileage-based user fees also need to be looked at.
  • Promoting accountability and innovation. The organization believes Washington needs to set clear criteria for all funding, encourage state and local innovation through competitive grants, streamline the project delivery process, and carefully audit projects to ensure they’re completed on time, on budget and yield promised results.

Building America’s Future is chaired by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rendell and Mesa, Arizona Mayor Scott Smith (who is Vice Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors) have an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal this week that highlights the report and outlines what’s at stake for America.

“The government’s continued neglect of infrastructure will consign our nation and our children to economic decline,” they write.

The Infrastructurist blog and Streetsblog Capitol Hill both have commentary on the Building America’s Future report.

End of the Federal Gas Tax?

There is more this week on what is shaping up to be a battle over renewing the federal gas tax, all but four cents of which is due to expire at the end of next month (along with the latest extension of SAFETEA-LU). Platts News Service and Streetsblog Capitol Hill report that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform plans to ask members of Congress to look at either ending the tax “cold turkey or phasing it out as soon as possible and allowing states to simply go raise their own taxes, rather than send the money to Washington and get it back with strings.”

But, as Politico reported last week, even some small government conservatives and libertarians believe the tax will ultimately have to be renewed and that the cold turkey approach would be “chaotic.” Streetsblog’s article on the subject ponders the potential impact for states: “Asking states to take on more of the burden for raising transportation revenues might assuage some small-government types, but asking a bunch of cash-strapped states to take this on in the middle of a recession is rough stuff. And it’ll just turn states into the next battleground for tax foes,” Streetsblog’s Tanya Snyder writes. The Hill newspaper also reported on the story this week.

Kentucky About to Get Its First Diverging Diamond Interchange

Regular readers of this blog may recall back in the spring when I wrote about how a major artery in my hometown (and home of CSG headquarters) Lexington, Kentucky is getting the state’s first diverging diamond or double crossover diamond interchange. That’s a type of interchange that eliminates left turns that require drivers to cross in front of oncoming traffic. Motorists instead cross over to drive on the left side of the road when turning left. The reconfigured interchange is being installed at the intersection of Harrodsburg Road (one of the city’s major North-South arteries traveled by more than 35,000 vehicles a day) and New Circle Road (one of the city’s two major beltways).

Well come Monday, just five months after the project was announced, the new traffic pattern will be in place. The intersection is being shut down this weekend to make the changeover (The Lexington Herald-Leader reports today on the road closure and impact of the construction on area businesses). The new diamond interchange is expected to improve traffic flow and safety. In deciding to use the diamond configuration, Lexington is following the lead of Springfield, Missouri, where the first such interchange in the country was built in 2009. That project at the intersection of Interstate 44 and Missouri 13 was named last month as a Public Works Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association (The Springfield News-Leader has more on the award). More than 30 state highway departments have reportedly inquired with Missouri transportation officials about the diamond interchange. In addition to their benefits to congestion relief and accident prevention, the interchanges can be built in less time and often at 1/3rd the cost of other types of intersections since they make use of existing infrastructure rather than requiring complete reconstruction. I’ll let you know how Lexington’s experience with the diamond goes…

Other News of Note

  • Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad last week outlined Gov. Rick Scott’s transportation plan, which calls for speeding up work on $1 billion worth of road projects to take advantage of currently low construction costs and relying more on tolls to help pay for them. There is more about the plan from the Associated Press, Orlando Sentinel and Tollroads News.
  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has proposed a series of toll hikes on bridges and tunnels that are putting pressure on the governors of both states the agency serves, Dan Vock of Stateline reports. Tollroads News has more on the toll hike plan here and here. The Transportation Nation blog weighs in with “Anatomy of a Toll Hike Proposal.”
  • An ambitious effort in Massachusetts to complete the replacement of 14 structurally deficient bridges on Interstate 93 in Medford by the end of the summer is on schedule, CommonWealth magazine reports.
  • A program to fix or replace 802 of the worst bridges in Missouri is more than a year ahead of schedule and will probably be completed by the end of next year, the Associated Press reports. The Missouri Department of Transportation opened the 500th bridge completed under the program this week.
  • The New York Times reported this week on experiments in Europe with mileage-based user fees.
  • An Appeals Court in San Francisco published a decision this week that Phase 2 of the Presidio Parkway project can move forward as a public-private partnership. The project is the first to reach award under California’s 2009 P3 statute. Golden Link Partners, a consortium led by Hochtief PPP Solutions North America and Meridiam Infrastructure North America, won the contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the project for 30 years. The new parkway will replace San Francisco’s Doyle Drive and provide new direct access to the Presidio. There is more about the project in this PowerPoint presentation and more about the Appeals Court decision here.
  • Ohio officials this week issued a request for consultants to help decide if the Ohio Turnpike can be leveraged to generate new revenue for the state, The Toledo Blade reported. An August 24 deadline has been set for receiving consultant letters of interest.