States Consider New Transportation Revenues, Ponder Bridge Safety and Turn to Public-Private Partnerships & Tolling

A handful of states are still weighing transportation revenue options to meet infrastructure needs as the collapse of a bridge in Washington State continues to have reverberations around the country. I also have some updates on states pursuing public-private partnerships and expanded tolling and one more plug for an important conference on the subject that takes place later this month in New York City.

State Transportation Revenue Updates

  • Minnesota: A Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial argued state officials need to undertake a campaign between now and the next legislative session in February 2014 to push for a citizen and political consensus in support of transportation investment. The 2013 session produced little more than the status quo, the newspaper’s editorial board notes.
  • New Hampshire: A gas tax increase is the only option left on the table that could help the state plug a hole in the state’s highway fund, StateImpact New Hampshire reported this week. The House of Representatives recently approved a phased-in 12-cent-a-gallon increase. The House then shot down a plan preferred by some Senators to fund road repairs through revenues from a new casino. The gas tax increase is estimated to bring in $816 million over the next 10 years and would allow for the completion of I-93, the doubling of state aid for municipal bridge and highway repairs and full funding of the state’s 10-year transportation plan, state transportation officials say. The gas tax increase will likely be part of negotiations on a final state budget, which are expected to begin later this month.
  • Pennsylvania: A blog post from Jon Schmitz of the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette highlights a map being used by Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch to illustrate one consequence if lawmakers don’t act to approve additional transportation funding. It shows all the bridges in the state that will probably get weight restrictions in the next few years. An estimated 1,500 bridges could get the weight restrictions as soon as next year.  Senate Bill 1, the transportation funding bill, is likely to find overwhelming support in a Senate vote this week, Schmitz writes. It would increase the tax on gasoline wholesalers and raise vehicle fees and fines for traffic violations. But some House members are reportedly squeamish about adding $3 per week to the average motorist’s expenses. In addition, rural lawmakers have concerns with using the new revenues to subsidize mass transit in urban areas. Senators amended the bill this week to allow the transfer of $450 million a year to mass transit agencies from a vehicle sales tax in 2021 if another funding source isn’t found to replace expiring payments from Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls, according to the Associated Press. An editorial in the (Lehigh Valley, PA) Express-Times argued recently that both Pennsylvania and New Jersey can’t put off their transportation funding needs any longer.
  • Texas: Some members of the state Senate hope the 30-day special session that began last week will present an opportunity to address the state’s transportation funding shortfall, Aman Betheja of The Texas Tribune writes. During the regular session, which ended last month, lawmakers were only able to come up with $850 million more for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), with $450 million of that dedicated to counties impacted by energy development. TxDOT officials have said the agency needs an additional $4 billion annually ($3 billion to add capacity and $1 billion for repairing existing roads). The chairmen of the Senate Finance and Senate Transportation Committees are asking Gov. Rick Perry to consider adding to the special session agenda their plan to divert some revenue that currently goes into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the highway fund. 
  • Washington: Some state lawmakers think the Skagit River bridge collapse could be enough to sway some votes on a proposed $450 million transportation revenue package that will help fund a replacement for another span over the Columbia River, Tim Haeck of KIRO Radio reported. The package is being considered in a special legislative session. Senate Republicans oppose the new Columbia River bridge in part because it includes a light-rail component. The revenue package relies on a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase.

Bridge Safety

A few follow-ups to my blog post from last week on bridge safety and infrastructure investment:

  • Governing magazine’s Mike Maciag writes that a review of Federal Highway Administration data shows that bridges under local jurisdiction are more than twice as likely to be considered structurally deficient and that municipalities have even fewer resources than states to address bridge repairs.
  • Jerry Cornfield of The Everett (WA) Herald reports that Washington transportation officials could seek damages from the Canadian trucking company whose truck was carrying the oversized load that struck the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River if an NTSB probe of the incident finds negligence played a part. Washington state law allows the state to file a civil action to recoup money from a third party for damages to any state highway, bridge or transportation structure, Cornfield reported. The state can also seek money to cover the cost of installing cameras, signals and other changes to improve the flow of traffic on detour routes. If the NTSB determines that negligence did play a role, the state would first try to collect from the trucking company’s insurance provider and if that didn’t fully cover the damages, the state could make a claim against the company’s assets.
  • A Seattle Times editorial this week offered a list of common sense measures trucking companies and state transportation officials should pursue and enforce to mitigate the risks of another bridge collapse like the Skagit River one.
  • In an op-ed for U.S. News, Patrick Jones, CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association says the I-5 bridge collapse is a sign of what’s to come if the nation fails to address infrastructure needs and argues a more flexible approach to tolling may be needed to fund the necessary investments.
  • The Economist’s Babbage science and technology blog argues much the same thing this week.

Public-Private Partnerships & Tolling

  • Massachusetts: Martine Powers of The Boston Globe reported last month that the state’s transportation agency has now convened the first meeting of a commission that will help them more aggressively pursue partnerships with the private sector. The seven-member commission was mandated by a 2009 law that brought myriad transportation agencies under one umbrella. Some lawmakers criticized the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for the delay in getting the panel up and running.
  • North Carolina: TollroadsNews reported recently that the $600 million project to modernize 26 miles of I-77 north of Charlotte with HOT lanes received the approval of the regional plan agency, known as MUMPO. It’s likely to be the state’s first toll lanes project and the state DOT is seeking a 50-year toll concession under the state’s P3 law.
  • Virginia: The state’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3 for short) was recently recognized as an international leader in P3s when it received two awards at the 2013 Partnership Awards in London, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office reported last month. The office was recognized as “Best Central Government PPP Organization” and Deputy Director Dusty Holcombe was recognized with the “Best Individual Contribution Award.” "OTP3 was created to consolidate Virginia's P3 program under one roof and attract the expertise and innovation necessary to advance these critical projects," said Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton in a press release. "Working with our transportation agencies, but particularly VDOT and its leadership, OTP3 is advancing innovative solutions to some of Virginia's most complex and expensive transportation challenges."
  • The Fraser Institute has a new report just out on “Using Public-Private Partnerships to Improve Transportation Infrastructure in Canada.”
  • The European Association of Toll Operators, ASECAP, and the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association have signed a joint declaration proclaiming the benefits of tolling, it was reported last month. Among them: providing a sustainable source of funding, giving governments flexibility in the use of public funds, helping manage demand in congested areas and helping foster economic growth around the world. The declaration also notes that “tolling is fair and transparent for road users, since motorists only pay when they choose to use a specific piece of infrastructure.”
  • Virginia OTP3 Director Tony Kinn will be among the speakers later this month in New York City at the InfraAmericas U.S. P3 Infrastructure Forum 2013. CSG is a supporting organization for the conference, which brings federal, state and local transportation officials together with P3 industry executives from the private sector, U.S. pension plans and the capital markets. You can still register to attend on the organization’s website. You can also read my preview of this year’s meeting for the Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter and read my coverage of last year’s conference here in the Knowledge Center.  

Additional Reading