Thanksgiving Week 2012 Transportation Policy Reading List

Before I depart for the long holiday weekend, I thought I would pass along some transportation policy-related links you might want to peruse in between turkey sandwiches, Black Friday sales and endless football over the coming days. There are items below about some potential new transportation leaders in Washington, a starter list of states that might address transportation revenue needs next year, and more.

New Transportation Leaders in Washington

  • Speculation is rampant about who could replace U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood if he were to step down in the coming months. Ryan Holeywell at Governing magazine offered up a fairly comprehensive list of likely contenders for the post in an article last week. A number of them have state government credentials including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary (and former Maryland Transportation Secretary) John Porcari, Orange County (CA) Transportation Authority head Will Kempton (who was once director of Caltrans), current North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves (now president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations), and the soon to retire Executive Director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, John Horsley.
  • AASHTO, by the way, announced this week that former FHWA official Frederick “Bud” Wright will succeed Horsley next year. In addition, the organization’s board this week elected top transportation officials from Rhode Island and Kentucky to their President and Vice President slots for 2013.  
  • Stephen Smith writes in an opinion piece for Bloomberg that if LaHood departs, President Obama “has to nominate a transportation secretary who cares as much about reform and good engineering as securing funding and undertaking flashy projects. A focus on efficiency over spending should please House Republicans, whose support the administration will need if it ever hopes to increase federal transit funding.”
  • The man who hopes to become the next chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is profiled in The (LeHigh Valley, Pennsylvania) Morning Call newspaper. Congressman Bill Shuster would face a very different world from the one faced by his father Bud, who once chaired the panel. Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog Capitol Hill looked at where Shuster comes down on a number of transportation policy issues and how he would lead the panel in a two-part series last week (see here and here).
  • National Journal’s Transportation Experts Blog got a diversity of opinions when it asked recently whether a federal gas tax increase might be back on the table in President Obama’s second term.

Condition of U.S. Infrastructure

  • Washington state Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond pens an op-ed for The Seattle Times this week in which she argues that “if there is one ‘great big thing’ that is needed now, more than ever, it is to maintain and preserve the (transportation) system we have … Unfortunately, our ability to preserve and maintain our assets is in serious danger. Projected increases in population and freight movement, coupled with flat or declining transportation revenues, are placing a tremendous strain on the state’s ability to maintain and preserve our transportation system.” Hammond writes that the state is about $375 million a year short of the revenues needed to maintain current systems. Her department has turned to a three-part strategy called Moving Washington to guide its budgeting and investment decisions. “First, we look for ways to make a corridor operate more efficiently, perhaps using ramp meters, active traffic management technology and incident-response teams. We also search for ways to manage the demand through the use, for example, of express toll-lane corridors, improved traveler information or public transportation alternatives. Finally, we strategically add capacity in a prudent way that provides the right solution, at the right time and in the right place—no more, no less.”

State Transportation Funding

If recent news articles are any indication, 2013 could be a big year for states seeking new revenues to fund transportation. I’ll have a more complete list of “States to Watch” in the weeks ahead but here are a few to ponder:

  • Indiana: Perhaps taking a cue from a largely unsuccessful effort in Georgia this summer, Hoosier lawmakers could ask different regions of the state to decide in a referendum whether to authorize local income tax increases, which could be used to expand bus service and fund rail rapid transit in Indianapolis, The Indianapolis Star reported.
  • Massachusetts: Gov. Deval Patrick (D) appears poised to ask lawmakers to solve the commonwealth’s transportation shortfalls with a plan that could include raising the gas tax, tolls or other taxes and fees, The Boston Globe reports.
  • Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Corbett (R) appears set to unveil his long-awaited transportation funding plan in 2013. No specifics yet but a Corbett administration spokesman said the work of the governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission would be “helpful.” That panel, which completed its work in 2011, recommended lifting a cap on the state’s wholesale gasoline tax and increasing motor vehicle registration and licensing fees. State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R) is also putting together his own package of bills to try to raise the revenues to complete $2.5 billion in needed road and bridge repairs in the state, The Morning Call reported.
  • Virginia: Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is reportedly working on a transportation funding plan for consideration by the General Assembly next year that could include indexing the gas tax to inflation. The governor’s plan could have competition as well. State Sen. John Watkins (R) recently announced his own transportation funding proposal that would apply the sales tax to gasoline, eliminate several tax exemptions and lower some income tax brackets. The legislature could consider several other proposals in 2013 to address declining transportation revenues and increasing infrastructure needs, The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star reported.
  • Wisconsin: The Transportation Finance and Policy Commission will make revenue recommendations to Gov. Scott Walker in January. Among the ideas under consideration, according to a recent article in The Janesville Gazette: a five cent gas tax increase, raising the $75 annual vehicle registration fee, eliminating the sales tax exemption for trade-in vehicles, creating regional transportation authorities with new taxing powers, and (eventually) collecting a new miles driven fee.

Tolling and Congestion Pricing

  • Express toll lanes in Los Angeles and Northern Virginia are up and running. The Los Angeles Times reported recently on how the 110 Freeway’s conversion of carpool lanes to express toll lanes marks a significant change for the area and heralds an influx of other toll road projects. U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood wrote about Northern Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington in a blog post last week. A number of traffic accidents in the first 72 hours of operation of the 495 Express Lanes prompted some changes to give drivers more time to choose, Tollroads News reported.
  • Texas’ new high-speed toll road, State Highway 130, saw its first fatality recently, The San Antonio Express-News reported. Attendees at the CSG National Conference in Austin will get a chance to see the road firsthand next week.
  • The Transportation Research Center at the University of Florida issued a report this summer assessing the concept of “Nonlinear Road Pricing,” which allows usage fees to be charged based on the distance traveled inside tolling areas that are not necessarily connected, adjacent or contiguous.
  • The Transportation Research Board’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program issued a two-part series of reports earlier this year on “Assessing Highway Tolling and Pricing Options and Impacts.” Volume 1 describes efforts to develop a decision-making framework to assess pricing options and forecast their impacts on travel behavior and congestion. Volume 2 provides a survey of travel demand forecasting tools.

New Reports