Top 5 Issues for 2016: Transportation
CSG Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Sean Slone outlines the top five issues in transportation policy for 2016, including federal funding uncertainty and underinvestment in infrastructure, transportation revenue options, tolling and public-private partnerships, and public transit challenges.
Federal Funding Uncertainty and Underinvestment in Infrastructure
As 2015 wound down, Congress gave states something they had asked for since 2009—long-term legislation to authorize and fund federal transportation programs. But while the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, will give states the greater certainty about federal transportation funding levels they haven’t had, which may give them greater confidence to authorize investment in long-term transportation projects, it mostly maintains
a status quo many say has been inadequate for many years. With no significant increases in funding, no new revenues identified to sustain the Highway Trust Fund long term and little in the way of transformational policy changes, the bill appears likely to challenge states anew to address their backlogs of deferred maintenance and delayed projects and to meet future needs.
States Explore Transportation Revenue Options
Eight states—Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah and Washington—raised their gas taxes in 2015. Two other states—Kentucky and North Carolina—made adjustments to their gas tax mechanisms to make revenues more reliable. Delaware meanwhile enacted legislation to raise several vehicle and license fees in order to fund road repair and maintenance. And states such as Maine and Texas approved ballot measures that will result
in more money going to transportation. In 2013, six states produced major transportation revenue packages. A large number of states could join the club in 2016, particularly if states that have come close to passing revenue-raising legislation or examined revenue options in recent years move forward.
Cloudy Future for Tolling and Public-Private Partnerships
It has been a transitional couple of years for public-private partnerships—also known as P3s—and tolling. Despite the successful closing of P3 deals on key projects in a handful of states, the flow of such deals remains erratic in the U.S. due to a variety of factors including: political turnover in governorships, a continuing P3 knowledge gap among state officials, the lack of uniformity among state P3 laws, the ballooning costs of some projects, and the increasing
complexity of P3 projects and processes. And while states such as Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wisconsin point to tolling as a possible solution to their transportation funding needs, anti-toll forces in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere have made their voices heard and prompted a reassessment of tolling on some projects.
Impacts of Technology and Trends on Planning and Policy
From the current insurance and regulatory concerns presented by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to the even more complex issues presented by the promise of driverless cars that communicate directly with the transportation infrastructure, state policymakers and planners will have their work cut out for them as they seek to stay one step ahead of technology, population growth, demographic shifts, increasing freight volumes, generational preferences and other factors that are reshaping the transportation landscape.
Fulfilling Transit’s Potential Despite Challenges
Public transit ridership was at an all-time high in 2014 with 10.8 billion trips taken in the U.S. Recognizing the value put on transportation choice by millennials and businesses alike, even car-centric states and cities are making investments in light rail, bus rapid transit, bike lanes and other upgrades and reaping the benefits of development around transit hubs that are building new communities and revitalizing old ones. But in some places, aging, deficient and deteriorating transit systems threaten to turn off riders and challenge the resources of policymakers to maintain a high level of service while keeping transit’s winning streak alive.
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