Transportation Policy Academy 2014 – DC – Part 3: Transportation Policy Roundtable

Day two of the 2014 CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, DC began with a morning-long policy roundtable featuring transportation stakeholders, experts, analysts and advocates. The group included speakers from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Trucking Associations, the Center for American Progress, the Heritage Foundation, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Transportation for America. Topics include the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, states and the future of transportation funding, mileage-based user fees, a proposal to eliminate much of the federal gas tax and give states much of the responsibility for raising transportation revenues and making investment decisions, and the future of the federal-state-local partnership in transportation. This page includes excerpts of remarks by speakers and attendees, photos, PowerPoint presentations and additional resources and links from the event.

2014 CSG Transportation Policy Academy

Transportation Policy Roundtable

Washington, DC

September 16, 2014


  • Kevin DeGood, Director of Infrastructure Policy, Center for American Progress
  • Emil Frankel, Visiting Scholar, Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Emily Goff, Policy Analyst, Heritage Foundation
  • Janet Kavinoky, Executive Director, Transportation & Infrastructure, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Sarah Kline, Policy Director, Transportation for America
  • Joung Lee, Deputy Director of Management & Program Finance, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
  • John Lynch, Vice President, Federation Relations & Intergovernmental Affairs, American Trucking Associations
  • Brian Pallasch, Managing Director for Government Relations & Infrastructure Initiatives, American Society of Civil Engineers


  • Rep. William Brawley (R-NC), Transportation Committee Chair
  • Sen. Ernie Harris (R-KY), Transportation Committee Chair
  • Rep. Patricia Higgins (D-NH)
  • Sen. Curtis King (R-WA), Transportation Committee Co-Chair
  • Rep. Diane Lanpher (D-VT)
  • Rep. Jay Roberts (R-GA), Transportation Committee Chair
  • Sen. Jim Smith (NP-NE), Transportation Committee Vice Chair
  • Sen. Mike Vehle (R-SD), Transportation Committee Chair
  • Rep. Ryan Yamane (D-HI), Transportation Committee Chair

Roundtable Highlights

Note: This is not a complete transcript of the roundtable but an attempt to capture portions of the discussion. Due to technical difficulties, some portions of the event were not recorded and could not be transcribed.

Brian Pallasch (ASCE): (ASCE’s 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” gave an overall Grade of D+ for infrastructure, which was actually an improvement over previous report cards) “While a D+ isn’t a cause for celebration, we think some of the reasons that things got better is that states focused on infrastructure a little bit more in those intervening four years between 2009 and 2013. There was a little influx of federal money. The (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds actually did do something at least in the infrastructure area. And the private sector engaged. The rail grade went up primarily because the railroad industry has invested significant amounts of their own money—it’s their own system—into improving their system.”

Pallasch: “The Report Card does highlight that like everything, infrastructure has a lifespan. Good maintenance can extend that lifespan but not forever and a lack of maintenance certainly is going to shorten it. If we don’t spend that money on (operations and maintenance) it’s going to decrease the lifespan of our infrastructure. And unfortunately with infrastructure, it’s much like traffic in our commutes. It doesn’t all of a sudden go bad in one day. It sort of worsens over time and we almost don’t even recognize it. Far too many of our infrastructure systems lack the funding needed for proper maintenance and we continue to see categories … that are just not seeing the investments needed to improve the day-to-day conditions. In addition that backlog of projects to maintain and modernize our infrastructure keeps growing. We’re just not keeping up.”     

Pallasch: “We’ve got still about 66,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. That’s 11 percent. We think that’s too many. You’ll never get to zero. As engineers we understand that zero is not really the goal but that number has got to get down. We’ve got too many bridges that end up being weight-restricted, which also affects commerce. Twenty-two states actually have a higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges than the national average, which is significant.”

Pallasch: “When we invest and projects move forward, we see results. … It’s not about throwing good money after bad, it’s about picking the right projects, it’s about going forward and investing and making that commitment to improve the infrastructure (and) to improve the economy.”

The Report Card suggested that $3.6 trillion in overall infrastructure investment is needed between now and 2020 and $200 billion a year is the annual gap between what’s being spent now and what needs to be spent.

Pallasch: “We don’t think that we’re going to really achieve a $200 billion increase in investment but that would be the notion of how we get to a B. And there’s other ways to deal with that. What’s not really calculated in there is what sort of innovations can we do in the way we deal with our infrastructure to take some of that money out and there are going to be some innovations whether it’s cheaper materials, whether it’s better ways to do projects, whether its shortening the time to do projects. That will save money as well.”

Pallasch: “We have to fund it. This stuff costs money. There’s no easy way around that. We need to stop thinking that we can spend 1993 dollars and fix 2014 problems. It would be nice if we could do that. I think we struggle that we need to find a way to do that and do it more effectively. If there’s ways we can take some of the costs out of the system. I hear from our members all the time (that) the time to get a project approved takes so long that that ends up costing a lot of money. We agree with that and if we can shorten that time, while meeting the needs of protecting the environment and protecting the public, then we should do that.”

In August, Congress approved a short-term patch for the Highway Trust Fund to prevent the cuts in reimbursements to states that would have been required otherwise. The extension expires in May of 2015.

Joung Lee (AASHTO): (Even if the latest patch allows the HTF to survive until next May) “It just puts us in the same boat again. Oh gosh, construction season next summer, we’re going to have to stop everything unless we find yet another at least short-term patch. This is a chronic problem. We’re spending essentially $17 billion more out of the Highway Trust Fund than what it takes in from fuel taxes and truck fees and the like on average each year.”

Several states have approved major transportation funding packages over the last couple of years. One of them was Wyoming.

Lee: “In Wyoming it was interesting because their last gas tax increase was a year and a half ago now or so—a 10 cent gas tax increase. Republican Governor, Republican House and Senate. They all pushed for it—and supported by the Taxpayers Association of Wyoming—because they realized that the retail price of fuel of all the surrounding states was exactly the same as it was in Wyoming even though the Wyoming state gas tax was 10 cents lower. So you can kind of figure out what’s going on there. Wyoming has then had to transfer general fund revenues to their state transportation trust fund to prop it up. They said ‘no more. This is a user fee-based (state).’ To have someone like the Taxpayers Association go to the mat to push for a 10 cent gas tax increase makes all the difference.”

Many large urban freeways around the country can never be expanded to try to alleviate congestion.

Kevin DeGood (Center for American Progress): “Our pitch is that you’re asking for the wrong thing. You shouldn’t be asking for roads. You should be figuring out ways to provide people options not to drive. We need better land use and we need to support that better land use with roads that are safe for pedestrians and have lots of public transportation and for our longer trips, we need to have intercity passenger rail.”      

DeGood recommends transitioning to a mileage-based user fee system (also known as a vehicle miles traveled or VMT system) to fund the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

DeGood: “You already pay by the mile. You’re just paying less. What we need to do is decouple how much fuel you burn from how much you pay for the system and we do that by switching from a gas tax to a mileage-based user fee. … This is not tracking. We don’t know where you are. All your state DOT is going to get is your name and a dollar amount. That’s it. But what we can do with this underlying technology is have very sophisticated charging schemes that help us address congestion and equity. People who are making minimum wage need to get to a job. We’re going to charge them less. People who are going to go to yoga, (we’re) probably going to charge them more. We’re not going to know what their trip purpose is but we’re going to have congestion pricing schemes that allow us to allocate that incredibly precious resource called highway lane miles more effectively than we do today. And for our folks in the trucking industry … every time the state gas tax (revenues decline), your state DOT and state finance director come to you in the legislature and say ‘well, we could monetize some of these highways.’ And for our trucking friends, they pay more by open lengths for every mile of pavement that has a traditional toll on it than they ever would under VMT because we are spreading out the cost over all drivers rather than pummeling drivers over certain limited sections of roadway that we need to monetize to make up for the falling gas tax.”

DeGood: “We need to raise the gas tax to buy us time to undertake this rather complicated transition (to a mileage-based user fee system). We need to get to the mileage-based user fee. We need to leverage the technology for congestion pricing. We need to establish a multi-modal account in the trust fund. We should rename it to reflect the much more than highways that it works on. And everybody needs to love the 3 P’s: public transportation, passenger rail and pedestrians.”

DeGood: “You already pay by distance now. If you live farther out, you buy more gas, you’re paying more fuel tax. So the notion that a VMT tax is penalizing people on distance I think is not quite right because those people already pay more. The state of Oregon looked at urban drivers, suburban drivers and rural drivers and it turns out that they drive statistically equivalent amounts but composition of trips is different. Folks who live in the city take many more trips that are shorter and folks who live in rural areas tend to bundle things together and do fewer long trips. The people who drive the most by about 1,000 miles are people who are in exurban developments. … Things aren’t that close together but you’re really not doing anything other than driving and so you still have a higher trip frequency but they tend to be longer. So people who live in the Alpharetta (Georgia)s of the world tend to drive just slightly more than people who live in rural or urban areas. But again, it’s really on the margins. (I’m) talking about 12,000 miles versus 13,000 miles, not 12,000 miles versus 30,000 miles.”

Rep. Bill Brawley (North Carolina): “Something that I’m seeing in our own experience in North Carolina. … Transit, which tends to be a function of local government, is very political. So is the industrial recruitment into the major metropolitan centers with a lot of incentives very lavishly funded relative to rural areas and economic development departments so that we incent businesses to locate in center city Charlotte, for example, while the city of Charlotte dis-incents people to live in the city of Charlotte. So they tend to move out to suburban areas like Matthews or even into the adjacent Union County, a small rural agricultural county, which now has a higher per capita income than Meckelenburg County, where all the bank presidents live because everybody who’s either not too poor or too rich gets the hell out of Mecklenburg County. The transit is actually operating on a political basis, not on a realistic transportation basis. So that the people who are commuting into center city Charlotte are not served by transit and actually are not served by major roadway networks. While we have a beautiful light rail train that essentially serves some new apartments, poor neighborhoods south of town now will allow access to UNC-Charlotte football games but does not serve the mass of people who work in center city Charlotte.”

DeGood: “I’m not talking about telling anybody where to live at all. But if you have a certain number of dollars and that pool is not infinite, then the question becomes how do you handle population growth that we know is going to happen in a way that is more sustainable and it would seem to be with having higher density development in most places than we have today and with that you need to have an alternative way to move people around and that’s typically with public transportation.”

Emily Goff (Heritage Foundation): “I think one thing we learned in this most recent federal highway and transit bill fight is that the federal highway and transit programs don’t have a single guiding purpose anymore. That’s why you didn’t have a six-year, long-term bill. That’s why you didn’t have any policy changes. That’s why you had yet another patch, another general fund bailout of the trust fund. You weren’t able to get a gas tax increase or any other new revenue.”

While building the interstate system to get across the country was the pressing concern in the last century, it is no longer.

Goff: “Today the question … is how do I get around Houston? How do I get around New York City? How do I get around Washington, DC or Atlanta? That’s an issue of traffic congestion and that is local. It is not federal in nature. The problem right now, kind of pervasive through the federal highway and transit programs, is we’re assuming that problems that are common to a couple of different areas or even to all areas should be solved at the federal level rather than examined more closely at the state and local level with a decreased federal role. And so I think you have this lack of guiding purpose in the federal highway and transit programs, which has led to a poor use of resources at the federal level, hamstringing state and local officials like yourselves on how you can spend your allotment of federal dollars, and just an inefficient, wasteful system that isn’t solving the traffic congestion and mobility needs on the ground.”

Goff: “I don’t think transit is bad but it’s not a federal priority. What works in Seattle is going to be vastly different than what works in Atlanta or in Washington, DC or New York. So I think that the system we have in place right now with the federal transit program where about 17 percent of Highway Trust Fund expenditures go to transit, there’s a disconnect between the amount of money—that 17 percent that’s going to transit—and then the percentage of users who are actually benefitting from that transit. … Are you going to just keep asking motorists to pay for more and more activities that aren’t benefitting them? I mean that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re saddling motorists and truckers and bus operators with these expensive bills for things that they’re not benefitting from. You had transit added on in the mid-80s. You have bicycle paths, you have sidewalks, you’ve got ferry boats. We had transportation museums at one time. I’m not listing these to decry them as bad entities but to simply point out that they have from my perspective no place in a federal highway program that’s supposed to be reducing traffic congestion for the motorists who are paying to fund it. I think those would be better funded at the state and local level.”

Goff: “I think that people who are closer to the problems are best equipped to identify and solve the problems. It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a federal role. I just think that the one we have right now is vastly oversized.”

Goff: “Another thing that federal transit grants do and just the current system does is it distorts state and local decision making so you have people in DC … pursuing a vanity streetcar project that will go just a short distance—a couple miles—on a route that is already served by buses. … And it’s incredibly delayed in opening. It’s cost tons and tons of dollars beyond what was projected and it’s not actually going to be reducing traffic congestion. It’s actually going to be removing a lane of traffic.”

Goff: “You’ve also got onerous regulations from the federal program. Davis-Bacon is one. The simple environmental review process … it shouldn’t take five, six, seven, eight years to get a highway project built in this country. You also have restrictions on tolling that prohibit states from experimenting with ways to raise revenue to pay for their infrastructure. I’m not suggesting that we need to spend less on infrastructure. In some cases it might be less, in some cases it might be more. Right now we don’t know that that is because we have artificial caps on how we can raise that revenue and then we have mandates on how we cans spend the money that we have.”

Goff: “My near term solution is before we talk about more money at the federal level, let’s clean up the mess that is the highway and transit program. It should be either returned to its original purpose, which is to fund roads and bridges that are benefitting the motorists who are benefitting from it. In other words, the interstate highway system that can be a justifiably, truly federal interest. But transit, bicycle paths, nature trails, flower plantings, Main Street revitalization—all these things that are again not bad, inherently—are best done at the state and local level on a regional basis or individually and with the private sector as well when it makes sense.”

The Transportation Empowerment Act is a piece of legislation introduced in Congress that was supported by the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, and that garnered 28 “yes” votes, when attached as an amendment to the latest Highway Trust Fund patch in August.

Goff: “The Transportation Empowerment Act, which was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee from Utah and Rep. Tom Graves from Georgia … would propose to, over a period of five years, reduce the federal fuels tax … simultaneously narrow the scope of the federal program. You do it in a methodical way so states have time to prepare and decide whether you want to continue funding transit or how you’re going to manage that. And what you would have is a refocused, narrow set of federal priorities that are paid for with a more modest federal gas tax and then everything else is funded at the state and local level. So the states would be free, if you chose to, to raise your state gas tax by the amount the federal gas tax decreased. Motorists see no change at the pump in that way but you get a lot more purchasing power from those gas tax dollars at the state level if your state doesn’t have the equivalent of the Davis-Bacon law. And you also have more purchasing power because a percentage of it isn’t wasted on federal bureaucracy that just duplicates your state DOT bureaucracy. … But I think what this would encourage would be more state innovation, more states experimenting on how to raise the level of revenue that is going to pay for the projects that you want and need and it will bring a greater degree of accountability and scrutiny to how that money is being spent. You won’t just be able to wish it away or point to Washington. There will be a lot more accountability, which can be scary for some state lawmakers. I get that. But you’ll be able to have more of a say in what projects are being built that are going to be benefitting the people that you serve. And you will have incentive to pursue projects and modes of transportation that reflect what people driving around, riding transit, whatever it may be in your local area what they actually want. Right now those preferences aren’t reflected in how we spend money from Washington.”

Goff: “I’m encouraged to see what states—I think Wyoming was mentioned raising their gas tax. Virginia… There (have) been 28 states that have taken steps towards generating revenue in some way or financing a project through a public-private partnership. I’m encouraged to see that innovation happening. It really demonstrates that the states are willing and able to pay for infrastructure, despite what people in this town will tell you, and that there’s a lot of innovation and experimentation happening at the state level. You will learn from one another and your traveling public will be better served by it.”

Sen. Mike Vehle (South Dakota): “There’s a lot of country that’s not urban. It’s rural and that’s like South Dakota. … Just compare South Dakota and Florida. Florida has a little over twice as many miles of interstate that South Dakota has. We’re on I-90, which is the longest interstate in the nation and we also have I-29, which connects Canada and Mexico. Florida has … about 18 and a half million people to pay for their roads. We’ve got 850,000 and that’s sometimes counting dogs, cats and mice. … Seventy percent of our truck traffic both on interstate and non-interstate is through traffic. … And if we’re going to have a national system of highways, we need to be able to make sure that when you’re coming from Minnesota across 90 and you hit South Dakota, it isn’t a four-lane gravel road all the way through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana cause we’ve just got a lot of land to cover and just not a lot of folks to pay for it. Yes, we are a donor state. We get more out (of the Highway Trust Fund) than we put in.”

Vehle: “(It’s) the difference between a Third World country and a country like ours. We have a system of roads. … If we go backwards on that, my concern is that you’re going towards a Third World nation. … You’ve got a whole lot of rural area out there that you have to get stuff across. And toll roads, you can toll roads if you want. It’s not going to happen in South Dakota. … And number two, you’re just going to force that traffic off onto another road and then we’ve got to start putting maintenance on it. It’s not going to work and we need to understand that taking away the federal highway trust fund idea is not going to work for rural America because we’re not going to be able to tax our people in order to pay for that road like Florida has.”

Rep. Bill Brawley (North Carolina): “(In North Carolina) we’ve just passed a bill called the Strategic Transportation Investments Law. The idea was we had dedicated sources of funds. Four billion dollars was turned in to the general fund. Two billion went to DOT and was converted to other things like a teapot museum in Sparta, North Carolina, a pneumatic system for a factory in eastern North Carolina and about $4 billion was to build roads. We have better quality interstates in rural areas that might carry 2,000 cars a day. We have one we call the Jim Hunt Highway that goes from the capitol to the former governor’s farm. (At) 4 o’clock in the afternoon you can drive along an interstate quality highway for five minutes and never see another car. … We’ve had that kind of abuse. So we have put in a new funding formula where all of our statewide projects are done only on data. We give a 70 percent input for one of the seven region projects and there’s a 50 percent input from local projects within a district. And that local—half of it’s political guys and half of it are the local engineers and then the other is just objective data. And it has been incredibly hated since it was put in. As the primary sponsor, every day I have to stop a bill that says ‘notwithstanding the provisions of general statute, such and such a project will be funded.’ Because all of our road funding was done by pure political power … and that’s what’s happening on the federal level as well. … Now the prioritization process that we’re currently using does have some holes and we’re charging our NC State University and UNC-Charlotte with their informatics to basically create what I’m calling the unified field theory for transportation. How do you match transit versus a trail versus a road versus a bus and decide where the money is most efficient? … If a bike path connects a neighborhood over a quarter mile distance not where a road exists to a transit station that moves a lot of people into downtown Charlotte, that bike path is a good use of taxpayer money. If what that does is allow people to exercise at 10 o’clock in the morning and then other folks are caught in traffic, then it’s not the best use of transportation money. The problem is how do we measure that? We’ve not been generating data to do our roads in most places. The political element has just been huge.”

Goff: “I guarantee you that Portland will still have bike paths if the federal government says they have to spend a certain amount of money on those kind of activities or not. And I guarantee you that the special interests that are currently lobbying members of Congress to put more bike path provisions in the highway bill will go to the states and ask the state legislators to do that. You’re not going to remove the special interests. And it’s the same thing for roads. … They will go to a different level of government and then at the state and local level, more critical questions will be asked about ‘well, do we really need this bike path? Would it be better to put a bike path over here and then we can build a road here? You would just have better questions being asked as opposed to a blanket ‘we need more bike paths, spend the money even if you don’t need it.’ … You’re not going to see bike paths and transit disappear. You’ll see more cost effective modes of transit pursued like buses versus light rail because they’re cheaper and more cost effective. And you would see bike paths where you need them not simply because you have to spend money on a certain activity.”

Rep. Diane Lanpher (Vermont): Lanpher believes the concept would never fly with municipalities in Vermont: “They would hang us. They could see right through that in a second. Don’t try to pitch to me that you are going to give me freedom because you’re going to take away my money or the current funding system that is there in place.”

Emil Frankel (Bipartisan Policy Center): “I think at least in transportation we’ve made some progress by at least cutting out the earmarking and making the program less politicized in the Congressional or legislative process but we still do need to have I think a discussion and debate about national purposes and national goals (for the federal transportation program). … I’m sure that Emily and I have a little different idea about what those goals and purposes should be. I am not a devolutionist, let me say. I believe there are clear national purposes and national interests in transportation but they’re not all necessarily represented in the legislation that we now have and I think that is a discussion that we should have.”

Frankel: “Today about 25 to 30 percent of the money used for surface transportation—over 25 percent of the revenues that go into the Highway Trust Fund—are from general funds. It is no longer only a user-based system. The idea that it should only pay for highways because highway users are paying all of the Highway Trust Fund is not accurate. In fact, general taxes and general revenues are going substantially (into the fund). We had a so-called patch, a transfer that was just done, which will last only until at best April or May of next year. The expectation is there will have to be another transfer of general funds to the Highway Trust Fund of $7 billion or $8 billion in April or May of next year just to get it to September 30th of next year—that is, the end of the fiscal year. What I see as the tendency in Congress, on a bipartisan basis let me say … is to continue to adopt short-term extensions as they’ve just done of the surface transportation legislation, currently MAP-21, and to do these patches or transfers paid for—pay-fors are required and the last pay-for was so-called pension smoothing—10 years of pension smoothing to pay for seven or eight months of maintaining the highway and surface transportation programs. That is not only unsustainable, it is bad public policy and it avoids the necessity of addressing this issue, which is the (federal-state-local) partnership (on transportation). What is the federal role? What should the national purposes and national programs be and then how does it sort out with states and localities? The important thing is to have the discussion.”

Frankel: “MAP-21 saw funding stagnant for programs even as the TIFIA program, which is a loan and loan guarantee program within (USDOT), increased by almost 10 times—8 and ½ times actually. And the idea, which Congress has kind of adopted in a not necessarily thoughtful way but absentmindedly is to see federal funds increasingly as a tool to leverage greater public and private investment at the state and local level. I think that’s a good thing. I think we should continue to pursue that. The discussion about public-private partnerships (is) part of that discussion. … The various proposals for a national infrastructure bank (are) another part of that—making federal money available by lending it. But the other side of that is it’s another way of shifting the funding burden to states and localities because if the federal government, whether through the TIFIA program or an infrastructure bank, is making a loan of some sort for a major project in a state or metropolitan region, the loan has to be serviced and repaid. In other words the states or the localities have to increase revenue, have to establish revenue streams. It might be dedicated sales taxes, which California has certainly used a lot. It might be tolls on a highway facility. It might be other forms of value capture but the main thing at the state and local level, you need to create revenue streams to support the federal lending. So that’s the other side of this shift from federal funding to federal financing. But there too Congress has not gone all the way, if you will, because if the burden is going to move to state and local governments, the federal barriers to creating revenue streams (still exist). … One of the things that I think should be done—it’s been done partially—is to remove the federal prohibition on tolling the interstates. That’s not to say all states should toll the interstates but it seems to me the federal barrier to tolling the interstate should be removed so that if a state wants to borrow money for a major project on the interstate system in that state, they should be allowed if they want to and the politics allow it in that particular state or region to establish tolls as a revenue stream to pay that off. So if we’re going to have a true partnership here with greater emphasis on federal financing, the barriers to states and localities to establishing revenue streams should be eliminated.”

Frankel: “We’ve strongly advocated and I continue to do so for what we call process reforms. I do think that the federal transportation planning laws should be substantially reformed and amended so that there are increased requirements for states or metropolitan planning organizations to follow certain processes, to go through the kind of an analysis that you were talking about with Emily and earlier speakers. … States and metropolitan regions should be able to have the capacity to make choices that this project is more beneficial than that project, to do so across modes. Maybe a transit project creates greater economic benefit than a highway project or vice versa. Most states and metropolitan planning organizations don’t have the resources and the skills to carry out those kinds of analyses, to put together really comprehensive, strategic capital investment programs. Many metropolitan planning organizations don’t have sufficient geographic reach. … I think those process changes should be an important requirement.”

Sarah Kline (Transportation for America): “When I was listening to (Emily Goff from Heritage) she was saying ‘the federal interest is in roads.’ At T4America, we would never say the federal interest is in a piece of transportation equipment. It’s in an outcome. It’s in a stronger economy or it’s in a cleaner environment or it’s in a safer community for people to live in. These are the types of goals that I think we are looking at in terms of trying to develop a federal transportation program and helping state and local folks also work towards these outcomes. We’ve really come to the conclusion that the federal interest is primarily in helping to create an environment in which a strong economy can flourish. We’re talking about a place where businesses can thrive, where people can get to work, where employers can recruit the talent that they need. Transportation is a means to that end. But that’s the end that we have, that’s the vision that we have and that we’re trying to work toward.”

Kline: “Locals are doing a ton to raise their own revenue, to develop innovative projects, to work with businesses in their community to try to figure out how they can achieve this outcome of a thriving economy. You’ll see ballot initiatives where folks are voting to tax themselves to raise money for a particular project. You’ll see a lot of innovation happening at that level.”

Kline: “12 states over the last two years I think have passed major transportation revenue packages. …We’re working in a number of states around the country actually with people who are trying to see even more transportation discussion happening in the next legislative session starting in January.”

Kline: “Wyoming is one of the few that did a straight up gas tax increase and that’s great. It’s phenomenal in fact. The governor led a strong effort with a broad coalition of folks but for the most part, states are looking at packages of solutions because they can’t get the support and the political backing and the revenue that’s needed just from a straight up gas tax increase. … Virginia looked at a sales tax on gasoline—not that much different really in how it works—but it was perceived as a really different thing. Massachusetts has a package of a variety of things. There are some business taxes, some cigarette taxes, different types of fees. It’s not going to go over well everywhere but in that state, that was the package that worked. In Pennsylvania, there were a variety of other things that were brought into play. So one of the things that we like to see is that states are really looking outside the box and we hope that finally the federal government will come to the table too and say ‘okay, let’s figure out what to do.’”

Kline: “The other thing we’ve noticed in these successful states is that they’ve packaged the funding increase with some policy changes. North Carolina was a huge leader in this. … (They) actually put in place a data-driven project selection methodology. One of the problems at the state level, federal level, anywhere that we’ve seen is that when you talk to the public about needing to raise money for transportation, they feel the burden. They feel the tax that’s coming on them. They feel the fee or whatever. How much more am I going to have to pay? They almost never see the benefit because it’s so abstract. For many people, the process of choosing what to use that new money on, it’s a black box. They can’t see for themselves what this will mean. … The packages that we’ve seen that have been successful have tried to address that by adopting things like a data-driven system. I can’t tell you today exactly what this money is going to be used for but I can tell you this is how we’re going to choose it. We’re going to use these seven criteria and we’re going to measure these six things and then you’re going to know that you’re going to get the projects that are going to deliver those things.”

Kline: “We’re trying to carry that message to the federal level. We’re trying to say ‘look, you’re never going to get agreement on raising more money or putting more money into this program when people think it’s just a big black box. Ninety-two percent of the federal highway program just flows directly to state DOTs. Some state DOTs are very transparent about what they do with it, which is great. Some are not and the ones that are not we think are actually ultimately undermining the political support for the program because people can’t tell what’s happening with all this money and they certainly aren’t going to send Congress more of it.”  

Kline: “Transportation for America has an event in Denver in November, where state leaders will be coming together to talk about plans for the next session, success stories from past sessions.”

Kline:  “TIGER is the first major effort that I’m aware of to actually have a truly multi-modal approach where you have a pot of funds for any surface transportation need and they’re supposed to be judged on criteria that’s listed … related to economic competitiveness and a couple of other factors. Have they done a perfect job? No, I don’t think so. Has politics crept in? Yes, I’m sure it has. But overall I think the program has been very successful because it’s allowed projects that meet a state or a region’s need to rise to the top in a way that they can’t through the formula programs. … Transportation for America has actually proposed that we should use some of the federal highway dollars to create a similar program in each state to meet some of that demand and so it’s I think an interesting model and a direction we really think all transportation programs need to go, which is measuring these projects on their merits across the board and not by what kind they are exactly.”  


Further Reading