Transportation Top 5 Follow-Up: More Links & Resources

Hopefully many of you have had a chance to dive into my recent post on the Top 5 Issues for 2014 in Transportation. It’s part of a series across all our policy areas here at CSG that has become a popular annual feature. The expanded version of the transportation list (which I have newly updated this week) includes extensive links to related articles and resources from throughout 2013. Now with nearly a month of 2014 under our belts, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at those Top 5 issues through the prism of the New Year and the transportation stories it has generated so far. I have updates on MAP-21 reauthorization and the future of the Highway Trust Fund, the legacy of MAP-21, continuing state activity on transportation revenues, the evolution of public-private partnerships and states and communities working on finding solutions for a multi-modal transportation future.

Issue Number 1: MAP-21 Reauthorization & the Future of the Highway Trust Fund

  • Death Watch: During remarks at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C. last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that U.S. DOT has posted an online Highway Trust Fund Ticker that will be updated monthly to reflect the exact balance of the fund.
  • The future of the HTF was a hot topic last week at the TRB meeting. I’ll have a full report next week in the Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter. But many at the meeting expressed concern that Congress will fail to solve the transportation revenue issue in time to avert the pending insolvency of the trust fund, which is now expected to occur prior to the end of the 2014 fiscal year and the expiration of MAP-21. That could mean zeroed out federal transportation funding for states in FY 2015. While some states are planning contingency budgets for their capital programs, others could be caught flatfooted. And while states had some success in 2013 in raising new transportation revenues on their own, in most cases this was not in anticipation of any impending loss of federal dollars. Policymakers intended those revenues to supplement current federal and state transportation funding to allow them to tackle more needed transportation projects in their states. So the loss of federal dollars could throw all those plans into doubt. State transportation officials want a strong federal partnership to continue and they're keeping their fingers crossed that it will. But for those who believe that Congress would never let the insolvency/zeroing out scenario actually materialize, Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer had a cautionary note: “How many of us remember sequestration?” he asked attendees during one TRB session. “That was the poison pill that was going to make the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans get together and get a budget passed because sequestration … (would be) so devastating. Not only did sequestration happen … but no one even noticed. It came and it’s still here and no one’s paying any attention to it. And my fear is that will be the attitude when it comes to funding transportation.”
  • Both Secretary Foxx and his immediate predecessor, Ray LaHood, are both expressing concern about the impending insolvency, according to The Bond Buyer. “It’s a serious problem,” Foxx told the U.S. Conference of Mayors this week. “The Highway Trust Fund may start bouncing checks as early as August.” LaHood tells the publication the successor to MAP-21 needs to be “big and bold.” “It needs to extend for five or six years, and it needs to contain at least $500 billion for transportation funding. … We need to pass a highway bill, and fund it by raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents and indexing the gasoline tax to inflation.”
  • The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held its first hearing of the year January 14th on “Building the Foundation for Surface Transportation Reauthorization.” Witnesses included Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. You can read Dan Vock of Stateline’s take on the hearing here. In addition, others were invited to submit written testimony, including the International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association.
  • T&I Chairman Bill Shuster said last week he wants the House to pass a new transportation funding bill by August to allow time to conference on final legislation with the Senate, The Hill newspaper reported. The Huffington Post reported recently on how a tea party candidate’s primary challenge to Shuster could impact the reauthorization debate. “Since taking over as chairman of the Transportation Committee last year, Shuster has sought to convince tea party members of the House to embrace the federal government’s role in infrastructure spending,” writes Huffington’s Eugene Mulero. “If elected, (Shuster challenger, retired Coast Guard official Art) Halvorson said, he would join the tea party’s efforts in the House and give as much authority over roads and bridges to state and local governments as possible.”
  • Forbes looks at one legislative proposal that may be gaining traction on Capitol Hill: an American Investment Fund that would provide loans or guarantees to help state and local governments finance infrastructure.
  • Another idea: In his remarks at TRB, Foxx noted that President Obama has put forward an idea to fund transportation with the proceeds from corporate tax reform. Foxx offered no additional details on the plan but said “It’s a good idea because it could secure a source of funding for multiple years.”

Issue Number Two: The Legacy of MAP-21

  • Streamlining Environmental Reviews: The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced the final rule to streamline environmental reviews for transit and highway projects. The rulemaking was required as part of MAP-21. “Time is money, and by cutting the time it takes to manage environmental reviews, we can help save communities money that they can put toward critical transportation projects,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in announcing the rule.
  • TIFIA: Foxx blogged recently about how the TIFIA loan and credit assistance program, which was beefed up considerably under MAP-21, is helping build transit projects in Los Angeles.
  • Public Transportation: FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff was among the witnesses at a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing on progress made in public transportation under MAP-21. His testimony can be read here.

Issue Number Three: Continuing State Activity on Transportation Revenues

  • I hate to be a tease but you’ll have to join us next Friday, January 31st at 2pm ET for our webinar on the “States to Watch in 2014” on transportation funding. We have a great lineup of state house reporters and others coming together to provide updates on what’s happening this year in states like Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Register now to join us. O.K., here are a few headlines to tide you over:
  • Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is proposing a 1.5 cents a gallon gas tax increase to help fund road projects, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Kentucky is a state that indexes its gas tax to the average wholesale price of motor fuels and makes an adjustment on a quarterly basis. But in the latest adjustment that automatically went into effect Jan. 1, the tax decreased 1.5 cents-per-gallon. That automatic decrease will cost the state’s Road Fund about $45 million annually.
  • New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement expressed support this week for legislation proposed by Sen. Jim Rausch to increase the state gas tax by 4 cents a gallon. The measure from the Republican lawmaker has co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle from both chambers.
  • Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols said this week that a lack of funding threatens his agency’s ability to maintain the state’s transportation network. A group called Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs is advancing an initiative petition to place a 1-cent sales tax increase before voters this fall that would fund transportation projects. But it has reportedly run into a court challenge even before it can go before the voters. State Rep. Dave Hinson, who attended one of our CSG Transportation Policy Academies last year, has also introduced legislation that would accomplish much the same thing. It’s similar to a bill that stalled in the legislature in 2013.
  • Iowa Department of Transportation Director Paul Trombino this week talked about what a loss of federal Highway Trust Fund money would mean to the state and whether increasing the state gas tax, as lawmakers could consider doing this year, could help Iowa weather the storm.
  • The Virginia House of Delegates has voted to repeal the $64 annual license tax imposed on hybrid vehicle owners as part of the transportation funding package enacted last year, The Washington Post reported.
  • Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle is taking state lawmakers to task for all but conceding defeat in efforts to pass a long-term road funding plan this year, WEMU Public Radio reported. “Are they suggesting that a bridge fall down?” he said. “Did they suggest how many people should die? … Why do we seem to have this mentality in the country now that says we only react to a crisis? Why don’t we act to good management? And good management is saying, ‘look, we have to deal with this.’”
  • A transportation study task force in Mississippi wrapped up work this week without offering a specific funding solution. The panel, led by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Willie Simmons, was unable to reach a consensus on a revenue source to fund transportation improvements.
  • John Stang of Crosscut says don’t count on a transportation package in Washington state this year.
  • And then there is this: South Dakota Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said recently his state’s highways are in good shape and there is currently no need to boost taxes to pay for road projects, the Associated Press reported.
  • Building America’s Future Educational Fund is again keeping track this year of infrastructure mentions in State of the State addresses by the nation’s governors.
  • Alison Premo Black wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this month that Congress should follow Pennsylvania’s bipartisan example (the state was one of half a dozen to enact a major transportation funding overhaul last year) and come up with a fix for the Highway Trust Fund.
  • Transportation for America has a “final tally” of the 20-plus states that took up transportation funding in 2013.

Issue Number Four: Evolution of Public-Private Partnerships

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a piece this week on PennDOT’s efforts to fix a bundle of 500 or more deficient bridges in the state with an innovative public-private partnership.
  • Tollroads News reports that the process of selecting vendors to build the Indiana and Illinois segments of the Illiana Expressway is moving along. Four teams have been selected to participate in the procurement process on the project. They’ll compete to finance, build and operate the expressway as a P3.
  • Progressive Railroading reported earlier this month that Maryland has trimmed from six to four the list of private sector teams that will be invited to submit proposals to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Purple Line light rail project in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
  • Leaders of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee have created a special panel to focus on public-private partnerships. According to a press release, it will examine: “the current state of P3s in the United States to identify: (1) the role P3s play in development and delivery of transportation and infrastructure projects in the U.S., and on the U.S. economy; (2) if/how P3s enhance delivery and management of transportation and infrastructure projects beyond the capabilities of government agencies or the private sector acting independently; and (3) how to balance the needs of the public and private sectors when considering, developing, and implementing P3 projects.”

Issue Number Five: Finding Strategies for a Multi-Modal Future

Active Transportation

  • Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute and Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation are engaging in an entertaining debate about bike routes and bike lanes over on Litman’s Planetizen blog.
  • The Montreal-based company Bixi, which came up with the bike sharing system in use in many American cities, recently filed for bankruptcy. But Ben Fried of Streetsblog argues that media stories conflating the company’s troubles with the fate of American bike shares overall are misguided.

Aviation

  • The Charlotte Observer reported recently on the race by airports around the country to upgrade facilities for passengers. On a related note, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu this month outlined plans for upgrades at the city’s Louis Armstrong International Airport, calling it “the most transformative project for New Orleans since the Superdome.”

High-Speed Rail

Transit

  • Another interesting session at last week’s Transportation Research Board meeting brought together all of the living former administrators of the Federal Transit Administration and its predecessor, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transit Act, the law that first provided federal support to strengthen transit. Current FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff (who has been tapped to replace Polly Trottenberg as Acting Undersecretary for Policy at U.S. DOT) moderated the forum, which you can watch here in its entirety.
  • Voters in Pinellas County, Florida will have the opportunity this fall to vote on a ballot measure calling for an increase in the county’s sales tax to expand bus service and build a new 24-mile light-rail network between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. But, Creative Loafing Tampa reported this week that those opposing the measure recently turned to a familiar face for inspiration: the founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, Debbie Dooley. Some may recall that Dooley’s group joined with unlikely bedfellows the NAACP and the Sierra Club to help defeat the Atlanta area’s regional transportation referendum in 2012.
  • Speaking of Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed has an essay on Huffington Post this week. He writes: “I believe that Atlanta has been particularly innovative in its approach to transportation. We have envisioned our city as a vibrant place for education, work and living. We have developed ideas for a supporting transportation system - inclusive of all modes - and connecting to our regional neighbors. We have aggressively sought and responsibly used resources from local, state, federal and private partners to preserve and expand our mobility and access.”  
  • Streetsblog reported that the federal TIGER program, which has funded numerous multi-modal transportation projects around the country, got a 20 percent boost in the final 2014 spending bill.
  • The Boston Globe reported recently on how Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is building a transit legacy.
  • Light rail linking downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul will begin running June 14th, The Star Tribune reported this week.
  • Next City looks at the difference between U.S. and European streetcars.
  • Aaron Weiner at Next City also looked recently at why streetcars are more about economic development than transit.
  • The new H Street streetcar line in Washington, DC is expected to open soon. Wiener writes in the Washington City Paper that speed is not something passengers should expect.
  • Governing magazine examines the question of “Can Streetcars Revive the Glory Days of Urban Transit?”
  • Dan Malouff of Greater Greater Washington has a brief look at why 2014 will be a boom year for streetcars in the U.S.
  • The Transport Politic has a detailed look at the major new transit investments in the U.S. and Canada this year overall.
  • Deseret News looked recently at how the Utah Transit Authority is looking at ways to improve and expand transit service along the Wasatch Front.
  • Wired magazine’s Autopia looked at the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit last month in a piece entitled “Public Transit is Underfunded Because the Wealthy Don’t Rely on It.”
  • As someone who loved Spike Jonze’s movie “Her,” I enjoyed Gizmodo’s look at the map of the futuristic Los Angeles Subway as depicted in the film. Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne also wrote recently about the film’s “refreshingly original take on a future L.A.”: “The sidewalks and the rail stations are crowded with people. It’s as if a benevolent Robert Moses, a planning dictator with a green agenda, had taken over the political realm in Los Angeles.” But Hawthorne notes it will take quite the effort to overcome the reality of today’s L.A.: “Clearly we are heading toward a Los Angeles with more and taller skyscrapers, livelier sidewalks and better public transit. But the process of building a mature rail system has a long way to go; we still love our cars. We're trying to put the private L.A. in the past but haven't quite reached the future many of us are hoping for and working to create.”
  • L.A. County transportation officials said this week that a direct light-rail link to LAX may be too risky and costly to pursue, the Times reported.