Sean Slone

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Brian Pallasch is the managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in Washington, DC. He was among the presenters at a policy roundtable CSG hosted on May 12 as part of the 2015 Transportation Policy Academy in Washington. During these excerpts from his remarks, he discusses ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the economic costs of not investing in infrastructure, why ASCE supports an increase in the federal gas tax and a permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund and why he believes a proposal to eliminate the federal role in transportation is a bad idea.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn was the keynote speaker at the opening dinner of the 2015 CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, DC on May 11. Rahn, who was appointed by Governor Larry Hogan on January 21st of this year, is the first person to lead transportation departments in three different states—New Mexico, Missouri and now Maryland. In these excerpts of his remarks, Rahn touched on hot button topics like Hogan’s reassessment of two light rail projects in the state and recent decision to lower tolls on bridges and roadways in the name of tax relief. He also weighed in on how he thinks Congress might address expiring federal transportation program authorization and the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.

State lawmakers in Nebraska voted last week (May 14) to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts and approve a six-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase. In doing so, Nebraska became the sixth state to approve a gas tax increase for transportation needs this year. That equals the number of states that moved major transportation funding packages in 2013, the most recent big year for such efforts. The news came during Infrastructure Week just as many participants were hearing that Congress is unlikely to follow suit anytime soon to shore up the dwindling Highway Trust Fund and provide any long-term certainty for state transportation officials.

Michigan voters Tuesday declined to support a ballot measure that would have hiked the state’s general sales tax, fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to provide funding for dilapidated roads but removed the sales tax on fuel, which currently goes to other purposes. I also have a report from last week’s International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike conference on transportation finance and road usage charging in Portland, Oregon. I’ll bring you up to speed about CSG’s involvement in next week’s Infrastructure Week activities and look ahead to a conference next month highlighting public-private partnerships.

As states ponder the future of transportation funding, tolling is playing an increasingly significant role. Tolls are helping states close funding gaps, support capital investment and improve mobility. Developments at the federal and state levels make the trend toward increased tolling likely to continue. But some states have seen pushback against the proliferation of tolls and Texas in particular could face a rocky road ahead as that state tries to deal with increased congestion due to population growth.

In this week’s issue of The Current State, CSG’s weekly e-newsletter, I write about the factors that allowed Georgia and Iowa to be successful this year in passing legislation to fund transportation. Georgia and Iowa are two of the five states that have passed major funding measures so far this year. Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tod Bowman and Georgia House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts told me that gubernatorial leadership, uncertainty about what’s going to happen at the federal level and the lessons of past failures all played a role in their 2015 success. In this unused portion of my interviews with the lawmakers, they also suggest an inclusive process helped pave the way to success. I also have items on Georgia’s new electric vehicle fees and South Dakota’s road to success as well as a look at some key meetings coming up this Spring.

This summer the Oregon Department of Transportation begins a program under which 5,000 volunteer drivers will pay a mileage-based road usage charge. It’s just the latest step for Oregon, which has been a pioneer of mileage-based fees over the last decade. But Oregon is far from alone in testing and exploring such fees. Other states have conducted tests of their own, adopted mileage-based user fee-related legislation and participated in multi-state coalitions to explore the concept.

February and March were busy months for state legislatures on the transportation front with four states approving major funding packages, several considering measures to revise gas tax indexing mechanisms to avoid losing transportation revenues in the wake of declining gas prices, and a whole host of other states continuing to contemplate or negotiate additional legislation that could bear fruit down the road. Here’s a roundup of the developments since my previous post on this topic.

In the March/April issue of Capitol Ideas, I wrote about how the state of Utah has used transportation investment to drive the state’s economic growth. Among those I talked with were two legislators—one a civil engineer, the other an economist—as well as a planning official for the Utah Department of Transportation. But there is plenty more to the story of Utah’s success as I learned in this February interview with Abby Albrecht of the Utah Transportation Coalition, which arrived too late to be included in the published article. The coalition is an organization formed by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Association of Counties.

Most states have created dedicated trust funds to support transportation. Some have constitutional restrictions on how the revenues in those funds can be spent. Others simply have restrictions codified in statute that haven’t always been effective in preventing the diversion of revenues to other budget areas. Maryland and Wisconsin are the two newest states with constitutional protections for their transportation trust funds. Additional states could follow suit, but despite their real or perceived benefits, such protections are unlikely to have much impact on struggling state transportation budgets.

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