Sean Slone

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Efforts around the country to revitalize downtowns and create economically vital and aesthetically pleasing communities, often centered on transit hubs, have created a greater need for a private-public entity that can manage these areas to ensure their long-term sustainability. While most states have laws on the books to enable these special districts, some experts say they are still too difficult to establish and that some of the decades-old laws may need to evolve to reflect the expanding mission of these districts and the changing nature of the communities they serve.

With the melting of the last remnants of snow from Winter Storm Jonas and another major winter storm set to impact millions of Americans in the southern Rockies, central plains and western Great Lakes this week, it seems as good a time as any to check in on how states are dealing with winter weather transportation concerns so far this season. There are numerous examples of states turning to technology, investing in equipment and trying to improve on past performance. Here’s a roundup.

With the passage of the FAST Act by Congress in late 2015, states have some of the long-term certainty they have long sought in the federal transportation program. But can a mostly status quo, five-year transportation bill help states make up for years of inadequate investment in the nation's infrastructure. More than likely, more than a few will still feel compelled to follow in the footsteps of eight states that raised gas taxes in 2015. Some may also turn to tolling and public-private partnerships to help fund projects, although those tools in the toolbox have seen increasing scrutiny and criticism in some parts of the country. State officials face a variety of other challenges as well including how to plan for the technological and demographic changes that could radically alter the transportation landscape in the years ahead and how to deploy and enhance the kinds of transportation options that will make communities into livable, sustainable, economically vital places. Here are my top five transportation issues for 2016 along with more than 500 links to resources from CSG and a variety of other sources where you can read more.

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.  

Across the country, transportation options are being deployed to revitalize cities and suburbs, revive sluggish economies and change the way we live and work. In particular, transit stops have become a focal point for many states and communities hoping to generate the development of office, retail and commercial spaces and flourishing, sustainable neighborhoods around them.

Facing continuing uncertainty with regards to federal funding, Tennessee and other states have postponed millions of dollars in transportation projects. But even as a gas tax increase has become a political third rail in Washington, many states have turned to the venerable transportation revenue mechanism this year to advance their transportation programs. This session highlighted both the impact of federal uncertainty and the successes of those states that passed gas tax increases in 2015.

Sponsored by the CSG Transportation and Infrastructure Public Policy Committee
Friday, Dec. 11, 10 a.m. – Noon, Broadway Ballroom AB, 2nd Floor

When Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer joined Gov. Bill Haslam Nov. 9 for a one-day, five-city trip around the state to highlight Tennessee’s transportation funding challenges, he brought with him two lists. One was a list of 181 backlogged transportation projects totaling more than $6 billion that, at current funding levels, the state won’t be able to complete or get under contract until 2034. The other listed 765 new project needs at a projected cost of $5 billion that the state won’t be able to consider until 2022 at the earliest.

With just hours to spare before the Midnight expiration of road and transit spending, President Obama Friday signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year, $305 billion bill paid for with a combination of existing gas tax revenue and $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget. It calls for spending about $225 billion on highways and $61 billion on transit projects over the next five years. The legislation is the first transportation funding bill lasting longer than two years that Congress has passed since 2005 and delivers some degree of long-term certainty to state transportation officials around the country who have struggled to keep transportation investment afloat through years of mostly short-term extensions. Despite delivering that certainty and a variety of important policy tweaks, there is still plenty to be concerned about for the future of the federal transportation program and the discussion about the next bill has already begun.

On December 3, I had the opportunity to address the Maine Transportation Conference in Augusta, an annual event sponsored by the Maine Better Transportation Association, the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Maine Department of Transportation. I spoke about state transportation funding activities in 2015. Here’s an edited version of my remarks.

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. The state of 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. All that activity surpassed 2013 when six states produced major transportation revenue packages. But despite all that activity and despite the fact that 2015 could see Congress approve a new long-term federal transportation bill, 2016 also could see a large number of states join the club, particularly if many of those states that have come close in recent years or have had processes in place to examine revenue options end up moving forward. Here’s a roundup of the states to watch in transportation funding next year and some additional resources where you can read more.

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