Tuesday November 8th appears likely to be a pivotal Election Day for the nation’s transportation and infrastructure. With control of The White House and Congress on the line, the future direction of the federal transportation program is also at stake. With control of governorships and state legislatures on the line, so too could be initiatives to seek additional state transportation investment. Meanwhile, communities like Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle will consider ballot measures that could enable major investments in public transit over the next few years. And voters in Illinois and New Jersey will decide whether to place constitutional protections on the use of transportation funds.
New Jersey’s Democrat-led legislature approved a 23-cent gas tax increase last week after lawmakers struck a $16 billion, eight-year deal with Republican Gov. Chris Christie that will also reduce the sales tax and eliminate the estate tax in the state. The deal will allow stalled transportation projects to resume after Christie halted all but the most essential ones in July as the state’s transportation trust fund ran out of money and expired. But the hard-fought, months-in-the-making agreement also demonstrated once again how different 2016 has been compared to last year when it came to state efforts to increase revenues for transportation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week issued long-awaited guidance delineating responsibilities of the federal and state governments when it comes to policies to pave the way for self-driving cars. This came as the Obama administration signaled that while strong safety oversight will be a hallmark of policies governing testing and deployment, the federal government will encourage innovation in the industry in recognition of the vehicles’ potential to save time, money and lives. Response to the guidance appeared to be largely positive and with the ink not even dry on the document, a number of states appeared poised to move quickly on new autonomous vehicle legislation in the days and months ahead.
Since 2011, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted state policies dealing with the testing and/or operation of autonomous vehicles. Those policies and other state initiatives have enabled a variety of autonomous technology testing activities around the country. With guidance to states from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expected this month and a number of states on the verge of enacting additional legislation, 2017 could be a big year for autonomous vehicles. But legislative challenges still could lie ahead for states looking to push the envelope on this potentially transformative technology.
The dog days of summer at the end of August aren’t typically known for the level of activity in state capitals. But a couple of legislative hearings held this week in Texas and Michigan could have fairly significant implications for the future of transportation not just in those states but around the country.
Five states and two multi-state collaboratives will be the first recipients of federal grants under a $95 million program that could go a long way toward determining the future of transportation funding in the United States, it was announced this week.
While not likely to be a major issue in the fall campaign, the future of the nation’s infrastructure did receive some attention in the party platforms released last month in advance of the Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions. The platforms reveal very different philosophies that could guide the federal government’s approach to infrastructure in the years to come and have a huge impact for states seeking to meet their future infrastructure needs. But the statements of the presidential candidates themselves on infrastructure issues are also prompting some attention this week.
Recognizing the challenge of financing and completing needed infrastructure projects, several states in 2016 approved legislation that allows them to enter into public-private partnerships (P3s). But P3 legislation has not always guaranteed quick success in moving projects forward and some states without P3 legislation have been able to explore P3s nonetheless. A number of other states have taken steps in recent years to clarify their goals and procedures with regards to P3 projects. These actions are taking place as the universe of P3 infrastructure projects around the country is expanding well beyond toll roads.
For many years synonymous with car culture and some of the nation’s worst traffic, the city of Los Angeles is in the midst of what city leaders hope will be an extended period of investment in public transit that is already transforming how Los Angelenos live, work and play.