Sean Slone

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President Obama this week proposed $50 billion in new infrastructure spending for roads, railways and airport runways and promised to pair it with “a long-term framework to reform and expand our nation’s investment in transportation infrastructure.” While the plan was welcomed by many, others wondered if it was too little, too late and pretty much dead on arrival with just eight weeks to go before the mid-term elections. It was—at the very least—a long-awaited conversation starter that included some not altogether unfamiliar or unexpected ideas.

Yesterday I told you about our new CSG Capitol Facts & Figures brief on the Condition of U.S. Roads and Bridges. Well, if you’re looking for some better news, there’s a new annual study out this month from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, that gives a somewhat different perspective. The report finds that state highways are in the best shape they have been in nearly 20 years.

Despite billions in Recovery Act dollars spent on infrastructure over the last year and half, the nation still faces an epidemic of crumbling roads and bridges in the years ahead and a shortage of dollars to pay for it all under current funding conditions. That’s the picture that emerges from CSG’s new four-page Capitol Facts & Figures brief entitled “Condition of U.S. Roads & Bridges.”

With 45 percent of roads in less than good condition and 12 percent of bridges structurally deficient, the U.S. faces severe infrastructure needs that significantly impact the nation's economy. State governments face huge gaps between how much they need to spend to repair roads in the coming years and how much they expect to have under current funding. While there are some state success stories, the infrastructure in other states is in danger of backsliding. This brief makes the case for encouraging Congress to consider legislation reauthorizing federal transportation programs soon and for taking steps to ensure infrastructure improvements are adequately funded.

I’m not sure if it’s enough to constitute a groundswell or a movement just yet but there have certainly been rumblings in recent weeks that there will at least be a push for Congress to consider a reauthorization bill in the near term, perhaps in a “lame duck” session after the election. This after months of hearing that it likely wouldn’t happen until after the 2012 presidential election.

The future of transportation was very much on the minds of participants at the annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference held earlier this month in Charleston, South Carolina. The role of transportation in economic development, the status of a new federal highway bill, state funding of infrastructure improvements and efforts to prepare southern ports for the expansion of the Panama Canal all received attention from various speakers over the course of the five-day meeting. Here is just some of what I heard on those topics.

Last week I had the pleasure to speak at a conference on sustainable transportation hosted by the organization Women in Government in Newport, Rhode Island. Thirty-two state legislators representing 20 states attended the forum and heard from a number of distinguished experts on such topics as federal and state transportation funding, complete streets programs, commuter transportation, community design and integrating transportation networks to improve mobility and spur economic development. Here’s a rundown of what participants heard at the conference along with some links to resources that may be useful in setting your state’s sustainable transportation goals.

Twenty-six states and Puerto Rico have laws allowing public-private partnerships in transportation. While they can have significant benefits for states, questions remain about their suitability in some cases and the availability of private capital.

The interconnectedness of the nation’s transportation system and the needs of that system are put into sharp focus when one considers what our shipping ports and highways may look like after 2014. That’s when the $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be complete.

In case you missed it, two news items in recent weeks may demonstrate the increasing desperation of state governments in trying to pay for transportation improvements.

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