Sean Slone

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This week CSG released a new Capitol Facts & Figures policy brief highlighting efforts to increase or otherwise change State Motor Fuel Taxes in a number of states this year. Although some earlier this year predicted that several states, faced with significant infrastructure challenges and limited options to raise needed transportation revenues, would increase their gas taxes in 2011, that hasn’t yet come to pass. Instead, escalating gas prices caused by instability in the Middle East and North Africa have meant that gas tax increases are still just as politically unpopular as they were in 2010, when no state adopted one. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some interesting developments this year. Here are some updates on recent activity in South Dakota, Arkansas, Oregon and other states.

The 2005 law authorizing federal surface transportation programs, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. In the interim, Congress has authorized a series of short-term extensions, but has yet to enact a new multi-year strategy. Whatever Congress decides will go a long way in determining whether America’s infrastructure will be ready to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. As state lawmakers confront an infrastructure system in dire need of repair, they also must recognize a desire to curb overall federal spending and widespread opposition to tax increases. This webinar explored the various proposals for reauthorizing federal transportation programs and how they may impact both state governments and the nation’s economic future.

While gas taxes as currently enacted in many states have significant limitations, they are still seen by many as the most viable option for raising substantial transportation revenue in the near term. Though increasing motor fuel taxes to raise additional revenue has proved to be politically challenging in many states in recent years, a handful of states in 2011 have considered, are considering or may soon consider gas tax changes. 

With a federal budget deal last Friday, Congress may have temporarily averted a government shutdown, but there are still plenty of potentially contentious issues coming down the pike in Washington this year. One of those could be the future of federal transportation programs. This afternoon at 3pm EDT, CSG will host a webinar focusing on how that debate might take shape. It’s part of CSG’s Growth and Prosperity Virtual Summit of the States, a four-day webinar series. The forum will include two perspectives from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Dr. Ronald Utt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank. Donna Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in the nation’s capital. Here’s a brief glimpse into where these speakers come down on some of the key issues in federal transportation reauthorization.

The fairness of charging motorists a mileage fee to help pay for road repairs… The state of the nation’s bridges… The economic impact of the transportation construction industry… How to win public support for road pricing... The keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from freight transportation... All are the subjects of recent reports and studies. Here’s a roundup of those reports, along with an update on public-private partnerships.

Here’s one of those instances in which what I do hits close to home. In the latest issue of Capitol Ideas and a recent blog post, I wrote about how a number of states are following the lead of Missouri in employing a relatively new type of traffic interchange called the diverging diamond or double crossover diamond interchange to improve safety and reduce congestion. The interchanges can be built in less time and at a lower cost than other types of interchanges. Now, it appears I may soon get to see firsthand how the diamond works. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Kentucky transportation officials announced this week that they plan to reconfigure a Lexington intersection that is part of my daily commute using the diamond model.

As Japan struggles to control its nuclear reactors in the wake of last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami, state officials across the U.S. are weighing in on the future of nuclear power in this country.

Policymakers in Washington are saying all the right things about a federal transportation reauthorization bill. They hope to finally tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal surface transportation programs in the next few months after a year and a half of delays and a series of temporary extensions to the previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU. They are optimistic despite no agreement on a plan to fund those programs and widespread acknowledgment that any program based on existing revenues is unlikely to move the nation’s transportation system forward in a meaningful way.

State officials are weighing in on the future of nuclear power in the United States as Japan struggles to control its nuclear reactors in the wake of last week’s massive earthquake in that country. Despite an increasing need to find energy alternatives here at home, some believe the Japan crisis may make additional delays in the construction of new nuclear reactors or relicensing of old ones in this country a possibility. Here’s a rundown of media reports on how the nuclear power issue is being raised in various state capitals.

There is a new issue of the CSG magazine Capitol Ideas out this month that we call our “Best of the States” issue. The magazine contains a wide variety of innovative ideas states are employing to address various problems and needs across numerous areas. Among the innovative ideas in transportation detailed in the issue are a new type of traffic interchange in Missouri, Georgia’s planned regional transportation referenda and Utah’s road condition monitoring cameras that allow the state to determine when to send a snow plow to a remote area. While we tried to pack as much into the issue as we could, there was inevitably plenty of worthwhile stuff that landed on the proverbial “cutting room floor.” Here is a sampling.

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