Sean Slone

Author Articles

“Armageddon on Colorado ballots” proclaimed the colorful headline of a Denver Post editorial this week. The doomsday concern is in reference to three ballot measures Colorado voters will consider this November that may be reflective of the anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-borrowing, anti-big government sentiments among the electorate this fall but that could go a long way in determining whether the state has any money in the future to do important things like build and maintain roads.

This month’s Government Accountability Office update on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has 284 pages worth of fodder for both fans and foes of the legislation. But while it has been the speed with which states have spent Recovery Act highway dollars and the overall job creation numbers to date that have gotten most of the attention, it’s a couple of other findings in the report that should also prompt concern.

More evidence this week that renewed investment in the nation’s transportation system is needed--and soon: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released their first-ever Transportation Performance Index, which shows that the performance of the system is not keeping pace with the rate of growth of demands on it. Meanwhile, two states got very different kinds of news about the challenges they face in upgrading that system.

While tolling has long been a fact of life for folks in the Northeastern United States, other parts of the country have also been getting into the act in recent years. Our latest CSG Capitol Research brief entitled “Tolling and Congestion Pricing” examines toll projects underway across the country, the use of tolling as both revenue generating mechanism and part of a congestion reduction strategy, the modernization of toll payment systems and the chances for future proliferation of toll facilities. The brief includes a 50-state chart breaking down the number of each type of toll facility in each state. With a complete list of references, it’s also a good source for further reading on tolling and congestion issues. But there are a number of other recently released reports that may be of interest to you as well.

States are increasingly turning to tolling not only as a revenue source to assist in funding improvements to highways but also as part of efforts to reduce congestion on the nation's roads. Although tolls appear to be more popular with the public than taxes for now, that popularity may be tested with continued expansion in the coming years. States are partnering with private companies to build and operate new toll roads. They're also turning to all-electronic tolling to increase efficiency, eliminate bottlenecks, save money and make payment of tolls more convenient. This brief explores the current state of tolling in the United States and prospects for future growth.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week that highway deaths in 2009 fell to the lowest number since 1950. That happened even while vehicle miles traveled increased. Last year saw the lowest fatality and injury rates ever recorded (1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled). The number of people injured in motor vehicle crashes declined for the 10th straight year. Alcohol impaired driving fatalities declined by 7.4 percent. All of this evidence points to successful federal and state efforts to make the nation’s roads safer.

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.

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