Sean Slone

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I’ve blogged before about how the governors of New Jersey and Virginia, both elected in 2009, are tackling transportation issues in their respective states. Now, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell are back in the news this month with ambitious transportation plans. Meanwhile, newly elected Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing tapping transportation funds to prop up other government programs in his state budget. And as other states seek ways to finance improvements to their own transportation systems, a number of recent reports and developments put the focus on such mechanisms as public-private partnerships, congestion pricing and tolling.

The first half of January has already been full of news about federal transportation spending and how things may be different under new House leadership in the nation’s capital. The discussion continues about the potential impact of new House rules on the Highway Trust Fund and what a ban on earmarks may mean for transportation spending. Meanwhile, it appears there may be some movement afoot to tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal transportation programs this year.

Rural highways provide many benefits to the nation's transportation system. But rural areas face numerous transportation challenges including a looming highway capacity crisis. Their challenges are similar to those experienced by urban areas but different enough that they need to be carefully considered as officials in Washington debate a new long-term authorization of federal transportation programs. This brief examines some issues those officials should take into account regarding rural road capacity, congestion, road safety, connectivity and mobility and public transit. It also examines how policies addressing livability and transportation funding may impact rural communities.

The 2005 law authorizing federal surface transportation programs, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. Congress has authorized a series of short-term extensions but has yet to enact a new multi-year bill that is expected to redefine the nation’s transportation priorities. What Congress decides regarding federal transportation programs will determine state funding and policy needs. Among the issues states will be concerned with in 2011 are the condition of America’s infrastructure, the erosion of the gas tax as a funding source, finding alternative financing, adjusting to shifting federal priorities and building a 21st century transportation system.

As Congress and state legislatures convene this month, the debate over how to fund transportation in this country resumes. Stoking the fire this week is a U.S. House of Representatives rules change that could result in reduced federal transportation spending and a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that assesses the claim by highway advocates that roads “pay for themselves” with gas taxes and other charges to motorists.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

During the Council of State Governments' National Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, the CSG Transportation Policy Task Force hosted a roundtable discussion on December 5th looking at the impact of the 2010 election and what’s ahead for transportation in 2011. Here is a summary of what transpired.

Three weeks after the election of new Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin and a Republican U.S. House of Representatives, the debate continues about the future of high-speed rail in the United States. Recent days have seen a series of pro-rail rallies in Wisconsin, where Governor-elect Scott Walker has promised to shut down a planned rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. But while it may be too early to completely write off the prospects for Midwest passenger rail, it may also be too soon to assume that high-speed rail will move forward in other parts of the country. Rail supporters who were breathing a sigh of relief about the election of rail-supporter Jerry Brown as Governor in California may have new cause for concern. The top Republican on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, California Congressman Jerry Lewis, introduced legislation last week that would rescind $2 billion in stimulus funds promised to the state to kick start a $43 billion high-speed rail project that would link San Francisco and Los Angeles.

My colleague Doug Myers and I are co-authors of a new Capitol Research brief out today entitled “Green Freight Transportation.” A follow-up to our previous brief “Green Transportation” which debuted in July, it examines the opportunities available to states to enact policies, get behind federal initiatives and support industry efforts to make freight transportation greener. The brief examines such strategies as truck anti-idling regulations, the development of alternative fuels for trucks and trains, truck-only toll lanes to increase mobility and decrease emissions-producing traffic congestion, investing in freight rail and developing our marine highways to shift some of the freight burden from highways to modes that produce less emissions. The brief also points out the need for a national strategic freight plan, examines how federal policy initiatives could be shaped to make freight transportation greener and makes the case for the role of state governments in ensuring a greener future for freight. While the brief and the resources that went into creating it hopefully offer a good overview for those interested in the subject matter, there are a number of other worthwhile reports, recent news items and other materials we wanted to recommend for those who may want to do some further reading.

With freight demand expected to double over the next 40 years, it's more important than ever to consider the impact of freight transportation on the environment. This policy brief examines the opportunities for state government to enact policies, get behind federal initiatives and support industry efforts to make freight transportation greener.

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