Sean Slone

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There were lots of transportation-related headlines to take away from Tuesday’s election: The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee going down to defeat and what it might mean for authorization legislation… The future of high-speed rail put in doubt by the election of three new Republican governors opposed to rail projects… And a somewhat mixed message from voters on revenues for transportation. Although it will likely take a long time to sort it all out, here are some initial thoughts.

The 2009 election cycle was a much quieter one than the one we’re experiencing now if you’ll recall. Whereas this year, the U.S. will elect or re-elect 39 Governors, last year there were just two high-profile gubernatorial races. But the year since the 2009 election has been anything but quiet for the men elected governor in New Jersey and Virginia last November. And just as it played a role during last year’s campaign, transportation has been a key issue for both chief executives during their first year in office. As we wait to see who will occupy governors’ mansions next year, it may be worth pondering how the experiences of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell could shape how their future colleagues tackle transportation challenges in the years ahead.

High-speed rail is one of the Obama administration’s major transportation priorities. Last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside $8 billion aimed at developing high-speed intercity passenger rail service along 13 new corridors and this year Congress added an additional $2.3 billion. But the outcome of some key state elections next week could determine how fast that train arrives, if at all.

We have a new Capitol Facts & Figures policy brief out today that attempts to survey this year’s State Transportation Finance Legislation and Trends. As mentioned in the brief, Georgia was one state that managed to make a name for itself this year in transportation finance. It did so with a plan that at first glance seemed to both kick the can down the road and pass the buck. But the plan could be the path many cash-strapped and tax increase-averse states choose to follow in the years ahead. And, although their plan isn’t designed to come to fruition until after the 2012 election, Georgia may be able to learn some things from transportation-related ballot measures other states will consider this November.

While the election, the economy and other factors made it a difficult year to raise new state revenues for transportation, 2010 saw states turning to bonding as a key financing strategy. Interest in public-private partnerships remained high. States also explored alternative finance mechanisms and revenue streams. But one state's regional approach to transportation funding could be what 2010 is ultimately remembered for.

President Obama stepped up the urgency in his call for increased infrastructure spending during remarks Monday in the White House Rose Garden. Although the President primarily echoed the plan he originally outlined on Labor Day calling for the rebuilding of 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail lines, and 150 miles of airport runways, he came armed with plenty of new evidence that infrastructure improvements would be an effective tool in aiding the nation’s economic recovery and ensuring a brighter future.

The U.S. transportation system lacks a coherent vision, is chronically short of resources, is costing the country dearly in lost time, money and safety and is compromising our productivity and ability to compete internationally. Those are some of the conclusions in a new report entitled “Well Within Reach” issued on behalf of a bipartisan panel of transportation experts who met for three days last year at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. While none of that is likely to be news to many, the report does offer a series of recommendations for a new transportation agenda that are worthy of consideration.

“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.

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