While 2015 may be an off-year for elections in most states, it has the potential to be an important one for transportation in a variety of places. Here’s a roundup of how transportation is factoring into this year’s key state contests and ballot measures.

Congress returned from the August break facing the challenge of having to address a long list of critical issues in the dwindling legislative year. These important issues include reaching agreement on the budget and debt ceiling; addressing the expiring highway funding authority; overhauling federal education policy; and discussing cybersecurity legislation.

In case you missed it, I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week on the role of Metropolitan Planning Organizations in transportation planning. That makes it as good a time as any to catch up on a number of recent stories at the intersection of planning and project selection (project selection was one of my Top 5 Issues for 2015, regular readers will recall). I have items on a recent report on congestion and mobility around the nation’s cities, light rail and streetcar projects around the country, the ongoing debate about building new roads versus fixing old ones, how one state is seeking to prioritize transportation projects based on return on investment, and how the preferences of millennials are likely to shape transportation in the years ahead. 

Brian Pallasch is the managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in Washington, DC. He was among the presenters at a policy roundtable CSG hosted on May 12 as part of the 2015 Transportation Policy Academy in Washington. During these excerpts from his remarks, he discusses ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the economic costs of not investing in infrastructure, why ASCE supports an increase in the federal gas tax and a permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund and why he believes a proposal to eliminate the federal role in transportation is a bad idea.

Unless you’re stuck in traffic, without water because of a water main break, hitting a pothole or your power goes out, you probably don’t think all that much about infrastructure. As civil engineers, that’s how we want it. Our goal is for infrastructure to fit seamlessly into your life and enable you to get where you want to go, turn on the lights and brush your teeth. We maintain a network of more than 600,000 bridges across the nation, 50,000 miles of transmission lines and more. However, the current state of our infrastructure is making that seamless maintenance more challenging.

CSG Midwest
Iowa became the first state in the Midwest this year to approve a plan to raise taxes for roads, but it may not be the last. According to The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s SF 257 increased the gas and diesel tax by 10 cents (to 31 cents for gas and 22.5 cents for diesel). It will bring in an additional $215 million annually for city, county and state roads. The gas tax in Iowa hadn’t been raised since 1989; the new rates took effect March 1.

Earlier this month, I named “project selection” as one of my Top 5 Transportation Issues for 2015. Just in the first month of this year, we’ve already seen a variety of developments in a number of areas that stand to influence project selection in the years ahead. New governors are already putting their stamp on project selection by reviewing projects approved by their predecessors and by nominating new (or in some cases old) leaders to head state departments of transportation. I also have updates on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, public transportation projects, autonomous vehicles and state transportation planning processes.

CSG Midwest
As the new legislative year begins, a years-old problem will once again be on the minds and agendas of lawmakers in several of the Midwest’s capitols: How can we raise more revenue for our ailing roads and bridges, and close shortfalls in our highway funds?
Early signs point to a busy, and potentially productive, few months ahead. Governors in states such as Iowa, Michigan and South Dakota are backing some kind of revenue fix, business groups continue to support it, and legislatures have a host of policy alternatives to consider.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congress’ decision this summer to once again tap general funds to temporarily patch up the dwindling federal Highway Trust Fund loomed large over discussions at the CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15-17....
CSG Midwest logo
In the largest binational trading relationship in the world, no crossing matters more than the link between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Currently, about 25 percent of the goods that move between the United States and Canada do so across the Detroit River via the 85-year-old, privately owned Ambassador Bridge. It is the busiest commercial crossing in North America, and one where users often face long delays and where traffic has steadily risen since the last recession.
A new bridge, the New International Trade Crossing, is scheduled to open by 2020, but as leaders of a group of the Midwest’s state and provincial legislators note, this binational infrastructure project still requires action from the U.S. government.
In a letter sent to President Barack Obama in August, the two chairs and two co-chairs of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Midwest-Canada Relations Committee ask for a federal commitment to support and staff a U.S. customs plaza at the New International Trade Crossing.