Efforts around the country to revitalize downtowns and create economically vital and aesthetically pleasing communities, often centered on transit hubs, have created a greater need for a private-public entity that can manage these areas to ensure their long-term sustainability. While most states have laws on the books to enable these special districts, some experts say they are still too difficult to establish and that some of the decades-old laws may need to evolve to reflect the expanding mission of these districts and the changing nature of the communities they serve.

With the passage of the FAST Act by Congress in late 2015, states have some of the long-term certainty they have long sought in the federal transportation program. But can a mostly status quo, five-year transportation bill help states make up for years of inadequate investment in the nation's infrastructure. More than likely, more than a few will still feel compelled to follow in the footsteps of eight states that raised gas taxes in 2015. Some may also turn to tolling and public-private partnerships to help fund projects, although those tools in the toolbox have seen increasing scrutiny and criticism in some parts of the country. State officials face a variety of other challenges as well including how to plan for the technological and demographic changes that could radically alter the transportation landscape in the years ahead and how to deploy and enhance the kinds of transportation options that will make communities into livable, sustainable, economically vital places. Here are my top five transportation issues for 2016 along with more than 500 links to resources from CSG and a variety of other sources where you can read more.

Across the country, transportation options are being deployed to revitalize cities and suburbs, revive sluggish economies and change the way we live and work. In particular, transit stops have become a focal point for many states and communities hoping to generate the development of office, retail and commercial spaces and flourishing, sustainable neighborhoods around them.

CSG Midwest
An estimated 25 percent of all of the nation’s rail traffic goes through Chicago, where 56 Amtrak trains originate or terminate every day and where six of the nation’s seven largest railroads converge. But the Midwest’s largest city isn’t just a hub of rail transportation; it’s also known as a major “chokepoint”: a source of gridlock, poor on-time performance and dispatching problems. In October, Amtrak’s Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel released its recommendations for loosening the Chicago “chokepoint,” which poses a larger economic vulnerability to the U.S. economy than any other major rail hub. (A panel-commissioned study estimated that up to $799 billion in annual gross domestic product depends on freight rail service through Chicago.)

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. 

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For states interested in partnering with the federal government on capital improvements to passenger rail, the current options are severely limited. Since fiscal year 2011, the main federal grant program — the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program — has not been funded by the U.S. Congress. That leaves only one funding source, a U.S. grant program known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), which funds an array of transportation-related projects thought to have a significant impact on the nation, a region or a metropolitan area. In the most recent round of TIGER funding, only one passenger-rail improvement project successfully secured a grant — $12.5 million to upgrade parts of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route in Kansas and Colorado. Matching funds of $9.3 million will come from a mix of state, local and private sources.

Two new reports and a variety of recent developments in states lay bare the challenges of relying on the gas tax as a revenue source to meet transportation needs. I also have updates on some of my “States to Watch in 2015” and the usual roundup of recent items on MAP-21 reauthorization, public-private-partnerships and tolling, and state multi-modal activities.

Voters in several states will consider the fate of transportation-related ballot measures in next week’s election. I have a refresher on the statewide measures in play as well as some local and county ballot measures to watch. Plus a number of items on how transportation is playing as an issue in a number of fall campaigns and how it could be on the agenda for state legislatures next year. As always, I also have my regular roundup of items on the future of the federal transportation program, state transportation funding efforts, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

From tolling to gas taxes to light rail transit projects, transportation issues are factoring into numerous 2014 state races as Election Day approaches. One example is the question of how to fund the replacement of a bridge over the Ohio River, which has come up as an issue in both Ohio and Kentucky. I also have updates this week on the chances for a new long-term federal transportation bill, the work of several state transportation funding committees, the evolution of public-private partnerships and the debate over streetcar systems and other transit projects in many communities.

The operator of the Indiana Toll Road announced this month it would seek bankruptcy protection with a creditor-supported restructuring plan. While the toll road was one of the first transportation public-private partnerships (P3s) in this country, it hasn’t really proven to be the model for other P3s as some believed it would. And, at least for now, it appears the bankruptcy will have little impact either on motorists who use the facility or on the burgeoning P3 industry in the United States. I also have a roundup of recent reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers and Eno Center for Transportation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Plus the usual collection of links on MAP-21 reauthorization, the future of the Highway Trust Fund, state transportation funding initiatives, P3s and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

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