In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Court held 8-1 that a private party, rather than the federal government, owns an abandoned railroad right-of-way granted by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875.  When the federal government owns abandoned railroad rights-of-way, state and local governments may convert them into “Rails-to-Trails.”  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus curiae brief in this case.

Here’s what should scare anyone concerned about the state of the nation’s infrastructure after last week’s collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River north of Seattle: that wasn’t even one of the bridges in particularly bad shape and it wasn’t in one of the states particularly known for bridges in bad shape. And while that incident—and the subsequent collapse of a highway overpass in Missouri—has once again kick-started the calls for additional funding to shore up crumbling infrastructure, analysts believe they are unlikely to have much impact in prompting policy makers to take action.

Transportation plans in Maryland, Ohio and Virginia are one step closer to becoming a reality this week. For other states though, the debate over how to fund transportation going forward continues. I also have some noteworthy items below on the condition of America’s infrastructure and what states are doing about it.

We have several new transportation-related publications here in the Knowledge Center this month. Here are a few updates and additional resources on the topics they address.

Stateline Midwest Vol. 20, No. 7: July/August 2012

After two years of seeking options and legislative support to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appears to have found a way to make it a reality.

He signed in June what’s known as an “interlocal agreement” with the Canadian...

I blogged previously about last week’s National Transportation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. You can read my previous postings on the appearance by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica and the panel with five former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation here and here. But the forum also featured several other panels with transportation advocates, stakeholders and analysts weighing in on what might be needed to convince the public and their leaders that now is the time to move forward on infrastructure investment. Among the questions they addressed:

  • How can transportation advocates win support for projects and investment in the post-earmark era?
  • What’s the best way to identify the most “shovel-worthy” projects?
  • Can more accountability and transparency in transportation programs help win back a public skeptical of government?
  • Will an injection of politics into transportation policy help or hinder efforts to move forward on infrastructure?
  • What words does the public respond to best as policy makers try to make the case for infrastructure investment?
  • What’s the best way to emphasize the impact of infrastructure on economic development and job creation?
  • How can developing a plan and vision for transportation at all levels of government and demonstrating visible benefits to the public help advance the cause?

Here is some of what the panelists at the Miller Center forum had to say on those issues.

With significant growth expected in freight transportation over the next several decades as a result of the expansion of the Panama Canal and other factors, a number of states have begun to adopt policies that seek to take trucks off the road and make the nation's supply chain more multi-modal. By improving infrastructure at seaports, incentivizing shippers, making greater use of inland waterways, creating partnerships to reduce freight rail bottlenecks and developing state and regional freight plans, these states stand to make significant improvements to freight efficiency and safety as well as to the environment. 

In October 2011, CSG hosted an invitation-only Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, D.C. for a group of 11 state legislators from around the country, many of whom serve in leadership positions on transportation-focused committees in their states. In addition to providing an opportunity for these state leaders to meet with their members of Congress about the future of transportation policy, CSG also invited a group of policy experts, public officials, advocates and observers to speak to the group about the policy landscape, what may lie ahead for states in transportation and what some states are doing in the absence of federal action. In the interest of sharing their insights and expertise with a broader CSG audience, this series of blog posts will feature extended excerpts from their remarks on a wide variety of transportation policy issues. Richard Norment is the Executive Directorof the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPPP), a non-profit organization of representatives of both the public and private sectors, working to promote the use of public-private partnerships for improved delivery of public services and infrastructure. During his remarks to policy academy participants, Norment discussed the reasons states are exploring public-private partnerships to fund transportation projects and his six keys to successful partnerships.

The home state of CSG’s National Headquarters has been in the national transportation policy spotlight a fair amount in recent weeks. First, President Obama chose to highlight the need to repair the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, during his September 8 speech to Congress unveiling his jobs plan and its proposed infrastructure investments. Just a day later, Indiana officials ordered closed another Ohio River span, the Sherman Minton Bridge between Louisville and Southern Indiana, after cracks were discovered in its steel beams. It was a 2010 Kentucky truck crash that prompted the National Transportation Safety Board last week to recommend a ban on cell phone use by commercial drivers. And this week, the President used the Brent Spence Bridge as a backdrop to again tout his jobs plan in the backyards of both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Kentucky is also the focus of an article I have out this week in the state business magazine The Lane Report. It examines why most highway projects take so long to complete.

With Washington still embroiled in the debt ceiling debate and no momentum for a new transportation reauthorization bill, we get a glimpse this week at the potential cost of doing nothing to improve America’s infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a new report today entitled “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure.” The report indicates that not only are American households and businesses absorbing enormous costs today as a result of deteriorating infrastructure, over the next 30 years these costs could further reduce America’s productivity and competitiveness in the world, cause millions of Americans to forgo discretionary purchases in order to pay transportation costs that could have been avoided, cause the U.S. to lose out on creating jobs in high paying services and manufacturing industries, produce a significant drain on wages and productivity and result in the United States losing billions of dollars in foreign exports.