John Binder, deputy commissioner with the Alaska Department of Transportation, told attendees at Sunday’s transportation session that Alaska is unique.

“Not special, unique,” he said. “We are not looking for special treatment or exception, just recognition we have unique challenges due to our topography and scale.” 

The Highway Trust Fund is staring down an insolvency crisis due to diminishing gas tax revenues. Central to this development are increasing fuel efficiency standards of gas powered vehicles and the roll-out of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), which are not subject to the gas tax in most states. However, there are more cars on the roads now than ever, and many of them are powered by alternative fuels like natural gas, propane, and electricity. Are drivers of those vehicles paying their fair share for maintaining roads and bridges? Some states have enacted flat registration and licensing fees to address these issues.

In October of 2013, eight state governors signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU),  committing to coordinated efforts to  ensure the successful implementation of each state's Zero Emission Vehicle programs. This ZEV Action Plan is made up of 11 key steps to achieving widespread deployment of electric vehicles. It includes aggressive promotion of electric vehicles and of electric vehicle-friendly policies as a means of cleaning up transportation and stimulating job growth. 

When it comes to meeting the transportation needs of its residents, Alaska has some defining characteristics that set it apart from other states in the challenges it faces. “Alaska’s primary challenges stem primarily from its vastness, limited infrastructure and arctic climate,” said John R. Binder III, deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Punting the football… Kicking the can down the roadHitting the snooze buttonStill driving blind… Road to nowhere… Spinning wheelsRiding on four flat tires…  Pick your favorite metaphor and it’s probably been used to describe the House-approved temporary fix that the U.S. Senate appears poised to pass next week to rescue the dwindling federal Highway Trust Fund and ensure reimbursements for transportation projects will continue to go out to states through next May. It’s a plan that no one seems to like, that mostly prolongs the uncertainty states have faced in recent years with regards to the federal transportation program and that sets up another battle for next spring, albeit in what could be a substantially different looking new Congress. I also have a look this week at President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative and a super-sized roundup of links from the last three weeks on reauthorization of MAP-21, the future of the Highway Trust Fund, state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

InfraAmericas logoAs states continue to experience infrastructure deficits and uncertainty about how those needs will be met going forward, public-private partnerships (P3s) have become an important tool in the toolbox for some when it comes to project finance and delivery. But the types of projects being pursued and the types of agreements states are entering into with the private sector have evolved considerably in recent years. Past experiences have made both states and private investors more discerning and deliberative partners. Federal tools such as the TIFIA loan guarantee program have helped many large P3 projects advance but doubts about the future of the federal transportation program overall have prompted some states to hesitate in pursuing many large, long-term projects.

Drivers for the ride-sharing company Lyft, which can be recognized by the pink mustaches attached to the grill of the cars, are creating a legislation and regulation stir across the United States. Lyft is one of a few brands associated with the new market—dubbed transportation networking companies by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2013—but more commonly known as ride sharing. These companies hire local drivers and use a phone app to connect them with passengers in need of a ride. The concept is still relatively new, so as transportation networking companies spread to different cities, state and local governments are unsure if or how to regulate them. In 2013, California was the first state to define and allow the operation of ride-sharing companies. California Public Utilities Commission regulations prohibit their operation at airports, but enforcement is an issue.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is putting the procedures in place and giving notice to state transportation agencies about what could happen if Congress does not act in the coming weeks to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, which is headed towards insolvency later this summer. I also have a roundup of this week’s other stories and links concerning MAP-21 reauthorization, the future of the trust fund, state activity on transportation revenue, public-private partnerships and tolling, and state multi-modal strategies.

The Senate Finance Committee Thursday began consideration of a proposal to keep the Highway Trust Fund temporarily afloat but left town for the 4th of July holiday break without voting on the measure as chairman Ron Wyden sought to gain support of Senate Republicans. I also have my usual weekly roundup of news items and links on MAP-21 reauthorization, the future of the HTF, state activity on transportation revenues, public-private partnerships and tolling, and state multi-modal strategies.

The seemingly endless winter of 2013-14 was a record-breaking one in many states and led to enormous expenditures on road maintenance as state departments of transportation tried to keep roads clear for travelers. Road salt became a hot commodity and there were numerous reports of shortages. Some states could continue to feel the fiscal impact of the winter of 2013-14 for some time to come. That’s particularly worrisome as uncertainty about the future of transportation funding continues at the federal level.

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