As Congress struggles to come up with the kind of multi-year transportation authorization bill that was once customary and with the idea of a federal gas tax increase to pay for it still divisive despite low oil prices, one revenue mechanism that has long been considered a possible replacement for the gas tax is expected to have a pivotal year: the mileage based user fee (MBUF) aka vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee/tax aka road usage charge. But some wonder whether the mechanism can ever truly become what transportation policy experts originally expected and whether its adoption will be derailed by privacy concerns that some say are largely unfounded. Those were some of the issues on the minds of speakers at last week’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Sean Slone, Program Manager for Transportation Policy, outlines the top five issues in transportation policy for 2015, including uncertain federal funding, alternative funding mechanisms such as public-private partnerships and tolling, and the ways infrastructure spending contribute to workforce development and growing the nation's economy.

A new Congress this year could decide the long-term future of federal surface transportation programs after years of uncertainty that have had a huge impact for states and their planning processes. Meanwhile, 2015 could bring significant activity in state capitals on transportation funding initiatives. Public-private partnerships and tolling seem likely to continue their evolution after what was a pivotal year in 2014. With transportation funding scarce, the process of planning and approving transportation projects is under new scrutiny as well and appears likely to be influenced by a growing number of new metrics and methodologies, technological, demographic and lifestyle changes, and other factors. The struggles to increase transportation investment at the federal and state levels continue despite what appears to be solid evidence of the job creation and economic growth potential of investment, as evidenced by the actions of some of America’s biggest economic competitors. Here’s my expanded article on the top 5 issues in transportation for 2015 and a selection of additional CSG and non-CSG resources where you can read more.

State lawmakers from nine states attended the CSG Policy Academy on Electric and Alternative Fuel Vehicles August 7-8, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. The group heard how state and local government programs in the area are encouraging the proliferation of such vehicles. Representatives of the automotive industry and energy sector also took part in the event. Speakers also discussed California’s unique legislative landscape and policy efforts to encourage ultra-low carbon transportation. Finally, attendees got a chance to see electric vehicle charging infrastructure and other sustainable transportation programs in the Seattle region. This meeting archive includes PowerPoint presentations from several policy academy speakers, photos from the event and additional resources and links for further reading.

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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.

In an effort to develop alternate funding sources to implement critical transportation and infrastructure projects, states across the country increasingly are looking to public-private partnerships, known as P3s, as an important strategy. States in CSG's Southern Legislative Conference have been particularly active in pursuing the P3 format for a number of years. This webinar provides the latest perspectives and approaches from three SLC states—Florida, Texas and Virginia.

This act amends existing laws relating to vehicle licensure, fees, license plates, safety, inspection and other requirements to include a new class of vehicle known as an “autocycle.” An “autocycle” is defined as “a three-wheeled motor vehicle that has a steering wheel and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride and is manufactured to comply with federal safety requirements for motorcycles.” Except as otherwise provided, an autocycle shall not be deemed to be a motorcycle.

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.

Massachusetts state Sen. Thomas McGee had a cautionary note for attendees at a recent conference in Denver on state transportation funding efforts. “It’s not just about reaching the finish line,” he said at the conference hosted by Transportation for America. “It’s about where you go from there.”

Following the deluge of major transportation funding packages passed by states in 2013, elections and other factors combined to make 2014 a somewhat quieter year on that front. But as 2015 legislative sessions approach, a large number of states appear poised to tackle transportation funding. While some states are holdovers from years past as a result of previously unsuccessful efforts, there are also a handful of relative newcomers to the list this year. Their reasons for addressing the issue now and the urgency with which they are approaching it may vary, but there are plenty of common justifications and common solutions that already appear to be emerging.

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