Administration and Finance

In the March/April issue of Capitol Ideas, I wrote about how the state of Utah has used transportation investment to drive the state’s economic growth. Among those I talked with were two legislators—one a civil engineer, the other an economist—as well as a planning official for the Utah Department of Transportation. But there is plenty more to the story of Utah’s success as I learned in this February interview with Abby Albrecht of the Utah Transportation Coalition, which arrived too late to be included in the published article. The coalition is an organization formed by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Association of Counties.

Most states have created dedicated trust funds to support transportation. Some have constitutional restrictions on how the revenues in those funds can be spent. Others simply have restrictions codified in statute that haven’t always been effective in preventing the diversion of revenues to other budget areas. Maryland and Wisconsin are the two newest states with constitutional protections for their transportation trust funds. Additional states could follow suit, but despite their real or perceived benefits, such protections are unlikely to have much impact on struggling state transportation budgets.

Earlier this year, I named “project selection” one of my top 5 issues in transportation for 2015. From light rail and streetcar projects to efforts to reform planning processes to the costs of highway construction to the potential impacts of such factors as millennial preferences and autonomous vehicles, project selection is being pondered and debated in every state and community around the country. I have updates on what’s been happening this year in 21 states and the District of Columbia as well as links to recent reports on transportation spending limitations, performance measurement, Complete Streets policies, commuter and job growth trends and the future of cars.

More than a dozen state legislatures appear poised to consider gas tax increases this year, but Michigan will take a path less traveled when voters go to the polls May 5 to consider a complicated ballot measure that would provide an extra $1.2 billion a year for state roads.

Statehouse watchers think this legislative session is going to be a big one on the transportation funding front. “I think we can say for the next year or two that we’re going to see as much, if not more, activity than we saw in the last two years in legislatures,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America, an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders dedicated to smart investments in transportation. “Frankly, that’s pretty historic.”

A gas tax increase appears on the fast track to final passage in Iowa. Transportation funding measures in Georgia and Washington also moved forward this week. And governors, state DOT officials and legislators in a variety of other states introduced or defended major transportation packages as the funding conversation heated up in those states. Here’s a roundup of the latest developments.

This week, an update on more than 20 states looking at transportation funding this year. Per-gallon gas tax increases, indexing, sales taxes, tax swaps, motor vehicle excise taxes, vehicle registration fees, transportation fund lockboxes and bonding are among the issues factoring into the discussions around the country. I also have information about how you can join us for our latest eCademy webinar this week on the states to watch on transportation funding.

We got a look this week at the Obama administration’s vision for transportation with the release of the President’s budget and authorization proposal and a new report looking at trends impacting the nation’s transportation system and the implications of those trends over the next 30 years. Meanwhile, Congress has begun looking at options for how to fund a longer term transportation bill with the debate appearing to coalesce around three possibilities. Nevertheless, state officials around the country remain concerned about the impact ongoing federal uncertainty is having on their ability to plan for the all-important transportation project construction season.

The continuing evolution of public-private partnerships (P3s) and tolling was another of the issues on my recent Top 5 Transportation Issues for 2015. There have already been a variety of developments this year on some key stories concerning both, including a debate in Kentucky over how to finance a new bridge over the Ohio River, efforts to convince the new Governor of Maryland of the benefits of two light rail P3 projects and a new infrastructure financing tool to encourage private investment proposed by President Obama. Here are a few updates from around the country and links where you can read more.

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.

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