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A new report from the bipartisan Building America’s Future Educational Fund says the United States needs to invest at least $200 billion a year in infrastructure, including transportation, energy, water and broadband internet. But that could be difficult, especially if some who want to get rid of the federal gas tax get their way. Also this week: Kentucky follows in Missouri’s footsteps in installing a new traffic interchange designed to decrease congestion and crashes in less time and for less money than other kinds of interchanges. Plus, items of note on tolling, public-private partnerships, mileage-based user fees in Europe and bridge work in Massachusetts and Missouri.

With the debt deal behind them and the Federal Aviation Administration at least temporarily reopened, members of Congress left on their annual month-long summer recess this week. When they return, only 24 days will remain until September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year when both the latest extension of SAFETEA-LU and most of the federal gas tax are due to expire. Some believe renewal of the gas tax could face opposition in Congress. Meanwhile, Senate leaders say the body could act on a successor to SAFETEA-LU after the break, as reports surfaced that Sen. Max Baucus has come up with a way to bridge the $12 billion funding gap between how much is in the Highway Trust Fund and how much the Senate’s two-year reauthorization measure proposes to spend. And state officials are pondering what the debt deal could mean for transportation. Plus, items of note on public-private partnerships, high-speed rail, tolling, motorcycle helmet laws and other issues.

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.

Today marks the 55th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the Interstates and the Highway Trust Fund. The anniversary has many transportation experts weighing in on where the nation’s highway system stands today and what might lie in store for its future, including as it relates to the next federal surface transportation authorization bill. Here’s a sampling of opinion.

It appeared to be a promising development last week when Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus and Republican Sens. James Inhofe and David Vitter released a joint statement citing “great progress” and “common ground” on a new transportation authorization bill. But there is already significant skepticism that Boxer and her colleagues can deliver a promised six-year bill that would allow state and local leaders around the country to fund long-term transportation projects going forward. And as usual, there is no shortage of opinions on how changes in federal and state policy might help the nation better address its infrastructure needs.

New reports out in recent weeks detail how the United States is falling behind other countries in infrastructure improvement, offer “taxpayer-friendly” solutions for the nation’s transportation challenges, explain how highway infrastructure spending is connected to the larger U.S. economy and examine tax provisions for financing infrastructure. Here’s a rundown.

Last week I blogged about a recent forum in which transportation and infrastructure experts came together to discuss how to move the conversation forward on addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs. One of the consistent themes throughout that meeting involved the need to put greater emphasis on performance metrics to assure the public and their representatives in government that investments in infrastructure are being well spent and having the kind of impact they hope in areas like economic development. Well there’s a new report out today from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Pew Center on the States that assesses the capacity of all 50 states to use those kinds of metrics to identify just what they’re getting for their transportation dollars.

State officials have plenty of thoughts on what should be in the next authorization of federal transportation programs. Last week they used a variety of venues to once again let Congress know their priorities for the successor to SAFETEA-LU, the 2005 authorization legislation that officially expired in 2009 which has been operating under a series of temporary extensions since. But many wonder whether a new bill that is expected to be substantially more limited in scope and dollars than past efforts can come close to meeting state wish lists.

This week CSG released a new Capitol Facts & Figures policy brief highlighting efforts to increase or otherwise change State Motor Fuel Taxes in a number of states this year. Although some earlier this year predicted that several states, faced with significant infrastructure challenges and limited options to raise needed transportation revenues, would increase their gas taxes in 2011, that hasn’t yet come to pass. Instead, escalating gas prices caused by instability in the Middle East and North Africa have meant that gas tax increases are still just as politically unpopular as they were in 2010, when no state adopted one. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some interesting developments this year. Here are some updates on recent activity in South Dakota, Arkansas, Oregon and other states.

While gas taxes as currently enacted in many states have significant limitations, they are still seen by many as the most viable option for raising substantial transportation revenue in the near term. Though increasing motor fuel taxes to raise additional revenue has proved to be politically challenging in many states in recent years, a handful of states in 2011 have considered, are considering or may soon consider gas tax changes. 

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