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The fairness of charging motorists a mileage fee to help pay for road repairs… The state of the nation’s bridges… The economic impact of the transportation construction industry… How to win public support for road pricing... The keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from freight transportation... All are the subjects of recent reports and studies. Here’s a roundup of those reports, along with an update on public-private partnerships.

Perhaps lost somewhere this week between news of President Obama’s budget and transportation plan and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of high-speed rail in his state is the fact that today, February 17th, marks the two-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, which provided $48.1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects around the country, has received plenty of criticism for not doing enough to revive the economy but also won praise from state governments who saw the infrastructure funds as a godsend during what was otherwise a period of slashed transportation budgets. And, as I reported in a CSG National Report last year, some states themselves won a fair amount of praise for their efforts to meet deadlines, select worthy projects and report on their activities. While the one year anniversary of ARRA in 2010 produced a flood of reports looking at the legislation’s impact, I could find only a handful commemorating this anniversary.

The future of federal transportation programs and what it could mean for state governments were clearly on the minds of speakers and attendees at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting last week in Washington, D.C.

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week entitled “Rural Transportation Needs.” The concept for the brief evolved from a resolution our CSG Transportation Policy Task Force approved at the 2008 annual meeting in Omaha. One of the lines in that resolution reads “be it further resolved that the Council of State Governments supports a transportation authorization that considers the needs of both urban and rural areas.” That line, I believe, was an effort by our members to address what some at the time feared could become an urban bias in a fundamental reorganization of federal transportation programs under a new authorization regime. Three years later, that resolution is due to sunset later this year under CSG bylaws (we will likely endeavor to renew or revise it accordingly). There still is no agreement on a successor to SAFETEA-LU, which officially expired in 2009 and has been extended six times on a short-term basis. And a sea change has occurred in Congress not only politically but demographically. Republicans, who now control the House, made many of their gains in rural areas. That impacts what the expectations are for an authorization bill and what parts of the country are likely to benefit. But it is no less important to keep in mind the unique transportation needs of rural communities as the authorization debate resumes this year.

The 2005 law authorizing federal surface transportation programs, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. Congress has authorized a series of short-term extensions but has yet to enact a new multi-year bill that is expected to redefine the nation’s transportation priorities. What Congress decides regarding federal transportation programs will determine state funding and policy needs. Among the issues states will be concerned with in 2011 are the condition of America’s infrastructure, the erosion of the gas tax as a funding source, finding alternative financing, adjusting to shifting federal priorities and building a 21st century transportation system.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

President Obama stepped up the urgency in his call for increased infrastructure spending during remarks Monday in the White House Rose Garden. Although the President primarily echoed the plan he originally outlined on Labor Day calling for the rebuilding of 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail lines, and 150 miles of airport runways, he came armed with plenty of new evidence that infrastructure improvements would be an effective tool in aiding the nation’s economic recovery and ensuring a brighter future.

The U.S. transportation system lacks a coherent vision, is chronically short of resources, is costing the country dearly in lost time, money and safety and is compromising our productivity and ability to compete internationally. Those are some of the conclusions in a new report entitled “Well Within Reach” issued on behalf of a bipartisan panel of transportation experts who met for three days last year at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. While none of that is likely to be news to many, the report does offer a series of recommendations for a new transportation agenda that are worthy of consideration.

“Armageddon on Colorado ballots” proclaimed the colorful headline of a Denver Post editorial this week. The doomsday concern is in reference to three ballot measures Colorado voters will consider this November that may be reflective of the anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-borrowing, anti-big government sentiments among the electorate this fall but that could go a long way in determining whether the state has any money in the future to do important things like build and maintain roads.

More evidence this week that renewed investment in the nation’s transportation system is needed--and soon: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released their first-ever Transportation Performance Index, which shows that the performance of the system is not keeping pace with the rate of growth of demands on it. Meanwhile, two states got very different kinds of news about the challenges they face in upgrading that system.

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