Traffic Safety

This December 13, 2011 recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board “for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle” put distracted driving back in the national spotlight.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday voted unanimously to move forward a bipartisan transportation authorization bill known by the acronym MAP-21. In the latest issue of CSG’s Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter I look at why there may still be a long road ahead before legislation is signed into law. Here is some additional analysis of the bill and its prospects. I also have updates on the potential for a gas tax increase in Iowa and the future of tolling in Washington State.

The home state of CSG’s National Headquarters has been in the national transportation policy spotlight a fair amount in recent weeks. First, President Obama chose to highlight the need to repair the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Covington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, during his September 8 speech to Congress unveiling his jobs plan and its proposed infrastructure investments. Just a day later, Indiana officials ordered closed another Ohio River span, the Sherman Minton Bridge between Louisville and Southern Indiana, after cracks were discovered in its steel beams. It was a 2010 Kentucky truck crash that prompted the National Transportation Safety Board last week to recommend a ban on cell phone use by commercial drivers. And this week, the President used the Brent Spence Bridge as a backdrop to again tout his jobs plan in the backyards of both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Kentucky is also the focus of an article I have out this week in the state business magazine The Lane Report. It examines why most highway projects take so long to complete.

Transportation Demand Management incorporates various policy strategies to reduce traffic congestion by shifting transportation away from single-occupancy vehicles, shifting travel out of peak periods or shifting it to less congested roads or modes of transportation. Though many states have successful transportation demand management programs, the future of these programs may be in jeopardy unless dedicated funding for them can be found and unless state agencies continue to demonstrate their value in addressing policy objectives like congestion reduction and air quality improvement.

The chances that the federal gas tax, which is set to expire Sept. 30, could be extended improved a bit this week as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, announced he won’t oppose an extension. Also this week, New York’s Governor gives a boost to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, Georgia prepares for next year’s regional referenda on transportation project funding, and Seattle gives a thumbs up to a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Plus, items of note on transportation spending as stimulus, tolling and public-private partnerships, high-speed rail, public transportation, the 2012 presidential election and mileage-based user fees.

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.

I’ve written before about how many suggest that future funding for transportation could and should be based on performance measures (see here and here). Now the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project is just out with a new report that offers their recommendations on how to incorporate them into the decision-making process.

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.

Here’s one of those instances in which what I do hits close to home. In the latest issue of Capitol Ideas and a recent blog post, I wrote about how a number of states are following the lead of Missouri in employing a relatively new type of traffic interchange called the diverging diamond or double crossover diamond interchange to improve safety and reduce congestion. The interchanges can be built in less time and at a lower cost than other types of interchanges. Now, it appears I may soon get to see firsthand how the diamond works. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Kentucky transportation officials announced this week that they plan to reconfigure a Lexington intersection that is part of my daily commute using the diamond model.

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