Sprawl

This week, President Obama banks again on infrastructure investment to stimulate the nation’s economy. Also, a key Senate committee approves a four-month extension of surface transportation programs as a House Appropriations subcommittee passes a 2012 transportation budget that cuts overall spending and Administration-favored programs. There are also items this week on congestion reduction, sprawl and smart growth.

As President Obama prepares to deliver a major jobs speech next week, he and two key Democratic Senators are warning that not extending transportation programs by the end of the month could compound America’s already significant job losses. This just as the federal government announced today that employers added no net jobs in August. There are also items this week about the impact of potential transportation funding cuts to states, the condition of U.S. infrastructure, alternative funding options, public-private partnerships, climate change and freight transportation.

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.

State transportation officials this week called on Congress to take action by September 30th to extend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that funds federal highway and transit programs and to pass a long-term reauthorization of those programs. I also have items this week on the future of infrastructure finance, tolling, public transit, Smart Growth, a model for regional freight plans, Seattle’s new Big Dig and possible restructuring for the South Carolina Department of Transportation following a recent fiscal crisis.

While not a new concept in the public policy lexicon, transit-oriented development is receiving renewed attention as some states and communities ponder a future that may include high-speed rail. States have a vested interest in ensuring that huge investments in rail and transit systems pay off not only in improving transportation but also in creating economic development and helping to bring about healthier, more environmentally friendly and sustainable communities around transit stations. Fortunately, a number of states already have years of experience in using public policy to shape how this development takes place.

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.

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.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced a government partnership called the Sustainable Communities Initiative. But states and localities have for years led in trying to make communities more sustainable by instilling the principles of Smart Growth.

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