Blog New Direction and Goals Unveiled at National Transportation Forum

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton addresses the audience gathered at the Arctic Club Hotel in Seattle this morning.
Nearly 200 people packed downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club Hotel today for the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center’s first national “field” forum to unveil its recommendations calling for dramatic shifts in transportation policy. The report, “Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy,” was unveiled in Washington, D.C., on June 9, 2009, and the BPC is now conducting a set of forums around the country.
As a precursor to today’s event, Senator Gorton published an op-ed in The Seattle Times this morning. In the op-ed, “Transportation dollars should be allocated to maximize larger society goals,” he argued that Washington, D.C., “does not measure how well its transportation investments improve traffic, safety, energy or the environment” which leads to an ineffective system that ultimately negatively impacts America’s “global competitiveness.”

Even though they are the economic engines of the nation, large metropolitan regions like ours bear the brunt of misallocated investments. Unfortunately, the current federal program restricts funds from being used in ways that can best advance regional and national goals.

Inside the Arctic Club’s Northern Lights Dome Room this morning, experts from the BPC and local leaders tried to get their heads around how to best bring the recommendations in the landmark “Performance Driven” report from idea to implementation. Senator Gorton was joined by the BPC’s director of transportation research Joshua Schank and senior advisor JayEtta Hecker. Seattle area leaders on the dais included Bryan Mistele (NTPP member and president and CEO of INRIX), Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond, and Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute senior fellow Steve Marshall. (A full agenda with participants can be found here.)

Solving the transportation challenge isn’t for the faint of heart. And although he brought humor to the forum by quoting transportation-related headlines from The Onion newspaper, BPC’s Schank had a serious message today. He told the audience that prescriptive performance measures need to be replaced by real outcomes and that a comprehensive — not a piecemeal– approach to reform is the goal. (As followers of transportation know well, this turns convention on its head.) Discovery’s Steve Marshall discussed how to weave together the different pieces of a changing transportation landscape with new and ever-advancing technological developments, while Brian Mistele highlighted how the Northwest (and particularly Seattle) is on the “cusp” of innovation.
The BPC was founded in 2007 by a group of former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders — Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell. It is a group that clearly knows policy, and their “Performance Driven” report begins with a blunt assessment of the vastness of the problem: “National transportation policy has lost direction and a clear sense of purpose, threatening substantial costs to our collective prosperity, security, environment, and quality of life. We are recommending bold and comprehensive reform founded on a relatively simple proposition: U.S. transportation policy needs to be more performance-driven, more directly linked to a set of clearly articulated goals, and more accountable for results.” In recommending goals matched to metrics, the report outlines which goals to aim for: economic growth; national connectivity; metropolitan accessibility; energy security and environmental protection; and, safety.
Seattle was chosen as the site of the BPC’s first “field” forum in part because, as JayEtta Hecker said, “Washington is a place that has taken transportation seriously — we have a lot to learn from you.” Even a well-attended, goal-oriented discussion in a city steeped in transportation couldn’t provide final solutions to the problems outlined in the “Performance Driven” report, however. But it certainly started an important dialogue, one that the BPC hopes will help at least parts of its report to find their way into the next national surface transportation bill, which looks to be on at least a six month or more delay.