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Business & Economy

Infrastructure investment could be “economic driver”

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In a bi-partisan pitch, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and current Mesa, Ariz., mayor Scott Smith (a Republican), argue in today’s Wall Street Journal for a stronger U.S. investment in transportation infrastructure.

Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the long-term creation of quality American jobs.

When it comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.

Investments in transportation infrastructure–especially strategic, long-term investments–are investments in the future of the country. And as Rendell and Smith argue, true transportation investments aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a partisan issue.

Building America’s transportation infrastructure has been a national goal since Thomas Jefferson promoted canals and roads and Abraham Lincoln helped forge the Transcontinental Railroad. And still today, there remains a justifiable federal responsibility to address the country’s infrastructure decline. But it must be addressed thoughtfully, and much differently from the past. The sole responsibility can’t be left up to the federal government–from a financing or management perspective. (Indeed, given the current economic outlook, we’re probably well past the days when this made sense–if it ever did.) Instead, infrastructure investments could benefit tremendously, especially in terms of innovation and financing, from public-private cooperation.

Ultimately, despite the economic chaos we find ourselves in, we need infrastructure improvements that will contribute to the long-term economic growth of the country. Hopefully, Messrs. Rendell and Smith aren’t the only ones willing to cross the political aisle to cooperate on this issue.  
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Transportation Program Reform Facing an Uncertain Future

As we enter the new year–and celebrate the 21st year of publication of our newsletter–one thing is certain: the federal surface transportation program, as indeed the nation’s transportation future, remains in a state of flux.
What follows is a brief analysis that has led us to this conclusion. Shortly before the scheduled December 18 expiration of the third temporary extension of the federal surface transportation program, the House and the Senate passed yet another short-term extension, this time through the end of February 2010. Their action underscored once again the continued inability of the Congress to address the long-term transportation needs of the nation. Before adjourning for the holidays, the House also passed by a vote of 217 to 212 a second job stimulus bill (H.R. 2847). The $154 billion measure, endorsed by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, allocates $36.7 billion in additional funds for highways, transit and Amtrak, extends the surface transportation authorization through Sept. 30, 2010, credits the Highway Trust Fund with $19.5 billion in foregone interest payments and allows the HTF to accrue interest in the future. But because the new stimulus program and its infrastructure component are to be funded with dollars from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), the bill will face an uncertain future when it reaches the Senate early this year. Opponents may be expected to argue that the law establishing TARP requires unspent and repaid funds to be used to pay down the soaring national debt. The prospect of an impending vote to raise the debt ceiling might further discourage the Senate from redirecting the TARP money. The measure also faces possible White House opposition, given President Obama’s strong desire to limit further deficit spending and embark on a more sustainable fiscal policy.
Environmental advocacy groups, while supportive of the House measure, expressed disappointment that it failed to focus on long-term transportation reform or include a National Infrastructure Bank. Even Rep. John Mica (R-FL), ranking member of the House T&I Committee, who generally supports Chairman Oberstar, was moved to criticize the House bill. The “Son of Stimulus,” Mica wrote in Roll Call, will be no more successful in creating permanent new jobs in the transportation sector than was the first stimulus bill, since the dollars are being spent on short-term transportation enhancement and road repaving projects that provide jobs only for a few weeks or months. Our own impression, based on local evidence, tends to confirm Rep. Mica’s conclusions: the stimulus money has merely allowed local and state highway agencies and their contractors to avoid layoffs and enabled them to keep existing road crews working at full strength. This would be the likely effect of the second stimulus as well. Its effect on job creation (as opposed to job preservation) would be negligible according to many observers. In short, the latest House action is seen by the transportation community as another example of Congressional equivocation, extemporization and inability to come to grips with the nation’s long-range transportation needs in a fundamental way.

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U.S. Traffic Congestion Tab Of $87.2 Billion In ’07: Record Costs To Seattle Region

Added roadway and transit capacity, plus more toll lanes, telecommuting and flexible work hours are among the traffic congestion solutions recommended by researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in their 26th annual Urban Mobility Report, just released. Other recommendations include getting more efficiency out of existing surface transportation systems, and influencing development patterns to make walking, bicycling and transit more convenient. TTI, founded in 1950, is an internationally-recognized transportation research center based at Texas A & M University. The 2009 report is based on newly-analyzed 2007 data for 439 U.S. urban regions. In a summary of their findings, researchers noted that although travelers on average spent one less hour stuck in traffic in 2007 versus 2006 and wasted one Read More ›


Domestic Demand Strains Global Oil Market

It seems the global oil market isn’t immune to at least one law of nature: The apex predator has the most voracious appetite. The New York Times reports that the very oil-exporting countries that are experiencing remarkable domestic economic growth because of the global demand for oil may soon become victims of their own success. Experts say … several of the world’s most important suppliers may need to start importing oil within a decade to power all the new cars, houses and businesses they are buying and creating with their oil wealth. … The report [by Canada-based CIBC World Markets] said “soaring internal rates of oil consumption” in Russia, in Mexico and in member states of the Organization of the Read More ›


Cayo: Don’t Let Density, Taxes Chase Business Out Of Vancouver

Via the Web site of Vancouver, B.C. Mayor Sam Sullivan comes a full text version of a recent and thoughtful column that’s otherwise now parked behind a subscriber-only firewall. It’s by the Vancouver Sun’s Don Cayo, on the importance of leaving room for business as the city’s residential density continues to intensify. Writes Cayo: It makes complete sense to develop policies that allow and encourage people to live closer to where they work. The EcoDensity discussion is focused on an important half of the equation — where people will live. But what about the other half? If we succeed in gracefully accommodating a lot more residents within the boundaries of the city, as I think we can, where on earth Read More ›


“Cascadia: More Than A Dream”

Miro Cernetig of the Vancouver Sun takes a in-depth look at the economic and environmental firmament of North America’s upper lefthand corner, in an article titled, “Cascadia – More Than A Dream.” Where you will find Cascadia…is in the mindset of the millions of people who live on the continent’s western edge…Cascadia’s guiding principle today isn’t nationhood but what might be best called regionhood — the sense that Alaska, the Yukon, B.C., Alberta and the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho — often share similar regional goals and ambitions….these range from environmental issues, a heightened sense that their collective futures are tied to the Asia-Pacific and a desire for more autonomy from federal governments that are thousands of kilometres Read More ›


Research Compendium

Last updated August 25, 2008 The research, it just keeps coming. On this page, we’ll compile links to key studies and reports on innovation in transportation. MANAGING, PLANNING & FUNDING TRANSPORTATION Cascadia Center Reports “Lessons In Public-Private Partnerships & Climate Change: What British Columbia Taught California, And What Washington Can Still Learn,” 10/07. “A Tale Of Three Cities: How San Diego, Denver and Vancouver, B.C. Raised Major Regional Funds For Transportation,” Doug Hurley, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 9/06. “Travel Value Pricing: Better Traffic Operations Management & New Revenue For The Puget Sound Region,” John S. Niles, for Cascadia Center, 4/06. “Transportation Working Group Recommendations,” Transportation Working Group, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2/15/05. Transportation Working Group background, members, and Read More ›