Category

Funding

Funding Conundrum Persists For U.S. Transpo Overhaul

Congress has adjourned for the summer recess with neither house taking action to extend the federal surface transportation program. Hope for a timely enactment of a long term transportation bill this year all but vanished when Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, acknowledged that he does not favor raising the gas tax at this time to pay for the $500 billion transportation authorization ($450 billion for highways and transit, $50 billion for high-speed rail). He made this admission in testimony before a hearing of a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on July 23. “Although increasing and indexing the gasoline and diesel user fee is a viable financing mechanism,…I do not believe that the user fee should be increased during the current recession,” Oberstar stated, echoing the posture previously taken by the White House.
Instead, the T&I Committee chairman and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, suggested several  potential  sources of additional revenue to supplement the gas tax and close the funding gap.

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Bipartisan Transportation Report Calls for Dramatic Shift in U.S. Transportation Policy

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How America moves its people and goods in an efficient, effective, and in a secure and environmentally friendly way, will have at least as great of an effect as any other major policy decisions that the current Administration and Congress make. But, woefully, transportation isn’t really the stuff of eye-catching headlines and cocktail party chatter. That might be why, except among a small group of policy wonks, one of the most comprehensive calls for a new way of doing transportation business went largely unnoticed when it was released one month ago in Washington, D.C.
On June 9, the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center released, “Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy,” which calls for dramatic shifts in the formulation of federal transportation policy, including, for the first time, linking funding to performance. (Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center will co-host an event in Seattle in August with the Bipartisan Policy Center, INRIX and local governments to unveil the report here in the Northwest.)

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State Rep. Carlyle: New Era Of Transpo Funding, Strategy Looms

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36th) makes some key points about the future of state and regional transportation funding in a Ballard News-Tribune op-ed.
After stressing funding shortfalls facing King County Metro’s bus service and declining gas tax revenues for road projects, Carlyle explores several important macro-level policy options for funding improved mobility.

…the long-term, big picture is important and we can’t let the battles over the tunnel, 520 bridge and other mega projects be a conversation killer about our broader structural challenges. Several ideas are on the front burner. Tolling is making a comeback, as evidenced by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and soon on the 520 bridge. It makes sense for the people who use facilities the most to pay a greater share of the construction and maintenance costs for a specific facility or geographic area….comprehensive regional tolling – with e-tags and other solutions to help make it easy logistically – makes good economic sense so long as we have a real action plan….
Another, if controversial, idea is charging according to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), tracked by a transponder. This would take into account actual road usage, whether or not a vehicle uses gasoline, electricity or something else. It also opens up some interesting new policy ideas such as integrating car insurance, parking (no more parking meters!), tolls, etc., into one system that is able to charge drivers accordingly and accurately. Obviously, a concern about privacy is one major obstacle to this idea, so we’ll have to continue looking at innovative ways to address this very legitimate concern…..
A third option is the car-tab fee model and using the funds for direct transportation services so the money doesn’t disappear into the institutional bureaucracy of government but rather goes for real services on the ground.

Kudos to Rep. Carlyle for highlighting in a community forum the need to develop long-term surface transportation funding strategies. Regional (electronic, time-variable) tolling and further consideration of a vehicle mileage tax – along with a local-option motor vehicle excise tax applied at annual license renewal time – are all important options that our Cascadia Center and others have advocated.
More than that, Carlyle’s commentary is especially timely.

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Patching Trust Fund Gap May Trump Fast OK Of New Transpo Bill

For those who follow transportation policy closely, last week was an eventful one.
The week started with a June 22 release by the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee of its 775-page draft surface transportation bill, a “blueprint” of which had been released the previous week. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s decision (also released the previous week) to seek an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation law was met with approval by some, regret and resignation by others, and incredulity and defiance by still others. In seeking a delay, Secretary LaHood joined a growing body of doubters that the crowded legislative calendar – controversial climate legislation, contentious health care reform, a Supreme Court confirmation, among others – would permit the House and the Senate to reach agreement on a new bill before the current law expires at the end of September. Our first priority, the Secretary said, must be to fix the Highway Trust Fund shortfall so that money continues to flow to the states without interruption.
The urgency of acting promptly, i.e. before the Highway Trust Fund runs dry in mid-August, was reinforced by a June 22 letter from Governors Ed Rendell (PA) and James Douglas (VT), to the congressional leadership. Writing in their capacity as chairman and vice-chairman respectively of the National Governors Association, they urged the lawmakers to pass an extension to eliminate the impending shortfall “as soon as possible” so that states can continue planning for and funding critical highway programs. The letter left a clear implication that the governors considered ensuring the continuity of funding offered by Sec. LaHood’s proposal to take precedence over a long-term reform of the program – especially given the uncertainty of finding the money to pay for the long-term program.
Further support for the Administration’s proposal came from the Senate side.

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House Transportation Bill: Where’s The Money, & Can It Pass In ’09?

Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled a blueprint for the next surface transportation authorization bill on June 18 to generally positive reviews (long version of blueprint here). However he left two key questions unanswered: Can the bill be enacted this year? and, Where will the money to fund the ambitious $500 billion program come from?
The first question has been pushed to the forefront by the Obama Administration. Last Thursday, Transportation Secretary LaHood surprised the transportation community and members of Congress with an unexpected announcement:  the Administration will seek an 18-month extension of the current surface transportation authorization. An estimated $13-$17 billion will be needed to fund the program extension.

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Tolling Wyoming? Howzzat, Podnah?

It’s common enough to hear that we need more tolling in urban regions to help fund maintenance, repair and extension of highways (not to mention the time-saving benefits of tolled express lanes). But tolling in Wyoming, a.k.a. “Big Wyoming” and “the Cowboy State,” population 493,782? What gives? Here’s what: Interstate 80 across Wyoming is wearing down, traffic is expected to more than double by 2037, and money is scarce. As the Interstate Atlas shows, I-80 is an important route to our Cascadia region, via a short spur to I-84, which then runs through Boise to Portland and I-5 just south of the border with Washington; in Sacramento, it also connects directly with I-5, the major artery defining the West Coast Read More ›


Vehicle Mileage Tax Push Alive And Well

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D.-Minn.) says, enough already with studies and pilot projects. Why not just phase in over the next two years the controversial vehicle mileage tax, in order to supplement and eventually replace the flailing gas tax? More from Associated Press: ..Oberstar…(pictured, right) said he believes the technology exists to implement a mileage tax. He said he sees no point in waiting years for the results of pilot programs since such a tax system is inevitable as federal gasoline tax revenues decline. “Why do we need a pilot program? Why don’t we just phase it in?” said Oberstar, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman. Oberstar is drafting a six-year transportation bill Read More ›


Vehicle Mileage Tax Stirs Ants Nests At Austin Confab

When I was nine I liked to poke a stick into ant nests I’d find in sidewalk cracks. Ants scattered in every conceivable direction. They ran in circles, they ran over and through each other. They screamed without logic. I was fascinated.

The state of professional transportation opinion in the US today is pretty much the same. The stick poked at the nest in this case was the report released by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission this February. The opening ant-scream was the spanking Obama’s Press Secretary Gibbs gave to Transportation Secretary Lahood. We professionals cringed in unison. Gibbs was in turn spanked next day by Congressman Oberstar, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We cheered. Of course the press went in every ant-direction imaginable for that and for the release of the NSTIFC’s Paying Our Way report 5 days later. Joe Motorist will have gleaned no real insight, and after fears were supplanted by next days’ tedious economic headlines will have simply forgotten, secure in the fact that opinion was sufficiently variable that no leader could possibly find a coherent position.

It seemed to me that in the weeks following the release of the report, US transportation professionals were – among friends – largely in favor of the key message in the report: “The gas-tax is a clever and simple idea whose time has run out and paying-for-use is the tax-shift to fix it.” We mocked Gibbs, commiserated with LaHood, and delighted in Oberstar’s defense – which had just vindicated all of us. On the whole we nodded in unison at the work of Rob Atkinson’s Congressional commission. Of course we would not all recommend spending the revenue the same way, but we all seemed aligned with the principles: meter all road use and pay according to number of miles traveled weighted by when and where the driving happened and of course by type of vehicle used.

With that in mind, I attended the April 14-15 Symposium on Mileage-Based User Fees (updated web page here) hosted in Austin by the Texas Transportation Institute’s University Transportation Center for Mobility, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota. This would be about my 20th symposium dealing with Road Use Charging in five years.

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Four Steps To A Nationwide Vehicle Mileage Tax

Editor’s Note: Cascadia Prospectus is pleased to welcome as a contributor Bern Grush, chief scientist and founder of SkyMeter Corp., who in periodic posts will share insights on road user charging technology and other aspects of surface transportation and system pricing. Worldwide, the need to toll roads is increasing, whether for sustainable funding, transportation demand management, or emissions management. While this includes the usual toll by segment approach using radio frequency identification (RFID) or dedicated short-wave radio communication (DSRC) many transportation planners are looking to wide-area methods such as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in the United States and Time, Distance and Place (TDP) in the EU. This trend will almost inevitably continue, with the end result approaching universal tolling and Read More ›


Team Obama Rejects Gas Tax Hike; Boosting User Fee Prospects

Reuters reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a senate committee the administration of President Barack Obama will not sign off on any hike in the increasingly ineffective federal gas tax, though Congress may propose that. LaHood’s declaration signaled that the Obama administration will take the same stance as former President George W. Bush. Revenue generated by the tax of 18.4 cents on each gallon of gas sold in the country goes into the Highway Trust Fund to fix U.S. roads and public transit. That fund has already been depleted once and Congress had to pass emergency measures last summer to replenish it. The tax has not been raised since the early 1990s… The Bush administration also opposed a Read More ›