UNITED STATES

Weighing The Future Of High Speed Rail In America

It’s a familiar Washington scenario: a major new federal grant program is launched and soon a brand new constituency is born with an army of supplicants and lobbyists eager to secure a piece of the action. The Administration’s high speed rail initiative has been no exception. It has spawned a large and enthusiastic following. Two regional coalitions — the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition (IL, WI, IO, MN, MS, MI,IN, OH) and the Western High-Speed Rail Alliance (AZ, CO, NV, UT)– have entered the competition, supported by the umbrella States for Passenger Rail Coalition headed by Frank Busalacchi, Secretary of Wisconsin DOT. Also in the running are several statewide rail corridors including California, the sole state with a tangible high-speed rail project, having secured voters’ approval for a $10 billion bond measure. Cheering on the sidelines is the newly formed One Rail Coalition which includes many of the established rail-oriented lobbies such as the Associations of American Railroads (AAR), the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Railway Supply Institute.
Other members of the new constituency include foreign high-speed rail operators and equipment manufacturers; the domestic engineering and construction industries which are eyeing the program as a potential source of hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts; the green lobby; and just plain old railroad enthusiasts. They were all in evidence at the September 22-23 conference of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association– a new membership organization established specifically to “advocate, educate and support the development of a state-of-the-art national high speed rail network across America.”
What brought these disparate interests together was the lure of big money.

Read More ›

First, A Patch-up For Expiring Fed. Transpo Bill

Among the pressing legislative priorities facing Congress this autumn — besides the headline-grabbing health care and climate change bills — is an extension of the federal surface transportation program. The program authority expires on September 30 and its renewal is essential to keep federal transportation money flowing. The House and Senate have been on divergent paths in their approach toward renewing the program. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under the leadership of Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), has been intent on passing a six-year $500 billion surface transportation measure ($450 billion for highways and transit, $50 billion for high-speed rail) during this session of Congress. In late July, a bill to this effect was reported out by the House Highways and Transit subcommittee. Chairman Oberstar announced at the time that he would hold a full committee mark-up soon after the House returns from its summer recess.
The Senate, on the other hand, has been working toward an 18-month extension of the existing surface transportation program. Its rationale for doing so was succinctly stated by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking minority member. There simply is no way, the two senate transportation leaders concluded, that Congress could pass a multi-year authorization of the surface transportation program before the program’s expiration at the end of September. “There are just too many big questions left unanswered, not the least of which is a lack of a consensus on how to pay for it,” Boxer and Inhofe stated. A better approach, they said, would be to pass an 18-month extension as recommended by the Obama Administration.
Left unsaid were probably two other motives for wanting to postpone enactment of a long-term legislation.

Read More ›

Transportation Public-Private Partnerships Will Weather The Storm

But Lessons Learned Will Bring Changes
Andrew Bary’s recent piece “The Long and Binding Road,” in Barron’s  has been widely noticed. “The credit market collapse and political opposition have all but killed the U.S. highway privatization trend,” the respected commentator opined in his article.  What is more, Bary wrote, the Indiana Toll Road deal “was one of the most illogical prices paid for any major piece of transportation infrastructure during the bubble period of 2005 to 2007,”  suggesting that Macquarie made a huge miscalculation.  Gov. Mitch Daniel’s comment  (“It was the best deal since Manhattan was sold for beads…”) did not help, implying that the State got the better of the naive Macquarie. The article concluded, “for toll road investors, what had promised to be a pleasant ride has turned into a painful trip,” citing Macquarie’s shares tumbling 50% in the past year.

Read More ›

More Public-Private Partnerships Needed For U.S. Transport Finance

(Article as published at Crosscut) When California recently resolved its mammoth budget deficit, it presciently moved to ease restrictions on transportation public-private partnerships, which over the long run could help control costs to taxpayers of improving overloaded roads, rails and freight facilities. P3s, as the arrangements are called, draw from among construction, engineering, highway management firms – plus infrastructure investment groups often funded partly by public employee and building trades union pension funds – to form consortiums that get important transportation projects built more efficiently, and sooner versus later or never. A P3 consortium may provide consolidated services such as designing and building a toll bridge or highway section, and can also provide upfront capital if public funds are constricted, Read More ›

“A Coalition Of Change Agents At The State Level” Will Boost P3s

Funding infrastructure with private capital, a practice widely used abroad, has had its tentative beginnings here at home, but its domestic long-term future is still clouded. We interviewed a diverse group of individuals of varying political persuasion, on public-private partnerships in U.S. surface transportation. They included state legislators, congressional staffers, senior U.S. DOT officials, state and local transportation officials, members of the two congressionally-chartered transportation commissions,  executives of trade and professional associations, and analysts on Wall Street, in think tanks, academia and private consulting firms.   Support for Public-Private Partnerships is Growing Total reliance on public resources and the fuel tax to fund future investments in transportation infrastructure is no longer a realistic option. Such, in essence, is the considered judgment of a great majority of participants in our survey. State officials 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 ›