California highways seeing record traffic, bucking years of decline
December 22, 2014
As gas prices plummet & economy improves, traffic is increasing
The Sacramento Bee writes that California’s highways are experiencing record traffic as the economy improves and gas prices plummet, reversing the declines of the recession, new state figures show. Drivers traveled about 185 billion miles on state highways from December 2013 through November 2014, up almost 5 billion miles, or 2.6 percent, from the prior year, according to estimates from the California Department of Transportation. That’s the largest traffic jump since 2003.
Typically, California’s traffic flow is considered an indicator of economic well-being – with bad traffic often accompanying a strong economy. Before the recession, commute-hour jams correlated with a prolonged boom in hiring and housing construction. More jobs mean more people driving to work, more people buying cars and more people willing to spend on travel. Conversely, the free-flowing commutes of the recession were the natural outgrowth of furloughs, layoffs and a stalled economy that meant fewer construction and delivery trucks on the road.
“Congestion is going to be right back where it was and probably worse,” said Tom Turrentine, a research anthropologist at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies.
Read more in the Sacramento Bee here.
Tracking Miles as Gas Tax Alternative Raises Fairness, Privacy Concerns
December 15, 2014
Would a mileage fee more effectively raise revenue for transportation?
The Los Angeles Times looked at a mileage fee versus the gas tax, and included an informative graphic on how much money the gasoline tax raises and how much money is need to keep roads in good repair.
Read the article here.
War on Cars Equals a War on Sanity, Reality
December 8, 2014
“It’s impossible to accept environmental policies that are at odds with reality.”
So says the San Diego Union-Tribune in a December 1 editorial:
“This editorial page has long backed expansion of San Diego’s trolley system and supported smart growth principles. We have repeatedly called for coordinated international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and have touted water and energy conservation. But it is impossible to accept environmental policies that are at odds with reality. We refer to the bedrock belief of many greens that cars are evil and must go away (starting, of course, with the cars of others). It is this quasi-religious holding that drives increasingly grandiose state and federal environmental policies, yielding lawsuits that threaten the long-planned — and badly needed — expansion of Interstate 5 in San Diego County.
Last week, a state appeals court — on a 2-1 vote — upheld a lawsuit targeting the San Diego Association of Governments’ long-range $200 billion regional transportation plan that included the freeway expansion because it allegedly didn’t comport with state regulations on climate change. The court did so even though the plan included a long-term commitment to ramp up spending on mass transit from an initial 36 percent of transportation budgets to a stunning 57 percent in the final decade, ending in 2050.
This is already remarkable; there is little evidence of massive public demand for this level of spending on mass transit and no evidence — none — of this much public interest in actually using mass transit. But SANDAG’s plan still wasn’t good enough for the Sierra Club, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and other green groups.
Read more in the San Diego U-T.
The Five Worst Places to Drive in the US
December 1, 2014
California placed #1 and #2 on the national list. Surprise?
[From The Hill] Millions of people traveling for Thanksgiving will face daunting traffic problems that critics say have been magnified by Washington’s inability to move a long-term bill to pay for new highway projects. With a nor’easter bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard this Thanksgiving, it’s expected to be an especially brutal few days on the road.
Congress hasn’t approved a long-term highway bill since 2005, and it’ss become much more difficult to move legislation since then because of a variety of reasons, including the end of earmarks that directed money toward specific lawmaker-backed projects and a financial crisis and recession that made it tougher to move big-budget bills.
. . . Here are five of the worst stretches in the country. Be thankful if you’re not driving there this weekend. If you are, be thankful if you didn’t get stuck.
1. Interstate 110 in Los Angeles
2. Interstate 80 in San Francisco
3. Interstate 35 in Austin
4. Interstate 678 in New York
5. Interstate 95 north and south of Washington, D.C.
Can a New Congress Bail out Transportation in Five Months?
November 17, 2014
Will Congress and White House agree on transportation in 2015?
[Washington Post] As the smoke cleared on a new political reality last week, transportation was a bit of an afterthought in the “what will the election mean for” discussion, which focused mostly on immigration, health care, trade agreements and tax reform. Roads, bridges and transit got a fleeting nod as “infrastructure,” the more elegant-sounding category to which they belong.
But if Congress and the White House are to agree on anything next year, there is a good argument that it should be on how to pay the nation’s transportation bills. The money is set to run out — once again — on May 31. As added consequences of failure: hundreds of thousands of construction jobs put at risk and perpetuation of the widespread belief that partisan discord rules Washington.
An estimated $6.5 billion would keep highway projects afloat and construction workers employed until the 2015 fiscal year ends Sept. 30. But it would take about $100 billion in additional revenue to fund a six-year transportation bill that virtually everyone considers ideal.
“Republicans in both houses are looking for something to show they can govern, and passing a major infrastructure bill, such as the surface transportation bill, is clearly a way to do that,” said John R. Schmidt, a former Justice Department lawyer who is now a dealmaker for private investment in public infrastructure.
Read more in the Washington Post here.
Transportation measures in S.F., Alameda County win support
November 10, 2014
Voters back ballot measures to raise billions for transportation improvements
Voters in San Francisco and Alameda County appeared willing Tuesday to put their money where their commutes are by backing ballot measures to raise billions for transportation improvements that put an emphasis on transit, bicycles and pedestrians.
The Bay Area’s two transportation tax measures were on track to capture the two-thirds majority needed for approval. San Francisco voters were supporting Proposition A, a $500 million bond measure to be used for redesigned streets, more bike and transit-only lanes, updated traffic signals, improved maintenance facilities, and new elevators and escalators at Metro stations. With nearly 98 percent of precincts counted, Prop. A was leading 71.27 percent to 28.73 percent — surpassing the two-thirds requirement for approval.
The $7.8 billion Alameda County transportation tax, Measure BB, was closer but appeared headed toward the needed two-thirds approval. The 30-year tax measure, nearly identical to one that narrowly failed in 2012, would extend an existing half-cent sales tax and tack on another half cent. With 53 percent of precincts reporting, the measure led 69.06 percent to 30.94 percent.
San Francisco voters were also rejecting Proposition L, an advisory measure to reshape the city’s transportation planning priorities with more of an emphasis on cars.
Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle here.
New report shows pavement conditions declining
November 3, 2014
Funding levels are insufficient to fix or maintain transportation infrastructure
The biennial California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment shows that the condition of the system that makes up more than 80 percent of California’s roadways is on the path to failure. The survey confirms pavement conditions are declining and finds that existing funding levels are insufficient to properly fix and/or maintain streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks, storm drains and traffic signs. Deferring this crucial work, the report predicts, will likely double the cost of repairs in the future, and impedes efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.
The study is from the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties.
Read more here.
Economic Risks Pose New Challenges to States Planning Their Transportation Projects
October 27, 2014
Weak fuel sales could hurt state transportation projects this year
AASHTO notes that states could face new challenges meeting their transportation budget needs in coming months if bumps for the economy in early autumn give way to a longer slowdown that threatens their revenue streams.
The past week’s turmoil in global stock markets was partly attributed by market analysts to investor concerns about global growth, especially a stall in Europe, along with worries about how the spread of the Ebola virus can affect some airline sector investments here and abroad.
To the extent that a fuel sales drop is linked to falling costs as oil producers wage what Reuters called a global price war, it could set the stage for a growth-spurring cut in average household fuel costs just ahead of big year end holiday consumer purchases.
But if fuel sales are also lower due to weakening demand for transportation, that would be another sign of economic fragility along with falling sales of other goods outside the up-and-down energy sector. And since states and the federal Highway Trust Fund get most of their surface transportation revenue from per-gallon gasoline and diesel taxes, any cooling of fuel sale volumes could quickly hit transportation budgets.
Read more here.
Foxx: Lame Duck Session An Opportunity To Fix Highway Trust Fund
October 20, 2014
Foxx sees possibility of multi-year transportation bill in coming months
The Obama administration’s top transportation official said the coming lame duck session of Congress will present an opportunity to pass an elusive multi-year road and transit funding bill to end the cycle of short-term patches that keep the Highway Trust Fund from going broke.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, in the midst of another national tour to tout the administration’s Grow America Act, said there are signs of bipartisan support to solve this recurring problem. “We have heard Speaker Boehner and budget chairman Paul Ryan indicating that they think a transportation bill can get done,” Sec. Foxx said. “There continues to be a bipartisan interest in figuring a way forward. We are going to have to get through these elections and get Congress back in Washington to see how far we can take it.”
There may be consensus on the importance of establishing a national transportation funding program, but there is little agreement on how to pay for it. The administration’s preferred solution, the Grow America Act, is a four-year, $302 billion proposal that would be partly funded through corporate tax reform.
Read more here.
Chronicle recommends yes on Alameda County Measure BB
October 13, 2014
Need for transit and road funding has not gone away.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that two years ago, Alameda County voters rejected a transportation sales tax measure by the narrowest of margins. The $8 billion measure, which needed a two-thirds vote, fell about 700 votes short out of 350,000 cast.
The need for transit and road funding has not gone away. The county’s roads and transit systems are overwhelmed today — with the population expected to grow 30 percent in the next three decades. So county leaders have returned to voters with essentially the same package — with one significant exception: In the new version, the sales tax sunsets in 30 years instead of extending indefinitely.
Measure BB would extend the current half-cent transportation sales tax (otherwise set to expire in 2020) and add another half cent. The major spending categories would be traffic relief ($3 billion); BART, bus, ferry and commuter rail ($2.8 billion); and transit subsidies for youth, seniors and people with disabilities ($1 billion).
Critics of the plan have objected to both its size and the inclusion of projects they regard as dubious, most notably $400 million in seed money for extending BART to Livermore. However, the reality is that any countywide transit tax is going to include projects with provincial appeal.
Overall, we find the Measure BB plan to be sensible, balanced — and essential.
Read more in the SF Chronicle.