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.
Campaign against gas tax is foolhardy
September 22, 2014
Lobbyists are trying to stop state’s cap-and-trade program
By Paul F. Steinberg, Special to The Bee (Monday) — A lobbying and PR effort is underway to prevent the state of California from implementing a gas tax as part of its effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. With funding by fossil fuel companies, the campaign taps into the anxieties of families who are already feeling the pinch at the pump. While I agree that any increase in gas prices hurts, the reality is that our gas consumption is hurting even more, and a tax on carbon is the smartest way to address the problem. Climate change will have a far higher cost on our children than a gas tax will have on us.
We must hold regulators accountable for where and how the resulting revenues are spent. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Climate change is real and is caused by humans. . . . Moreover, policies that reduce fossil fuel use carry immediate benefits for human health. In some regions, more Californians die each year from air pollution than from auto accidents. Economists Jane Hall and Victor Brajer of California State University, Fullerton, report that in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin in 2006, an estimated 3,812 people died from respiratory illness caused by particulate pollution, compared to 2,521 deaths from traffic accidents. They found that the annual health costs from air pollution average well over $1,000 per person per year. Air pollution costs the state $28 billion annually.
Read more here.
California's bad roads take a high toll on all of us
September 15, 2014
“California’s bad roads are costing us.” — San Francisco Chronicle.
According to a new study from the Road Information Program, a national transportation advocacy group, California drivers waste $44 billion per year just by driving on our state’s deficient roads.
Congress is responsible for approving long-term highway transportation funding. Sadly, current lawmakers have been so gridlocked that they were only able to approve an eight-month extension, which will expire in May 2015. Using highway transportation funds as a political bargaining chip may give some legislators a boost in their own districts, but it’s bad for the nation as a whole.
There’s also a need for more funding at the local and state levels. Regular maintenance investments could greatly improve the longevity of California’s roads, but that’s money that is too often diverted into flashier projects. It may not be exciting or politically rewarding to insist on making investments that will save lives and money, but that’s what political leadership is supposed to be.
Read more here.
Infrastructure Cracks as Los Angeles Defers Repairs
September 8, 2014
A pattern of failing to provide for the future.
In an article in the New York Times, the writer refers to the ruptured pipe at UCLA, images that everyone everywhere saw.
Says the Times:
The failure of this 90-year-old water main, which happened in July in the midst of a historic drought, no less, was hardly an isolated episode for Los Angeles. Instead, it was the latest sign of what officials here described as a continuing breakdown of the public works skeleton of the second-largest city in the nation: its roads, sidewalks and water system.
With each day, it seems, another accident illustrates the cost of deferred maintenance on public works, while offering a frustrating reminder to this cash-strained municipality of the daunting task it faces in dealing with the estimated $8.1 billion it would take to do the necessary repairs.
Los Angeles’s problems reflect the challenges many American cities face after years of recession-era belt-tightening prompted them to delay basic maintenance. But the sheer size of Los Angeles, its reliance on the automobile and, perhaps most important, the stringent voter-imposed restrictions on the government’s ability to raise taxes have turned the region into a symbol of the nation’s infrastructure woes.
“It’s part of a pattern of failing to provide for the future,” said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at U.C.L.A.
Read more here.
Build California Better
September 3, 2014
ACEC looks at options for long-term road and highway funding.
The American Council of Engineering Companies has created a California Infrastructure Discussion Paper, “Build California Better.” It discussions options for long-term road and highway funding.
California’s problems with funding transportation improvements are not going away, even as the overall economy itself improves. Finding the funds to make sure our roads and highways are well maintained becomes an even higher priority than it was during the economic downturn. The pressure on our roads, highways and bridges, the daily wear and tear, the constant repairs and the dire need for roadway improvements to reduce commute times will only become greater as California’s resurging economy adds jobs and vehicle traffic increases. While the move toward greater fuel efficiency should be applauded as it benefits our long-term environment, it will do nothing to relieve the wear and tear on our roadways.
Read more here.
Reason poll finds Americans want the feds to spend more on highways…
August 25, 2014
But don’t want higher gas taxes or a VMT fee to have better roads.
Eighty-five percent of U.S. residents are opposed to increasing the federal gas tax to help pay for new transportation projects, according to a poll released on Friday by the libertarian Reason Foundation. Lawmakers spent most of the summer debating the idea of increasing the gas tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon, for the first time since 1993 as they scrambled to come up with a way to pay for a new round of transportation spending. Transportation advocates had argued that the gas tax should have been raised to help pay for an increase in federal infrastructure spending above the approximately $50 billion that is currently being spent on road and transit projects.
The Reason poll found 46 percent of its respondents think the federal government needs to spend more money on transportation projects, while 30 percent think the current level is sufficient. Another 21 percent of the poll’s respondents said the federal government’s amount of transportation spending should be reduced. The Reason poll found 72 percent of U.S. residents are opposed to so-called “Vehicles Miles Traveled” fees, however. Fifty-eight percent of the poll’s respondents said they favored using toll revenue to close the transportation funding shortfall and 32 percent called for a gas tax increase.
Read more here.
Shoddy U.S. roads and bridges take a toll on the economy
August 18, 2014
America’s failing transportation infrastructure has become an economic albatross.
America’s transportation infrastructure, once an engine of mobility and productivity, has fallen into such disrepair that it’s become an economic albatross, according to the Los Angeles Times. Consumers shell out billions of dollars for extra car repairs every year. Insufficient and poorly maintained roads mean costly bottlenecks for businesses, which discourage expansion and hobble American companies competing in the global economy. Congestion on major urban highways costs the economy more than $100 billion a year in fuel and lost work time, estimates the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Age is a key factor. Most of the major highways were built decades ago. America’s transportation structures look all the more frayed next to those in advanced economies in Europe and Japan, or in China, which has been busily constructing high-speed rail and new airports. U.S. spending for transportation and other infrastructure accounts for 2.4% of its economy versus about 12% for China, says economist David Dollar, a former China director for the World Bank. Europe’s infrastructure spending is about 5%.
Read more in the L.A. Times.
Op-Ed – California Transportation: Bragging Rights
August 11, 2014
Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) Chair, Assembly Committee on Transportation
So often the news is ripe with criticism of Caltrans employees and projects. We expect them to construct roads, bridges, and highways that can keep drivers and passengers safe, withstand every threat that Mother Nature can throw at it, and somehow do it without impacting our daily commute. We’re quick to judge and lay blame, and woefully slow to appreciate the great work when it’s complete. It’s time we change this perception and shed light on this incredible and effective workforce.
Recently, I attended the 25th Annual California Transportation Foundation (CTF) Transportation Awards event. CTF reviewed over a hundred projects completed in 2013 and recognized projects in more than a dozen different categories. Projects ranged from major state highway bridges and interchanges to local streets, bike and pedestrian programs, and even a program to train seniors how to navigate the local transit system and extend healthy independent living.
As chair of the California Assembly Committee on Transportation, I couldn’t be more proud of our state’s transportation professionals and the work they perform. Our state, regional, and public engineers and planners deliver one innovative project after another up and down the state. Alongside them are our partners in the construction industry that employee thousands of workers in living-wage jobs.
Together, they are our unsung heroes. These are professionals who are collectively the best and the brightest in the world. They have dedicated their lives to ensuring our safety and a higher quality of life for Californians. They routinely push engineering technology to boundaries never before reached and they do it better than anywhere else in the nation. In fact, the size of many of individual projects completed in California in 2013 exceeded that of other states’ entire transportation budget.
Here is just a sampling of the dozens of amazing projects from which CTF chose the best-in-class recipients:
The Colton Crossing flyover eliminated bottlenecks and resultant congestion at one of the nation’s busiest rail-to-rail intersections by construction of an 8,150-foot flyover structure to take railroad tracks 35 feet above competing tracks. This project was delivered over $100 million under budget and eight months ahead of schedule and has been described as a “godsend” to the goods movement network that moves nearly 60 percent of the nation’s containerized goods out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Projects like the Colton Crossing flyover allow California to keep its competitive edge in the goods movement industry.
The $154 million San Bernardino County Interstate 215 widening project added a carpool lane in both directions between Interstate 10 and State Route 210. The project included a whopping 17 new bridges, 23,183 feet of retaining walls, over 80,000 cubic yards of concrete pavement, and almost 90,000 tons of asphalt pavement. The project team sent less than 5% of the project’s waste to landfill by reusing waste concrete.
The $439 million Devil’s Slide Tunnel project replaced a segment of coastal Highway 1 in San Mateo County that was subject to frequent slides. The project team managed to construct a new segment that’s safer for drivers, and protect the surrounding environment.
The San Francisco Bay Area Bike Share program is the first bike share system to launch in the U.S. as a unified regional system. The system allows residents and visitors to make short trips by bike and provides an easy and cost-effective “last mile” solution to link public transit with riders’ final destination.
Riverside Transit Agency’s unique senior travel training program gave senior and disabled customers alternatives to costly dial-a-ride service. In its first year, the program trained over 350 people who took over 39,000 fixed-route training trips on their way to freedom and independence that didn’t exist with previous services.
I am thankful for the men and women who plan, build, and operate our transportations systems. Many of them could easily leave government positions for more lucrative careers in the private sector but they don’t because they believe in the value of public service. Their work keeps all of us moving.
Assemblymember Lowenthal is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Transportation, the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and the Select Committee on Ports. Ms. Lowenthal represents the 70th Assembly District, including Catalina Island, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Signal Hill.
Contact: Allison Ruff (916) 319-2070