Highway funding battle may end in gridlock
May 12, 2014
A slow-motion pile-up is coming into view on U.S. highways and Capitol Hill this summer: federal funding for road construction is running out and Congress faces a big fight over how to replenish it. The trucking industry, many state transportation directors and even a few lawmakers say the simple solution to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and avoid construction layoffs is to raise federal fuel taxes, unchanged since 1993. But in a congressional election year in which both Democrats and Republicans are wary of voter backlash, the message is clear: Not going to happen.
Read more in Reuters here.
Transportation industry needs new communication strategies and messages
May 6, 2014
THOUGHTS ON MESSAGING
By Will Kempton, Executive Director, Transportation California
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg recently announced a proposal that would guide the future distribution of cap and trade revenues in California. While the distribution structure may need some adjustments and will likely be modified as Senator Steinberg’s bill moves through the Legislature, the plan would provide a permanent source of funding for important transportation, land use and environmental programs that will help California meet statutory climate change requirements.
Sustainability, as the emphasis on mitigating the negative effects of climate change is often called, is becoming an increasingly significant element of most major public and private initiatives in this state. It is noteworthy that California is leading the way in responding to the impacts of climate change, and, as Senator Steinberg recognizes, nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from mobile sources. It therefore seems appropriate that investment in transportation solutions, like transit, rail and smoother roads, should be included as part of this package.
As a transportation professional with over 40 years of experience in the business, however, I can’t help but draw the comparison between our state’s focus on climate change in contrast to the seemingly blasé reaction of the public and our elected officials regarding the state of our transportation infrastructure. Certainly, climate change is an important issue which must be addressed, but transportation keeps the national and state economy moving. To ensure our future prosperity, we must build a more sustainable future, but we also must invest in the maintenance of our existing transportation systems and in the expansion and interconnection of new systems.
While infrastructure investment has broad support in principle, the public has not been very active in terms of supporting this issue. This is surprising to me because most Californians regularly experience the problems with our current transportation system, suffering through delays due to congestion and the poor condition of our roads and transit equipment. The larger issues of higher costs, lost productivity and the impact on our economy due to an inadequate transportation system apparently go unrecognized. It is nonetheless an incontrovertible fact that maintaining a healthy and efficient transportation system is a matter of vital state and national interest.
Even if people agree on the value of transportation investment, few are willing to support paying more for an improved system. Recent public surveys conducted by Transportation California and the California Alliance for Jobs have shown little interest in increasing the gas tax, raising vehicle license or registration fees, or shifting to a mileage-based user fee to pay for upgraded transportation facilities.
Part of the problem in gaining public support is that transportation advocates tend to “speak to the choir” when it comes to our infrastructure needs. We talk a good game among ourselves, but we don’t focus on reaching out to the larger population. “Our system is falling apart and we need more money to fix it” is a simple message but doesn’t appear to resonate with the broader public. There is also a widespread perception that money allocated for the transportation program is not well-spent and is often used for other purposes.
I think we need to change our strategy. We can’t just talk about the negative consequences of failing to repair our crumbling infrastructure, although that is a necessary piece of the message. We need to emphasize the importance of transportation to our economy and our quality of life. We need to talk about economic growth, jobs creation and a more competitive California. We need to talk about reforms and improving the way we do business. The public needs to see a connection between expenditures and benefits. Our message needs to be targeted to a wider audience. And we need to recognize the importance of political leadership in raising the transportation issue and gaining support for action.
To respond to the need to improve public outreach, Transportation California is working with a group of stakeholders to identify ways to improve our messaging efforts, to ensure consistent messaging from the transportation community and to coordinate a more structured approach to reaching out to the public. Last year, we didn’t have the resources to conduct an extensive effort in this regard. This year, we are looking at less expensive ways and other resources to accomplish our objectives. We hope to see the results of this effort being implemented over the next several months. Former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta once called infrastructure “a ho-hum subject” to most people. It is up to all of us involved in the transportation industry to change that view and to effectively communicate the vital importance of effectively moving people and goods to secure a brighter future for California.
Obama transportation plan sent to Congress
May 5, 2014
The Administration hopes to jump-start national debate on infrastructure repair.
From the Washington Post: The Obama administration sent a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan to Congress on Tuesday…. The administration’s plan includes pumping about $150 billion into transportation programs beyond the money raised from fuel taxes. The extra spending would be paid for by changes to business taxes, including a proposal to close corporate loopholes, such as ones that encourage U.S. companies to invest overseas.
The bill would also encourage states to directly raise more money for transportation projects by loosening restrictions on tolling federal interstates. States are barred from tolling federal interstates now except if the money is used to add lanes or otherwise increase capacity, or if the highways have had tolls dating back to before the federal interstate highway program was launched in 1956.
There isn’t much time for Congress to act before the trust fund can no longer meet its obligations, especially in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of an election year. Many transportation insiders predict Congress will wind up doing what it has done repeatedly over the past five years — dip into the general treasury for enough money to keep programs going a few weeks or a few months, at which point the exercise will have to be repeated all over again.
Santa Clara County may put sales tax for transportation on a fast track
April 28, 2014
Santa Clara and Alameda counties’ measures already have 70+% support.
Gary Richards writes in the San Jose Mercury-news:
Moving up plans by two years, Santa Clara County will likely put a quarter-cent, 30-year sales tax on the November ballot, joining Alameda County and San Francisco this fall in attempts to raise the billions needed to extend BART, build new interchanges and repave pothole-riddled streets. Combined, these moves have Bay Area-wide implications, as many of the proposed projects link East Bay commute routes to those in the South Bay and San Francisco. Surveys show that support for such a tax is at 73 percent in Santa Clara County and 72 percent in Alameda County, a cushion that could be crucial to meet the state’s strict two-thirds approval for special taxes. These measures would raise the sales tax to 9.0 percent in Santa Clara County and 9.25 percent in Alameda County.
“We have never tested this high,” said Carl Guardino, chair of the California Transportation Commission, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the campaign manager for three successful transportation measures in Santa Clara County since 1996. “Even in 2000 during the height of the bubble, the highest we polled was 72 percent.”
Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.
There’s more on the poll in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Congress is giving states the transportation blues
April 21, 2014
The Highway Trust Fund may dry up in August.
On the road in a tour bus this week, the U.S. transportation secretary is spreading some bad news: The government’s Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke. If allowed to run dry, that could set back or shut down projects across the country, force widespread layoffs of construction workers and delay needed repairs and improvements.
Anthony Foxx kicked off an eight-state bus trip in Ohio to whip up public support for congressional approval of legislation to keep federal transportation aid flowing to states for another four years, and possibly longer. But Congress will have to act fast. The trust fund — the source of much of the aid — is forecast to essentially run dry sometime before the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30, and possibly as early as late August.
If that happens, the government will have to slow down or even halt payments to states, which rely on federal aid for most major highway projects. Uncertainty over whether there will be enough funds in the coming months is already causing officials in states like Arkansas, California and Colorado to consider delaying planned projects.
Read more in the Contra Costa Times.
Transportation bill deal leaves funding unclear
April 14, 2014
Others now must find a way to pay for programs
Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday announced a bipartisan deal to extend a transportation bill beyond Sept. 30, but said it’s not clear how Congress will pay for it. Boxer and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ’s top Republican, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter appeared together at a Capitol Hill news conference to announce they’ve struck a deal to renew — possibly for six years — the federal law dealing with highways, bridges and public transit systems. The agreement, which is being fleshed out, pertains to transportation policy. It won’t address the fate of the Highway Trust Fund.
Transportation California's Response to the CTIP Vision and Interim Recommendations
April 11, 2014
Dear Secretary Kelly:
The members of Transportation California (TC) have reviewed the recently published California Transportation Infrastructure Priorities (CTIP) Vision and Interim Recommendations with great interest. We very much appreciate the opportunity to have been included as a stakeholder in the collaborative process to develop these recommendations. We look forward to working with you and the Administration to help build the consensus to support the vision called for in the report and to develop a plan to make this vision a reality. The prospect of developing an interconnected transportation system that will provide viable travel options for a greater percentage of California residents is a vision that we can embrace.
California Transportation Infrastructure Priorities: Vision and Interim Recommendations
April 11, 2014
What should California’s transportation system look like in ten years? How do we get there? Thee are the questions the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) sought to answer when it established the California Transportation Infrastructure Priorities (CTIP) workgroup in April 2013.
California Roads in Best Shape Since 2001 – Caltrans
April 7, 2014
A new Caltrans report finds California’s roads are in their best shape since 2001.
Officials said 84 percent of the state’s roads are in good, operating condition thanks to voter-approved bonds and federal stimulus money totaling to nearly $4 billion.
“It was good that we had it. A lot of projects that had been waiting for funding got funded,” Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said. “And we took care of them and they’ll be good for years to come.”
Several motorists said they were surprised to hear of the report’s claim.
Perea wants truck weight fees to fix highways
April 7, 2014
Perea says stop diverting fees intended to fix transportation infrastructure
Central Valley Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, says it’s time the weight fees paid by truckers are put back where they were intended: into fixing the roads.
“Redirecting truck weights fees back to their intended purpose will help California invest in our state highways and create about 18,000 good jobs,” says Mr. Perea. “These fees would provide funding for projects leading to a beneficial multiplier effect in the state economy, through the vital creation of new jobs and overdue investment in our transportation infrastructure.”
His legislation, Assembly Bill 2728, would provide funding to rehabilitate California’s dilapidated roadways. The weight fees were redirected during the Great Recession to keep state government afloat.
“Now with the economy and the state budget on better footing — and with our state transportation program woefully underfunded — it’s time to redirect truck weight fees back to their intended purpose of repairing our highway system,” says Jim Earp, executive director for the lobbying group California Alliance for Jobs.
Will Kempton, executive director of another lobby group, Transportation California and himself a former director of the California Department of Transportation, says it’s time to put the fees where the rubber meets the road. “The public recognizes the need to take care of our existing system, and recapturing these fees is a simple way to provide more money for the transportation program without raising taxes,” he says.
Read more in the Central Valley Business Times.