House GOP and House Dems are miles apart on draft highway bills
June 24, 2013
Draft transportation bills are $10 billion apart; continuing resolution likely.
The House and Senate are taking drastically different paths on a DOT funding bill, raising the possibility of yet another continuing resolution that does little to change the agency’s spending levels. This week Appropriators in both chambers will mark up their respective THUD bills – which are $10 billion apart. The Senate’s allocation to the panel, approved Thursday, is $54 billion – $2.3 billion more than the current fiscal year. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a $44 billion budget for the departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The amount for the agencies in the 2014 fiscal year is $7.7 billion less than their 2013 spending levels. The House is proceeding with 2014 bills that cut below the sequester for domestic programs and which increase spending for defense.
Reason takes on PIRG study on driving trends
June 17, 2013
Millennials are driving less because they’re unemployed, living at home.
Robert Poole, for the Reason Foundation, writes: Public Interest Research Group made a big splash last month with a report that says the key to recent decreases in VMT and VMT per capita is changes in preferences and behavior among young people (ages 16-24)—the so-called Millennial generation. The story line is that Millennials want to live downtown and walk, bike, or use transit. PIRG’s VMT projections through 2040 are drastically lower than anyone else’s. PIRG argues for shifting a lot more transportation dollars from highways to transit, bikeways, etc.
Alan Pisarski points out that the recession has hit young people the hardest, citing a Pew Center study in 2010 that found 37% of young respondents either out of work or underemployed. He also cited figures from the National Highway Transportation Survey that annual miles driven per person differ dramatically by employment status. Derek Thompson (in The Atlantic) assembled an array of data on Millennials, showing, for example, that the number of people ages 15 to 34 living with their parents soared from 0.5 million in 2008 to nearly 2 million in 2011. Fewer young people are getting married, having children, and buying homes—which has led to what Thompson describes as “stagnation” in household formation since 2007. As the economy recovers, all those trends are likely to reverse. . . .
Poole asks: So what can we make of all this? VMT per capita cannot go on rising indefinitely. The major increases since World War II have come about via the entry of most of the female population into the workforce, along with rising prosperity that has enabled large fractions of lower-income people to afford cars. Pisarski and others predict that future growth in overall VMT will be driven primarily by population growth rather than increased per-capita driving. But the just-so story about Millennials losing interest in driving appears to be mostly an artifact of the recession’s severe impact on younger people, not a fundamental change in their choices of where to live or how to travel.
Read more of this story here.
No easy solution for infrastructure funding, panelists say
June 10, 2013
U.S. infrastructure is deteriorating faster than maintenance is being funded. Highway expansion is not keeping up with traffic increases. Many revenue options, based on fuel taxes and other sources, are being considered to solve the problem, but there is no consensus on a solution, the panelists said last week at the Great West Fleet Executive Conference in Las Vegas.
Vehicle miles traveled are growing 10 times faster than lane miles, said Will Kempton, executive director of Transportation California. Consequently congestion problems are increasing along with maintenance problems. Because federal funding has been falling behind, many cities and states are taking more responsibility for their own transportation funding. About 10 states that hadn’t raise fuel taxes in a decade took action last year. Many local or state transportation projects now are being funded by new gas taxes, bonds, sales tax on gas, vehicle license fees, or other sources.
Read more here.
Bay bridge problems delineated
June 3, 2013
From bolts to testing, problems on the Bay Bridge accumulate.
According to the Sacramento Bee, among the outstanding issues are:
- Broken anchor bolts: Bolts at the east pier of suspension span broke in March. The state Transportation Department selected a steel “saddle” retrofit to hold down seismic equipment that the bolts were meant to secure.
- Bolts at east pier: Caltrans is conducting further tests to determine whether 192 other 3-inch diameter bolts, which secure seismic equipment, must be replaced.
- Bolts that secure tower: The manufacturer mistakenly treated more than 400 giant anchor bolts with hydrochloric acid during their production, rendering them particularly vulnerable to breakage.
- Bolts on suspension span: About 1,700 bolts are among those used despite violating specifications meant to prevent brittleness under stress.
- Testing, construction lapses: Errors on the tower foundation, which suggest possibly weak concrete, are under review by an expert panel assembled by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. The panel expects to release its report by June 30.
- Defective tower welds: Caltrans has been assessing and repairing 33-foot-long welds at the tower base, essential for stability in a quake, for the past 10 months.
- Corroded skyway tendons: Construction errors allowed thousands of steel tendons to corrode, leading to concerns among experts about the skyway viaduct’s durability in a large quake or during normal use. Caltrans has called the problem minor.
Read more here.
Funding shortage leaves 'structurally deficient' bridges without repairs
May 20, 2013
Many of California’s bridges are hitting their design life limit.
KTVU-Oakland reports that many of the thousands of aging bridges in California have been labeled as “structurally deficient,” but the available transportation dollars don’t always end up funding improvements and retrofitting on the spans that need the most help.
“There are about 2,000 bridges that are labeled structurally deficient,” said Exponent Senior Managing Engineer Vijay Saraf. “A lot of our infrastructure was built in the ’40s and ’50s, so its life cycle is coming to an end,” explained Saraf.
There are just over 24,000 California bridges that were built to last 50 years. The average age is 44 years old, but some are much older. With a multibillion dollar funding shortfall for bridge repairs or replacements, Caltrans gave KTVU only the most general sense of how it prioritizes the projects. But it appears that it’s the major projects that get priority and the dollars.
Read more here.
Transit booster Foxx nominated for Secretary of Transportation
May 13, 2013
Charlotte, N.C. mayor Anthony Foxx was nominated as Transportation Secretary.
If confirmed, Foxx would replace outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced his retirement earlier this year. LaHood said he would remain in office until the Senate confirms his successor.
The Obama administration touted Foxx’s work on Charlotte’s Streetcar Project, efforts to boost the city’s freight transport industry, and expansions to Charlotte International Airport and a light rail system.
“Foxx’s career as a public official, in a rapidly changing urban environment, has been marked by an ability to integrate local, state and federal resources to meet important transportation challenges – expertise he will bring to his critical interactions with leaders at the state and local level as Secretary of Transportation,” the White House said.
Charlotte has won praise for constructing a light rail line that opened in 2007, and Foxx has vocally pushed for more public transit in the southeastern city.
Read more here.
Obama nominates North Carolina's Anthony Foxx to lead U.S. DOT
May 6, 2013
Foxx steps into DOT as it implements cuts, juggles expectations.
Next Steps: The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing and later vote on the nomination. If then approved by the full Senate, Foxx would be sworn in and LaHood would exit. Read more here.
Poll: 62% of US motorists think government should increase spending on roads and bridges
April 29, 2013
Top issues are reliability and safety and cost of driving. Other major concerns expressed in the poll, conducted by AAA, were behavior of other drivers, safety/road accidents and fuel efficiency.
A AAA spokesman said policymakers and transportation advocates are failing to connect with the public on the practical concerns that matter most to motorists and that motorists want to hear about how their elected officials can improve their daily commute by repairing the pothole down the street or the bumpy road around the corner.
Alameda, Contra Costa counties considering transportation sales tax increase
April 22, 2013
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
State lawmakers will soon consider legislation to clear the way for ballot measures in Alameda and Contra Costa counties to increase sales taxes for transportation. Alameda County leaders say they are anxious to ask voters again to double the county transportation sales tax from a half-cent to 1 cent — the highest rate in Northern California. The increase lost at the polls in November by fewer than 700 votes.
Contra Costa leaders haven’t proposed an increase but say they may opt to do so and want to keep their options open. The current tax is a half-cent, and it was last renewed by voters in 2004’s Measure J. Without an act of state lawmakers, however, neither county can seek a sales tax increase because doing so would push some cities above a sales tax cap set by the state.
Read more here.
Obama wants $50B for roads, $40B for rail, MAP-21 extension in 2014 budget
April 15, 2013
President says “fix it first.” Show me the money: GOP.
President Obama released his transportation budget last week. According to commentators, it looks a bit familiar. The president is calling for $50 billion upfront: $40 billion for a “fix-it-first” program and $10 billion “for competitive programs to encourage innovation in completing high value infrastructure projects.” He called for a national infrastructure bank, $4 billion in TIFIA and TIGER expansions and a $7 billion America Fast Forward program. The president also called for money dedicated to high-speed rail and NextGen, as well as a big increase in annual federal transportation spending and halving big infrastructure project delivery timelines.
How the $50 billion would be divvied up: $27 billion for highway repair and construction, including $2 billion for border crossing infrastructure; $2 billion for airport capital grants; $1billion for FAA’s NextGen program; $3 billion for rail capital projects; $2 billion for Amtrak; $2.5 billion for transit formula capital grants, including several set-asides for rural areas; $6 billion for modernize existing fixed-guideway systems and replace and rehab buses and bus facilities; $4 billion for competitive credit assistance and grants for intermodal projects that span regions; $2 billion for a competitive grant program to incentivize state DOTs and MPOs to institutionalize “best practices in transportation policy.”
Read more about the proposal here.
Read about funding questions here.
Read some of the reactions from the transportation industry here.