3 Things You Should Know About Transportation
By Sean Slone, CSG Senior Transportation Policy Anaylst
The latest extension of legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs—the eighth since 2009—expires March 31. Two competing visions for a successor to the 2005 bill were on the table in late January—a five-year bill proposed by House Republicans and a two-year bipartisan bill approved last year by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Beyond the issue of whether Congress can reach some kind of agreement on either a compromise between the House and Senate versions or yet another extension of the 2005 bill, a number of other key issues are at stake in the debate.
1. One reason—besides money—for no agreement on a new transportation bill is the lack
of a national vision and purpose for the federal program.
In the middle of the 20th century, the Interstate Highway System produced a national rallying point as the American people were presented with a map of what it would look like when complete. Today, there is no map, no clearly defined vision and, in the years since the interstates were completed, the federal program has become more diffuse.
That’s led some to question whether programs that lack a specific national purpose should be eliminated as the federal transportation program returns to more core national interests, such as managing and preserving existing assets, improving safety, ensuring the mobility of freight and tackling major projects that bring taxpayers the greatest return on their investment. States have an important role to play in helping to define a new national vision.
States to Watch: All of them
2. Capturing support for infrastructure investment may require localizing transportation.
Defining in detail how states, localities and even individual commuters stand to benefit from specific transportation projects likely will be important in the years ahead. A lack of earmarks in federal legislation and what may be a reduced, or at best static, federal commitment to transportation may mean that state governments will be required to make the case for infrastructure projects and funding them at home.
Some states already have a track record of success in winning support for things like local bond issues and dedicated taxes when they are tied to specific projects.
State to Watch: Georgia, where 12 regions around the state will vote on a sales tax increase later this year to fund infrastructure projects. (See pages 14–16 for more information.)
3. It’s increasingly important for states to move toward data-driven decision-making in
In an era of tighter state and federal funding for transportation and with a public skeptical of the need for more spending, new levels of accountability and transparency will be important in the years ahead. That may include the development of new performance measures and tools to perform cost-benefit analyses and measure return-on-investment from transportation projects and programs.
A number of states are already moving forward to develop the goals, metrics and data collection programs needed.
States to Watch: Washington and California, which have long been leaders in measuring transportation performance.