Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here's what Trump just told Congress about Infrastructure

At his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump asked Congress to approve a $1 trillion infrastructure package financed by both public and private investment.

In announcing this proposal - which did not get more specific than that in terms of what funding mechanisms would be used to finance what kinds of projects - Trump invoked Eisenhower's leadership building the national interstate highway system, saying "the time has come for a new program of national rebuilding."

As he often does, Trump compared the money America has spent in the Middle East with the money that could have been spent on infrastructure at home. He said, "America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East, all the while our infrastructure at home as crumbled. With that $6 trillion we could have rebuilt our infrastructure twice."

"To launch our national rebuilding," he said, "I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs. This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American, and hire American."

He also mentioned infrastructure at the beginning of his speech, which used similar parallel structure to his Inaugural Address where he first painted a dark picture of what America has become, before defining how things will change under his presidency.

He first said, "We've spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled." He later said, "Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways, gleaming across our very, very beautiful land."

Indeed, Trump still talks about infrastructure mostly in terms of transportation infrastructure, though he did mention pipelines such as Keystone XL and Dakota Access at other times in his address.

Friday, February 24, 2017

This Week in Transportation: February 24, 2017

This week in transportation, Congress might wait until next year to tackle an infrastructure package, support grew for high-speed rail in the Northwest, and a new report outlined methods for better investing in bicycle and walking infrastructure. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Trump, Congress may punt on infrastructure until 2018
Axios reports that GOP sources have told them they will "push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that'll require massive effort, time and political capital... Republican strategists say that Democrats, who'll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They'll be under huge pressure to support big projects that'll bring money and improvements to their districts."

Drivers log record-breaking miles on US roads in 2016
The Hill reports, "Drivers in the U.S. traveled a record-breaking number of miles last year, for the fifth straight year of increased driving on public roads, according to new federal data. U.S. driving topped 3.2 trillion miles in 2016 — up from 3.1 trillion the previous year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said Tuesday. Drivers logged more than 263.6 billion miles in December 2016 alone, which is a 0.5 percent increase over the previous December, the FHWA added."

The Dallas Business Journal writes that Texas Central Partners, the firm constructing a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, is taking issue with a recent report by the Reason Foundation which found the line could cost taxpayers $21.5 billion despite intentions to build the line without any taxpayer dollars. They claim the data Reason used for the study is outdated and that they reversed earlier support for the rail line without cause.

Next City reports, "With a coalition of tech millionaires and billionaires, politicians and investment groups behind the renewed push, it seems plausible high-speed rail could finally move from fantasy to reality in the Northwest. The idea is at least real enough that Washington Governor Jay Inslee put $1 million in his proposed budget to fund a feasibility study."

New report highlights MPO investment in walking, bicycling infrastructure
Transportation for America and the American Public Health Association have released a new report highlighting metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that have placed a greater emphasis on active transportation, such as walking and bicycling. The paper outlines four policy levers MPOs can use to ensure more funding and better results for walking and bicycling infrastructure. It also includes over 30 case studies of MPOs across the country using those strategies successfully.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New report highlights MPO investment in walking, bicycling infrastructure

Click here to download the report.
Transportation for America and the American Public Health Association have released a new report highlighting metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that have placed a greater emphasis on active transportation, such as walking and bicycling. 

“How Regional Transportation Planning Agencies are Promoting Physical Activity and Health” outlines four policy levers MPOs can use to ensure more funding and better results for walking and bicycling infrastructure. It also includes over 30 case studies of MPOs across the country using those strategies successfully.

As the paper says, "All across the United States the demand for more opportunities to safely walk and bicycle are at an all-time high in both heartland towns and urban centers alike. Communities are being built to encourage more physical activity by making it easier to exercise and making it safer, more convenient and more attractive to walk or bicycle from place to place."

How are MPOs doing this? Here are the four levers outlined in the report:

Dedicated funding for active transportation: Especially in large metropolitan areas, MPOs have a lot of sway over how federal transportation funding gets allocated. The Nashville Area MPO, for example, has dedicated 15% of its federal transportation dollars to bicycle, walking, and transit-supportive projects - including Lower Station Camp Greenway to provide a safe walking and bicycling path for students of Station Camp Elementary, Middle and High Schools.

Performance measures to better assess project benefits: To better target funding, MPOs can include in their performance assessments measurements of public health, access to opportunity, and quality of life, among others. The Twin Cities region’s Metropolitan Council, for example, redesigned the criteria it uses to determine allocation of transportation dollars to prioritize walking and bicycling projects for underserved communities, by including equity criteria in its evaluations of proposed projects, and by giving more points to projects in areas with more affordable housing.

Planning and policies that support regional goals: This would include planning processes that address public health outcomes and social inequities with investments in active transportation. The Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments, seeing a link between active transportation and a reduction in the rate of chronic disease, established a bikeshare program where Medicaid recipients can rent a bike for two hours for free to help them get to their medical appointments.

Improved data and measuring what matters: MPOs should collect and use data that will better help them prioritize walking and bicycling infrastructure where it would be most effective. This data might include public health outcomes, the availability of transportation facilities, the quality of active transportation facilities, and the proximity of places between which people could walk or bike. The Madison Area Transportation Planning Board’s Active Living Index (ALI) takes into account things like intersection density, bicycle level of service, and transit access to jobs to determine which places in the area would benefit most from new bicycling and walking infrastructure.

You can read the full report here. I think it's certainly worth reading through, as it includes a lot of examples of how MPOs are already using these different methods to invest more, and more wisely, in walking and bicycling infrastructure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Eno Report Recommends Improvements for Federal Freight Grants

A container ship docked at the Port of NY/NJ.

The Eno Center for Transportation has released a new report outlining recommendations for improving the FASTLANE program. The "Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies" (FASTLANE) grant program, created by the FAST Act passed in 2015, provides funds for highway and intermodal freight projects to the tune of $800 million per year.

Click here to read the report.
Some beneficiaries of the FY16 grants include the Arlington Memorial Bridge reconstruction project in DC-Virginia; an interstate widening and realignment in Arizona; and improvements to the Port of New York/New Jersey's cross-harbor railcar float system.

The report authors write, "A federal discretionary grant program, if designed correctly, can target limited funds to freight projects that relieve bottlenecks and improve reliability for freight movements across the country. While FASTLANE is a significant step in creating a useful federal freight program there is ample room for improvement."

To that end, the report outlines several problems with FASTLANE as it exists today and offers six recommendations to address those problems.

Among the current challenges is the broad eligibility language of the program that has led to highway projects without explicit freight characteristics receiving nearly 60% of the FY16 grant awards. Moreover, the report notes that because FASTLANE funding comes through the Highway Trust Fund, legislators put a cap on how much of the total funding could be awarded to intermodal, rail, or port projects - at just one-ninth of the total amount.

Here are the report's verbatim recommendations, which were created with input from Eno's Freight Working Group.
  1. Congress needs to increase the funding available for FASTLANE grants – or a similar discretionary freight program – to at least $2 billion annually. 
  2. Congress should revise the eligibility standards to allow for all freight projects, including public and private railways, ports, waterways, highways, and intermodal connectors. 
  3. Congress needs to also restrict eligibility to only freight projects. 
  4. U.S. DOT needs to exercise greater transparency and explicitly describe its evaluation process, assign weights to criteria, and publish the final results. 
  5. U.S. DOT should emphasize leveraging non federal funds, both public and private, by increasing the weight of this metric so that projects that use fewer federal dollars score better. 
  6. U.S. DOT should be transparent and explicit in how it awards projects to achieve some form of geographic diversity, and should keep the equity aspect of the selection process to a minimum. 
Read the full report here.