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America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Congressional Hearings Focus on Aviation, Flood Control

March 3rd, 2017 | By: Whitford Remer

As the President’s repeated in his address to Congress his pledge to dramatically increase infrastructure spending to the tune of $1 trillion, various Congressional Committees have been holding hearings to explore the need. While the hearings reflect broad and even growing support on Capitol Hill for infrastructure spending, they also illustrate major hurdles, chief among them and one that has bedeviled infrastructure advocates for a very long time, how to pay for it. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun a series of hearings to highlight the need among specific infrastructure categories. Using the title “Building a 21st Century for America,” the hearings explore the federal role in several infrastructure categories. On March 1st, the Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee looked at the state of the nation’s airports, with a panel of airport executives including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Greater Asheville (NC) Regional Airport Authority. The executives noted different challenges faced by different sized airports and the need for flexibility, both in how they are able to spend grant money received through the Airports Improvement Program (AIP) and the ability to set the appropriate level for the Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) that airports can charge, which has been capped by Congress at $4.50. During the hearing, full Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced he had joined with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in offering legislation to remove the cap on PFCs and permitting airports to set the level as they see fit. The panel also noted that under the new pricing policies instituted by airlines, while the ticket tax that funds the AIP is applied to the basic ticket, additional charges such as baggage fees are not subject to the tax, costing the program millions of dollars. Finally, both members of the Committee and the panelist agreed that the recent pattern of short-term authorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its programs has made it hard to make long-term plans and have increased the cost of the capital projects. ASCE strongly agrees with the airport executives and supports increasing funding for the AIP, removing the cap from the PFCs and longer-term authorization for the FAA. Meanwhile in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” The hearing was prompted in large part by the recent spillway deteriorations and ensuing evacuations around California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the nation. Among the witnesses were Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Larry Larson, Director Emeritus & Senior Policy Advisor for Association of State Floodplain Manager. General Seminote talked about his agency’s role in providing flood protection infrastructure across the country. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed the General on the Agency’s benefit-cost analysis formula for selecting projects, which relies, in-part, on property value. Sen. Barrassso, the new Chairman of the Committee emphasized this type of formula pitted urban project against more rural projects in his home state of Wyoming. Larry Larson and several Senators also raised the important point that there are flood control programs authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and Water Resources Development Act of 2016 that have not received any federal funding. Larry Larson also told the panel that private funding will not cover the full cost for dam and levee repair. “Our experience shows that financial incentives are very difficult to apply to these projects,” adding that that federal funding would be needed.

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FAA Reauthorization Waiting on the House

May 4th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

There are just 73 days remaining until the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization expires. Reauthorizing legislation has been in the works for months, but has a long way to go before it lands on the President’s desk. The FAA’s current authorization was set to expire March 31, but Congress bought itself some extra time by passing a bill in March to extend the authorization to July 15. Last month the U.S. Senate passed a $33 billion bill (HR 636) to reauthorize the FAA until September 30, 2017, but the U.S. House of Representatives has not taken action on it yet.   The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) own FAA reauthorization bill (HR 4441) in February, but the bill did not progress on the House floor. That bill contained Rep. Shuster’s controversial proposal to split off the FAA’s air traffic control operations into a private, nonprofit organization. Rep. Shuster has said he is still interested in pursuing air traffic control privatization, but will need a few more weeks to decide how to proceed. HR 636 increases funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the federal grant program that is one of the principle sources of funding for airport capital improvements, from $3.35 billion to $3.75 billion for FY17. The bill does not modify the $4.50 cap on Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). PFCs are fees airports can collect from every departing passenger and use to fund federally approved capital improvement projects. The current cap has not been changed since 2001 and infrastructure advocates, including ASCE, have called for the cap to be increased or removed so that airports can invest in their own facilities. ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s aviation system a D. America’s aviation infrastructure has not kept pace with its residents’ appetite for air travel. Commercial enplanements were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000. Outdated and insufficient aviation infrastructure costs Americans households and businesses money. The FAA estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. In order to ensure American travelers and goods can continue to move around the country quickly and efficiently, the U.S. needs to invest far more in its aviation infrastructure. The latest Airports Council International–North America (ACI-NA) Capital Needs Survey estimates airports will have $75.7 billion in capital needs between 2015 and 2019. HR 636’s provisions to increase funding for the AIP would help airports make some of the investments they need.

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Infrastructure in the News: National Parks, Aviation and Innovation

April 22nd, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

It’s National Park Week, the Senate passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, and more suggestions for improving infrastructure through technological innovation have been floating around the week’s news headlines. This year marks the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. According to National Geographic, the National Park maintenance backlog has reached nearly $12 billion, the worst in the system’s history. It is important to invest in our nation’s national parks not only because they are popular, but because of the economic value they offer. In March, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the National Park Service Centennial Act, which would provide nearly $50 million annually for national park needs. Also, the energy bill that the Senate just passed, would add $25 million for these park projects as well as $150 million for deferred park maintenance needs. While these funding initiatives are a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to protect and maintain our National Park System for the next 100 years. This week was also a big one for aviation as the Senate finally passed the FAA Reauthorization Bill.  House leadership must now decide whether to try to amend the Senate’s bill to more closely resemble Rep. Shuster’s bill, which includes air traffic control privatization, or to pass a less controversial version of the bill. The current extension of FAA runs until July 15. An op-ed in The Hill expands upon the importance of modernizing our airports to make sure they can accommodate increased passenger and cargo demand. The article also suggests that modernizing the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee would be a good step in that direction, as it would allow more local control thereby making airports less reliant on increasingly limited federal funds. Unfortunately neither the House nor Senate bill adjusts the PFC. Aside from addressing National Parks and aviation, there have been a few articles this week exploring the potential of technology and innovation in improving our infrastructure. The TransitCenter and Center for Neighborhood Technology just released a new interactive tool called AllTransit, which collects data from more than 800 transit agencies into a comprehensive set of metrics and maps that break down public transportation opportunities by census block. All of this information is then collected into a performance score between one and 10, revealing the conditions of the nation’s transit agencies. An article in Fusion magazine also outlined the role of technology in addressing our infrastructure problems, exploring the idea of developing tools to keep our cities from deteriorating further. In Los Angeles, a group of public sector technologists have banded together to try and solve the city’s infrastructure problems using home-grown tools like sewer drones and traffic dashboards. Innovative ideas like these are also highlighted in ASCE’s GameChangers report, which shows how communities across the country have developed solutions to infrastructure challenges. In order to innovate and improve our infrastructure needs nationwide, it is important that local, state and federal governments work together to find long-term, sustainable funding that will allow for such improvement.

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Sky High Air Travel Traffic

November 25th, 2014 | By: Becky Moylan

air-travelWhether your amount of air travel rivals that of George Clooney in Up in the Air, or you are a casual flier who takes a plane for an annual vacation, the newly-released data from the U.S. Travel Association will give you pause. In the new report, Thanksgiving in the Skies: A Look at the Future of Air Travel in America, the future is bleak for those who dislike battling crowded aiports. Among the most discouraging findings:
  • This year, 13 of the 30 largest airports experience Thanksgiving-like congestion levels one day during the average week. This total more than doubled from last year.
  • The 30 largest U.S. airports will experience Thanksgiving-like congestion once a week within the next six years.
  • Every day at Chicago Midway Airport and McCarran International in Las Vegas will feel like you’re traveling for Thanksgiving beginning next year.
Air travel is a major part of the economy. But with $71.3 billion in airport capital needs and a D grade for Aviation infrastructure, this economic engine is at risk. Congress has the opportunity to address these funding needs in the coming year, as it reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) appropriations, currently set to expire on Oct. 1, 2015. Let’s hope that a year from now we are thankful Congress seized the opportunity to modernize our nation’s airports and once again make them the envy of the world—no longer known for reliably long security lines, overcrowded terminals and costly delays.

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