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

Senate Commerce Subcommittee Explores Multimodal Transportation System Needs

February 16th, 2017 | By: Infrastructure Report Card

Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security convened their first hearing of the 115th Congress. “Moving America: Stakeholder Perspectives on our Multimodal Transportation System” was billed as an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss strategies for improving the efficiency and safety of the nation’s multimodal freight network. In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Deb Fischer (R-NB) applauded the previous Congress for passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Unfortunately, acknowledged the Senator, the chronic insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund was not addressed in a meaningful and long-term way by the FAST Act. To mitigate future shortfalls, which are forecasted to resume in 2020 (the same year the FAST Act expires), Senator Fischer touted her “Build USA Infrastructure Act” during Wednesday’s hearing. Fischer’s legislation would divert a percentage of Customs and Border Patrol fees, which are collected on freight and passengers at ports of entry, to the Highway Trust Fund, as well as offer states additional flexibility as they initiate critical transportation infrastructure projects. Four witnesses provided their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for the multimodal freight system. Matt Rose, Executive Chairman at BNSF, spoke at length about how shifts in energy consumption are affecting his industry. Mr. Rose encouraged Congress to be cognizant of freight rail public benefits, including improvements to the environment, reduced highway congestion and associated maintenance costs, and supply chain efficiencies. He finished by imploring Congress to increase investment in U.S. infrastructure at large, preferably through a strengthened “user pays” program. Christopher Lofgren, President and Chief Executive Officer at Schneider National, provided insights into the trucking and transportation logistics industry by overviewing Schneider National’s best practices.  Current freight bottlenecks create challenges for his company, testified Mr. Lofgren, and with U.S. freight volumes anticipated to grow by 45 percent by the year 2040, those challenges will only increase. It’s imperative that Congress increase investment in the country’s surface transportation infrastructure, which will ultimately improve the health of the overall economy. Tom Guard, Vice President of Integrated Supply Chain at the Dow Chemical Company, testified about the unique needs of the chemical industry when getting goods to market. Mr. Guard overviewed his industry’s reliance on multiple modes of transport, including rail, road, and marine, and emphasized the culture of safety used by his company when transporting hazardous materials. Wick Moorman, President and CEO of Amtrak, outlined the clear federal role in maintaining and improving the passenger network. He emphasized to lawmakers that while public-private partnerships can be utilized in some scenarios, those structures cannot replace federal funding. The federal government must provide adequate levels of investment, as well as in leadership in streamlining and environmental review, and removing red tape. Should the White House choose to release an infrastructure investment plan, perhaps in conjunction with the FY 2018 budget request, members of the Commerce Committee and others in the Capitol will explore how the President proposes to spend additional revenue. Congress, including both parties and several Committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate, will be instrumental in determining how to make Trump’s campaign promise into a reality.

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Senate EPW Committee Examines How to Modernize America’s Infrastructure

February 9th, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

On Wednesday the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee held its first oversight hearing of the 115th Congress (video available here) and new Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) started things off by making it clear where he stands on the proposal offered by President Trump’s campaign to use private investment to improve our nation’s infrastructure:
“Funding solutions that involve public-private partnerships, as have been discussed by administration officials, may be innovative solutions for crumbling inner cities, but do not work for rural areas….Public-private partnerships and other approaches to infrastructure investment that depend on a positive revenue stream from a project are not a surface transportation infrastructure solution for rural states.”
A panel of five state and local government officials representing Colorado, Delaware, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming appeared before the Committee and spoke about what their communities need from the federal government to modernize their infrastructure (written testimony available here). Cindy Bobbitt, Commissioner of Grant County, Oklahoma, emphasized that while public-private partnerships might not be a good fit for rural counties like hers, municipal bonds are. Ms. Bobbitt asked Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds. (A bit of background: Republican leadership has declared tax reform a top priority in this Congress and is planning a broad overhaul of the tax code. State and local governments, which rely on municipal bonds to finance infrastructure and community projects, fear that the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds could be changed. Stakeholders, including ASCE, have joined together to ask Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds.) William Panos, Director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that the increased spending levels authorized by the FAST Act (enacted December 2015) have yet to take effect. Because Congress has not passed a FY17 spending bill (despite the federal fiscal year 2017 beginning October 1, 2016) and instead kept the government open via two Continuing Resolutions (CRs), funding for surface transportation is still at FY16’s (i.e. pre-FAST Act) authorized levels. Mr. Panos said the use of repeated CRs “restricts our ability to plan for future projects and in our state we’re working with our state legislature now and we needed to ask for twice the amount of borrowing authority we would have otherwise” to be able to cover cashflow needs in the face of federal funding uncertainty. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) also took the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wyoming raised its gas tax by 10 cents in 2013, while the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in 2020 without Congressional action. Next week has more transportation-related hearings in store. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will hold a hearing on stakeholder perspectives on a multimodal transportation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on the road to deployment of driverless cars.  

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Infrastructure in the News: Traveling Ho Ho Home for the Holidays

December 22nd, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means record-setting numbers of Americans will take to planes, trains and automobiles to reach their holiday destinations. Holiday travel aside, our nation set a record for cumulative vehicle miles traveled (VMT) within just the first nine months of 2016. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove 2.4 trillion miles this year through September alone, more than any previous year. Theories behind this data include cheaper gasoline prices and an improving economy. According to AAA, U.S. drivers paid the second lowest price for gasoline over Thanksgiving weekend since 2008, an average of $2.13 a gallon. That same data reported in late November that average gas prices were below $2 per gallon in 12 states, and that U.S. drivers have saved more than $27 billion at the gas pumps so far this year compared to the same period last year. And this year’s holiday season travel is predicted to be busy as well.  AAA reports that more than 103 million Americans are predicted to travel for the holidays — the highest level on record — and 1.5 million more travelers than last year. Of that amount, 93.6 million people are expected to drive to their destinations, 6 million are expected to fly and 3.5 million will likely take other modes of transportation. Unfortunately, these impressive VMT increases also contribute to the wear and tear of our nation’s already beleaguered roads. Even with the FAST Act investment of $226 billion over five years for roads and bridges, it’s not enough to bring surface transportation infrastructure into a good state of repair. Hopefully lawmakers can work together in the new administration to create a long-term funding solution that will restore the roads and bridges our nation increasingly relies on.

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The FAST Act Turns One, But The Work’s Not Done

December 5th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

This Sunday was the one year anniversary of the signing of the FAST Act, the five-year federal surface transportation authorization. The law authorizes federal funding for highways, bridges, transit systems and railroads. The passage of the FAST Act was a victory for proponents of infrastructure and everyday Americans who use it. It provided a small increase in funding and was the first long-term authorization bill in years, which provides states the certainty to plan and build projects. However, the passage of the FAST Act did not mean Congress can be done with transportation infrastructure until 2020. Even with the increase in federal funding the FAST Act provided, the nation’s surface transportation system (its roads, bridges, rail and transit) is in need of repair and we’re investing less than half of what’s needed. In May of this year, ASCE released an economic study examining the nation’s investment in infrastructure and its economic consequences. The study found the U.S. was on track to invest about $940 million in surface transportation over the next decade (from all levels of government and the private sector), leaving a $1.1 trillion gap. This underinvestment will have a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, impacting productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness and, most importantly, public safety. Every year this investment gap, along with that of other infrastructure categories, is not addressed it will cost American families $3,400. A large part of the problem is there has not been enough federal funding available for surface transportation infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is supposed to fund the federal government’s investments in roads, bridges and transit, but an insufficient revenue stream has limited these investments. The HTF is primarily funded by the federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 on diesel. The tax has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has decreased its real value by 40%. To make up for the shortfall, Congress has been diverting general fund dollars into the HTF since 2008. Congress failed to provide the HTF a sustainable funding source in the FAST Act and instead relied once again on a general fund transfer. In order to fix the country’s existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing and evolving nation, the U.S. needs to treat infrastructure spending as an investment in its future. This must include providing the HTF a reliable and sufficient revenue source so the U.S. can get to work fixing and modernizing its roads, bridges and transit systems. Experience shows that it will take time to deliberate the best course of action and build consensus, so the 115th Congress will need to start working right away on fixing the trust fund, rather than waiting until the authorization runs out. Every day they delay, deteriorating infrastructure costs American families.

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Inaugural Round of FASTLANE Grant Recipients Released

July 13th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

The U.S. Department of Transportation provided to Congress last week the list of 18 recipients of the first annual round of FASTLANE grants. The FASTLANE program was authorized by the FAST Act to fund critical freight and highway projects of national or regional significance. The grants can be used for highway, port, freight rail and intermodal projects. The FAST Act authorized $4.5 billion in funding for the FASTLANE program for fiscal years 2016-2020, with 25 percent reserved for rural projects, and 10 percent for smaller projects. While this investment is a great kick-start for the 18 recipient projects, the application process calls attention to the need to increase investment in our infrastructure as $10 billion worth of projects were requested, while only about a tenth of that was able to be funded. U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a statement saying:
“The demand for the FASTLANE program has already far exceeded expectations, receiving 212 applications for projects totaling roughly $10 billion, more than 10 times the available amount. This program is an important achievement of the FAST Act, and the response illustrates how critical freight and highway investments are to improving the movement of goods and reducing congestion.”
The Fast Act provides for five years of certainty on the federal level for transportation projects, and the FASTLANE Grant program exemplifies the benefits that can happen when we make the investment. However, long-term funding looms large, as Congress still needs to #FixTheTrustFund with a sustainable funding source. Click on any project to learn more about it:
AZ: I-10 Phoenix-Tucson Corridor Improvements
CA: SR 11 Segment 2 and Southbound Connectors
DC: Arlington Memorial Bridge Reconstruction Project
FL: Truck Parking Availability System
GA: Port of Savannah International Multi-Modal Corridor
IA: Cedar Rapids Logistics Park
ID: US 95 North Corridor Access Intermodal Project
LA: I-10 Freight CoRE
MA: Conley Terminal Intermodal Improvements/ Modernization
ME: Maine Intermodal Port Productivity Project
NY: I-390/I-490/Rt. 31 Interchange, Lyell Avenue Corridor
NY: Cross Harbor Freight Program (Rail)
OK: US 69/75 Bryan County
OR: Coos Bay Rail Line – Tunnel Rehabilitation Project
VA: Atlantic Gateway: Partnering to Unlock I-95 Corridor
WA South Lander St. Grade Separation /Railroad Safety Project
WA Strander Blvd. Extension and Grade Separation Phase 3
WI I-39/90 Corridor Project

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Infrastructure in the News: New Jersey screeches to a halt, Georgia and Louisiana surge ahead

July 8th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With July’s heat, construction projects should be in full swing and you’re probably considering a vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra $3,400 in your bank account to plan a trip with? Well, as ASCE’s new Failure to Act economic study video shows, if we improved our infrastructure every American family could save $9 a day. Watch the video that details the high costs of underinvesting in our nation’s infrastructure and the solution to close the gap. New Jersey’s postponed decision to address the looming insolvency of its state transportation trust fund has resulted in a halt of dozens of transportation projects.  Gov. Christie’s office released the seven-page list of projects that are on hold until a bill is passed.  An opinion piece in the Washington Post echoes the frustration that New Jersey residents are experiencing and tells the state “Yo… you don’t have to cut a tax to raise a tax,” a debate at the center of passing a bill. The situation in New Jersey parallels that of the federal government which has also not increased its gas tax in 23 years. Mississippi is another state in a funding bind, as a recently proposed solution for much-needed highway improvements fizzled away, in spite of compelling arguments for investment. According to a study by the National Center for Pavement Preservation, maintenance costs can multiply to anywhere from six to 14 times what it would have cost if preservation work had been done within 15 years of a road’s construction. Once again, this illustrates we can invest now, or we can pay more later. In contrast to New Jersey and Mississippi, many states including  Georgia and Louisiana are moving ahead with transportation projects due to intentionally raised state funds and contribution from the FASTLANE grants, which are part of the federal FAST Act. While these grants bring promising infrastructure maintenance and show what investment can do, they are also a reminder that our federal Highway Trust Fund is still without a fix that offers long-term, sustainable funding.

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Infrastructure in the News: Spring coming, increased need for infrastructure funding

March 11th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With warmer weather approaching and spring around the bend, the dismal state of our nation’s infrastructure funding is being reflected as several states figure out how to deal with their beleaguered infrastructure in light of dwindling funds. Infrastructure has also been a topic of discussion to pay attention to in the presidential debates. An article in Bustle breaks down each presidential candidate’s mentions about infrastructure thus far in their debates. While each candidate may not have a robust plan of action, the state of our nation’s infrastructure is an issue worthy of discussion at the presidential debate level. States like Wisconsin, are recognizing the dramatic level to which their infrastructure needs attention, as a study ranks their state’s roads as fourth worst in the nation. New Jersey faces a similar dilemma, as the Federal Highway Administration ranks NJ’s bridges within the top 10 worst in the nation for percentage of deficient bridges, with a third of them in need of attention. Alabama businesses have also been vocal about their need for infrastructure repairs, with the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure (AAI) heralding the cry to prioritize funding infrastructure. And in California, about 225 transportation projects are threatened by the state’s latest decision to reduce the State Transportation Improvement Plan by $754 million this year. In the Bay Area alone, seven transportation projects are likely to lose funding and be delayed for years. In light of this, states have been continuing to take funding action, as shown in a list from Equipment World Magazine listing the states that have increased their gas taxes in the past year to fund their transportation improvements. In order to ensure the maximum funding possible for our much-needed infrastructure investment nationwide, it is important to find a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation before the FAST Act expires.  

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Infrastructure in the News:DC Bridge Latest Victim of Underinvestment

March 4th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

This week marks the 80th birthday of the Hoover Dam, which is a prominent example of an invaluable infrastructure landmark that has stood the test of time. The Hoover Dam reminds us of the benefits of investing in quality infrastructure. Unfortunately, another iconic piece of infrastructure was also in the news this week because it hasn’t been getting the investment it needs. The Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., needs to be reconstructed at a cost of $250 million or it will be closed by 2021. Currently, the park service does not have the money needed to make the improvements. “The bridge is a really good example of what happens when you defer maintenance,” park service director Jonathan Jarvis told The Associated Press. “If the park service had had the funding over the lifespan this past 80 years, we probably could have extended the life of the bridge.” In order to prevent bridge closures and emergency repairs, our infrastructure needs a long-term, sustainable funding solution, rather than a one-time infusion that only lasts a few years. An article in Engineering News-Record explained the dismal future of the Highway Trust Fund if Congress does not use the coming years to find a solution. Lack of investment also leads to costly fixes and high out-of-pocket expenses for drivers. TRIP, a national transportation research group, estimated the cost to drivers is $516 per year. According to AAA, potholes alone cost drivers $15 billion during the past five years, and TRIP reported that commuter delays add up to more trips to the gas pump, costing drivers time and an additional $121 billion in wasted fuel. In order to curb some of these costs and rejuvenate our economy, it is important to find a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation before the FAST Act expires.

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Infrastructure in the News: Innovation Sends Snow Packing

January 29th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With winter storm Jonas blasting the Northeast with record-setting amounts of snow, our nation’s already stressed water pipes, roofs and roads were put to the test. While major snow events bring many challenges, they also provide opportunities for innovation. One innovation, coined by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Chris Tuan, is a special concrete mixture that is designed to heat up and melt any snow or ice that settles on it. But Tuan is not the only groundbreaker. A family in N.J. developed its own geothermal solar snow-melt system that applies heat to the driveway and walkways to melt snow. In response to the havoc cold temps can cause on water mains and potholes, a team of innovators in Syracuse, N.Y. has taken steps toward installing magnetic sensors in their water pipes to reduce water main breaks, and is working with a company that has developed technology to map the city’s road deficiencies. Because the FAST Act will only provide limited funds for infrastructure maintenance, there is still great need for new ways to fund infrastructure. Because of this funding gap, many states are seeking ways to generate funding they need for projects. California is moving ahead with a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) program that will involve 5,000 driver volunteers who track their mileage and pay taxes based on miles driven rather than how many gallons of gas they consume. And Alabama and Oregon are considering raising their state gas tax to generate more funding for infrastructure projects.s With intense winter weather wearing on our roads and water infrastructure and increased need for funding, it is still critical that elected leaders at the federal, state and local levels continue to prioritize investment into the backbone of our economy.

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FAST Act Summary Part Four: Rail

December 16th, 2015 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

This is the fourth and final in a series of summaries posted over the past two weeks on the contents of the newly-passed five-year federal surface transportation authorization law, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The first part explored the law’s funding and the future fiscal health of the Highway Trust Fund. The second part described the highway program elements of the law. The third summary described public transportation or transit policy and this final section focuses on the funding and policy changes to federal passenger rail programs. FUNDING The FAST Act provides $305 billion for highway, transit and railway programs. For rail, it would continue to provide much-needed capital investment for the nation’s passenger rail network while implementing bipartisan reforms aimed at increasing performance and accountability of the nation’s rail operator for intercity passenger service, Amtrak. The law authorizes $10.4 billion for passenger rail programs over the next five years. This authorization does not guarantee funding as this investment must actually be provided annually by Congress via the traditional appropriations process. Amtrak would receive modest annual funding increases of, on average, $90 million which amounts to a total funding level of $8.1 billion over five years. However, a key change in Amtrak budgeting is that funding will be separated between investments that can be spent on the (profitable) Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the (unprofitable) remaining National Network (NN). Over the life of the bill, $2.6 billion will be spent on the NEC while $5.5 billion will be spent on the NN. Remaining Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) grant programs would receive $2.2 billion over the next five years. POLICY PROVISIONS The FAST Act also:
  • Requires Amtrak to submit profit and loss statements for both the NEC and NN accounts. This will help ensure that adequate investment is being provided for capital infrastructure on the NEC and further seek to end the NEC “cross-subsidy” of long distance, state-supported routes;
  • Improves the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans for railroad-related improvements, by adding process improvements like approval deadlines to add clarity and reliability for potential borrowers;
  • Requires infrastructure owners like Amtrak and states to annually produce five-year asset management plans and business line plans based on current authorization levels. There shall be four business line plans: NEC; state-supported routes; long-distance routes; and ancillary services;
  • Provides further instruction to the NEC Operating and Advisory Commission and the Amtrak board of directors to produce a more sustainable, long-term investment and operating plan for both the NEC and the national network; and
  • Establishes an independent study of methodologies for determining the cost-benefit and value of routes and services which will be an important process for determining the future scope of the national route network and the offering of intercity passenger rail service. This report will be provided to Congress in 2016 and the Amtrak board of directors will consider the recommendations within 90 days of its release.
ASCE PERSPECTIVE Our Report Card graded the nation’s rail system at a “C+,” noting that passenger rail service continues to receive record-high ridership levels at 31 million trips in fiscal 2014, up from 24 million in 2005, which included growth across all segments: the NEC, shorter regional routes and long-distance routes. A robust rail system is critical to the nation’s ability to move both passengers and freight as a part of a sustainable development and effective mobility strategy. As regional and intercity transportation corridors in the United States become increasingly congested, investment in intercity passenger rail systems is increasingly attractive as part of an overall transportation mobility strategy to provide added capacity and high quality service. Solely adding more lane miles to the Interstate Highway System will not improve freight movement or relieve urban congestion – there should be a holistic approach to viewing these networks as part of an overall national surface transportation system.

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