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

What VMT On The Rise Means for Roads

February 28th, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

U.S. motorists set a new record for vehicle miles travelled (VMT) in 2016, driving over 3.2 trillion miles, an increase of 70 billion miles from 2015. VMT has long been on the rise, save for a dip during the recession. With so many vehicles on the road, it is no surprise that congestion has also been on the rise. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimated in 2014 that Americans spent 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic due to congestion for an average of 42 hours per commuter. All of that sitting in traffic wasted 3.1 billion gallons of fuel. The lost time and wasted fuel add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion.  This is a substantial increase from 30 years prior when Americans lost 2.1 billion hours to congestion with an average of 20 hours per commuter and the total cost of congestion was only $48 billion (in 2014 dollars). Investment is badly needed to repair America’s roadways and improve their performance (our highways and bridges have a $836 billion backlog), but adding building more road will not solve congestion on its own. With the U.S. population expected to grow by over 70 million by 2050, policymakers need to think plan ahead and think broadly to prevent congestion from paralyzing our roads. They should begin tackling congestion today through policies and technologies that maximize the capacity of the existing road network and by creating an integrated, multimodal transportation system that focuses on mobility for people and goods.

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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: Voices Rally for Infrastructure

February 3rd, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With a new administration off to a fresh start, many organizations, elected officials and other stakeholders are seizing the chance to offer their perspectives on an infrastructure bill. Mayors from major cities across the nation recently suggested in an op-ed that the federal government prioritize distribution for infrastructure funding, modernize and expedite how projects are built, and incorporate life cycle cost into project management. Manufacturers recently testified before Congress to request that lawmakers authorize funding to restore infrastructure as it would reduce cost to consumers and improve the efficiencies of organizations and their supply chains. “If ports are clogged, trucks are delayed, power is down, or the internet has a lapse, productivity and customer service are impacted. Across the manufacturing sector, transportation logistics matter, and congestion—whether at a port or on a crowded highway—is waste that drives the consumer’s cost up like a hidden tax,” testified Mary Andringa, chair of the board for Vermeer Corp. The Association of American Railroads is also speaking out for sustainable infrastructure investments, advocating for solutions that provide long-term funding for the Highway Trust Fund. The federal government should “seek solutions that provide steady funding, avoid deferred maintenance and incorporate multiple transportation modes,” said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads in a recent op-ed. Scott Pattison, executive director of the bipartisan National Governor’s Association, recently said that his group, at the request of the White House, has assembled a list of 300 high-priority projects costing billions of dollars from 43 states and territories. World Resources Institute also responded to the Senate’s infrastructure plan, expressing desire for a federal plan to roll forward. The level of dialogue surrounding infrastructure among legislators, builders, designers and other infrastructure experts is even sparking proposals for a national infrastructure summit. With so many interested stakeholders, a big infrastructure bill could move forward with potential for great success.

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House T&I Committee Examines How to Build a 21st Century Infrastructure

February 2nd, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

Yesterday the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held a hearing titled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America.” It was the Committee’s first hearing in the 115th Congress and came on the heels of both President Trump’s pledge to focus on infrastructure and a trillion dollar infrastructure investment blueprint previewed by Senate Democrats last week. The panel of witnesses represented private industry (FedEx, Cargill, BMW and Vermeer) that relies on the country’s vast infrastructure networks, with the exception of Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, whose union members build, maintain and operate much of the nation’s infrastructure. Getting the hearing off to a fiery start was Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-4th OR), who picked up right where he left off last Congress—emphasizing the need to fix the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) (a bit of background…in December of last year Rep. DeFazio gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during votes on the Water Resources Development Act, criticizing the final bill for not including language to spend down funds collected by the HMTF). Rep. DeFazio laid out three key areas he wants the Committee to focus on this year: indexing the gas tax to inflation, spending the existing $9 billion in the HMTF that has been used to offset a portion of the deficit and raising the cap on passenger facility charges for airports. Members of the Committee and witnesses agreed that these were important issues. David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill, reminded legislators not to get carried away by dazzling new innovations like electric cars, microgrids and high-speed rail saying “As exciting as new technologies are, we should also think about our traditional assets. So the remainder of my testimony will focus not on the shiny objects, but on the ones that tend to get rusty: the rails, roads, bridges and waterways of rural America.” The panelists also all spoke about the importance of the federal government providing real funding to infrastructure projects, not just financing. Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx even went so far to say that he had been testifying in the T&I Committee room for 40 years and was ready to see real infrastructure investment. The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to hold its own hearing examining infrastructure challenges and opportunities soon.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Still need a road to drive on

December 9th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Autonomous vehicles are heralded as the next big thing in transportation—the technology that will change everything. But there’s one part that won’t change: autonomous vehicles will still to drive on roads. And as you may have heard, our roads and bridges aren’t in great shape. So far, autonomous vehicles are being tested in select settings. In Pittsburgh, Uber is testing a handful of self-driving cars with the goal of eventually switching its service to a fleet of autonomous vehicles. The ride-hailing app is even exploring self-driving trucks to make deliveries, with a successful 120-mile test run to deliver 50,000 cans of beer under their belt. Google has been testing its autonomous vehicles since 2009 and has self-driven more than 2 million miles. Uber and Google are hardly alone in the space, with a number of auto manufacturers and tech companies announcing they too are developing autonomous vehicles. Clearly driverless vehicles could open wide the doors of opportunity and improvement to our transportation landscape for both people and freight. ASCE’s Interchange video elaborates on autonomous vehicles’ ripple effects on the transportation landscape and communities. Autonomous vehicles promise much in the arena of safety and travel convenience. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, 35,092 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, which averages out to 96 people per day. This represented a 7.2% increase from 2014 and was the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. Most crashes have a component of human choice (whether that’s impaired driving, distracted driving or unsafe driving), so removing the human driver from the equation could dramatically decrease crashes and save lives. Autonomous vehicles also have the potential to be an antidote to increasing congestion. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2015 Annual Urban Mobility Scorecard reported that traffic congestion causes drivers to waste more than three billion gallons of fuel and be stuck in their cars for nearly seven billion extra hours – 42 hours per rush-hour commuter per year. Autonomous vehicles could transform the definition of road capacity, as the number of vehicles that can travel safely in a given lane will greatly increase when computers are doing the driving.  Elderly and physically disabled people who are unable to drive will also have a chance to get around more freely. While autonomous vehicles promise much in terms of congestion relief, safety improvements and modern conveniences, their advancement cannot come at the expense of maintaining our basic infrastructure system. The usability of autonomous vehicles is largely dependent on the quality of the roads and bridges that they will ride on—and currently that quality is lacking. One in ten U.S. bridges is structurally deficient and 20 percent of urban highways are in unacceptable condition. There is a $504 billion rehabilitation backlog for the nation’s highways and bridges. While these statistics may not seem directly related to autonomous vehicles, roads and bridges in good condition are critical to any vehicle that may use them, despite how advanced it might be.  The reality is that autonomous vehicles struggle to navigate potholes, unclear lane markings and poor signage. The technology of the autonomous vehicle is close, yet our transportation infrastructure is stuck in the past, primarily due to insufficient funding. The best solution for this funding problem is fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to ensure that there is a reliable and adequate revenue stream for transportation. The HTF is meant to fund the federal government’s investments in highways, bridges and transit. It is primarily funded by an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, which has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. Congress has relied on transferring general funds into the HTF to prop it up ($140 billion since 2008) instead of fixing its underlying revenue problem. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel fuel to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog and modernize the system. Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the HTF. While it is not as exciting as robot cars, fixing our nation’s infrastructure through a long-term sustainable funding solution is the gateway to successfully implementing innovations like autonomous vehicles.

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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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Infrastructure in the News: Over the River and Through the Skies, to Grandmother’s House We Go

November 18th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Does it seem like holiday travel becomes more overwhelming each year? You’re not imagining it. According to  AAA, nearly 49 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home between Wednesday Nov. 23, and Sunday, Nov. 27, making it the highest number of Thanksgiving travelers in nine years. Whether the increase is from cheaper gas prices, optimism about the economy or another reason, nine out of ten of these 49 million travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. Our nation’s roads, which already need widespread investment and maintenance, will certainly be strained this holiday season. But don’t think you are off the hook if you aren’t traveling by car. According to Airlines for America (A4A), air travel is expected to increase by 2.5 percent from last year—the equivalent of 55,000 more passengers a day. Fortunately, airlines are prepared for the increase.  For example, U.S. Airlines will offer 74,000 more seats over the holidays than last year. Amtrak has also made preparations for this year’s travel season by adding more trains and extra seats on routes in the Northeast, Midwest and on the West Coast. In 2015, Amtrak served more than 751,000 customers during the Thanksgiving holiday, and demand estimates are similar for this year. Whether you are taking a car, plane or train, you will be relying on our nation’s transportation infrastructure at a time when it’s being stretched to capacity. To ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s roads, bridges and transit, we must #FixTheTrustFund. Hopefully the new administration will make this a priority.

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With Gas Prices Low, Congress Has Opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund

August 8th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last month’s average gas price in the U.S. was the lowest for July since 2004. Cheap gas coupled with an improved economy is spurring Americans to drive more. After a decrease during the recession, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is climbing again. Summer is the busiest time on U.S. roads and many drivers will find themselves stuck in traffic, whether they’re headed to work or the beach. In 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic (42 hours per driver). The wasted time and gas add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion ($960 per driver).

vmt 4Estimated VMT based on traffic volume trends. Federal Highway Administration.

A major contributor to congestion is the underinvestment into our road network. According to AASHTO, there is a $629 billion backlog of highway needs. For the federal government and most states, taxes on gasoline and diesel are the primary funding source for highways, but the tax rates frequently have not been raised in years, sometimes decades. Many states are considering plans to raise their fuel taxes to increase their investment in highway infrastructure and last year nine states actually did it. Despite these tax increases, the price drivers pay at the pump has continued to go down—one study by ARTBA even shows that a gas tax increase does not have a direct impact on the price at the pump. Federal lawmakers unfortunately have not followed their lead. The federal Highway Trust Fund has been flirting with insolvency since 2008 because its primary funding source, an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. The fund has been propped up by $140 billion in transfers from the general fund. In order to ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s highways, the Trust Fund needs a sustainable funding source. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog.  Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal highway trust fund to prepare for the future. It’s time for Congress to step up and #FixTheTrustFund.

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Happy 60th Birthday, Interstate Highway System!

June 29th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Sixty years ago today President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and in doing so created the Interstate Highway System. President Eisenhower explained the necessity of an interstate system in a 1955 statement to Congress:
“Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”
Now encompassing 47,000 miles of roadway, the Interstate Highway System runs through all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Interstates have transformed the way we move goods and people in the U.S. In 1919, then Lt. Colonel Eisenhower traveled in an 80 vehicle military convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The trip took 62 days, inspiring him to create the system. Today that drive could be completed in about three days. The Interstate Highway System cost approximately $500 billion (in 2016 dollars) to build, but America’s investment has paid off, literally. The system has returned more than $6 in economic productivity for each $1 it cost. Today’s America would have been unimaginable to President Eisenhower and the country will likely change in ways we can’t now fathom in the next 60 years. Whatever the future holds, the one thing that’s always needed is money. Funding for the Interstate Highway System has been flat for years, allowing for basic maintenance but little innovation. At current funding levels, it will be impossible for the interstate system to modernize and meet the needs of our growing country. In order to invest sufficiently in the Interstate Highway System, Congress needs to overhaul its federal funding source—the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is primarily funded by an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline. This rate has not been increased since 1993, meaning inflation has cut its value by 40% over the last 23 years.  As advancements in fuel efficiency continue, drivers will need to buy gas less often, further reducing the HTF’s income. As electric vehicles catch on, drivers will pay almost no taxes to maintain the roads and bridges they drive on. We’ll need a new way to take in the user fees for the Highway Trust Fund in the coming decades. One alternative funding mechanism is a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee. This fee would be assessed on each vehicle owner based on how many miles they’ve driven. Some proposals call for varying the fee so that heavier vehicles like semi-trucks (which do more damage to roads) would pay more. Mileage-based fees are currently being tested in several states. VMT fees could provide stable revenue for the HTF, which in turn would allow for adequate investment in the future of the Interstate Highway System. Happy birthday, Interstate Highway System! We wouldn’t be here without you.

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