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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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Tennessee Senate Committee Receives Infrastructure Report Card

February 7th, 2017 | By: Becky Moylan

As Tennessee’s legislature and governor explore funding options for the state’s transportation infrastructure, the Tennessee Section of ASCE was invited to present the 2016 Report Card for Tennessee’s Infrastructure to the state’s Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. WBIR.com even named it as one of “5 things to watch this week in the legislature.” On Monday, Feb. 6, Monica Sartain, PE and Lukas Slayer presented the Tennessee Report Card, which graded roads a C+, bridges a B, and transit a D+, but warns that without sustainable funding congestion will continue to rise and roads and bridges will deteriorate. Current funding is not keeping up with the needs, as an estimated $475 million is needed annually to maintain the current state of good repair on state-maintained roadways, and this number grows with inflation every year. Tennessee is unique in that it’s one of only five states that is “pay-as-you-go” for transportation projects, meaning that the state takes on no debt for construction or maintenance. While this is a fiscally sound approach, it has made maintaining and improving the system challenging. In January, Gov. Haslam proposed the IMPROVE Act, “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy,” which would raise the state’s gas tax by 7 cents a gallon and diesel by 12 cents a gallon, ultimately raising $278 million in new dollars and funding 962 projects across the state. The Tennessee’s Report Card’s top recommendation to improve the state’s infrastructure was to “Find sustainable solutions that will help us build a transportation network for the future.” The IMPROVE Act or another bill that would raise the state gas tax—last increased in 1989—is the most direct and immediate way to increase revenue to invest in transportation. ASCE will continue to encourage action this legislative session on the IMPROVE Act or another long-term sustainable funding solution. Join in by emailing your Tennessee state legislators.

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Democrats’ Infrastructure Blueprint Furthers Legislative Conversation

January 26th, 2017 | By: Becky Moylan

Days after President Trump was the first to use the word “infrastructure” in an inaugural address, Senate Democrats doubled-down on his promise to invest in infrastructure by offering their own plan to increase investment by $1 trillion over 10 years, and purportedly create more than 15 million new jobs in the process. The plan, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and dubbed “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,” proposes many investments that ASCE has advocated for over the last two decades, including in the 2013 Infrastructure Report Card. The obvious one is increased investment. At $1 trillion—a figure originally proposed by President Trump during his campaign—this or a similar plan would go a long way in closing the $1.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap. The “Blueprint” also emphasizes addressing backlogged needs, which have been growing for far too long and are at the root of our nation’s “D+” infrastructure. The “Blueprint” offers a good start to furthering our lawmakers’ dialogue on what a large infrastructure bill should include, and how our nation can wisely invest $1 trillion, ensuring ROI and addressing our significant infrastructure needs. In particular, the “Blueprint’s” approach of dividing investment across the 16 categories of infrastructure is important to improving the entirety of the interdependent infrastructure system. But to make the most of this substantial of an investment with an eye on the future, it will be even more important to select the right projects. ASCE has outlined its vision for what a large infrastructure investment bill should include in our “Principles for Infrastructure Investment.” We will rely on these “Principles” to engage Congress as it reacts to the “Blueprint” and considers a path forward on this critical economic and social issue, balancing needed investment with judicious planning to effectively address our infrastructure needs. Here are some of the highlights of how the Senate Democrats’ “Blueprint” breaks down from ASCE’s perspective*:
  • $210 billion for roads and bridges – ASCE recently identified surface transportation as the infrastructure area with the largest unfunded need.
  • $10 billion to expand TIGER – Increasing funding into proven programs is an excellent way to ensure that the investment is used effectively.
  • $110 billion for water and sewer – The “Blueprint” notes that underinvestment has happened in our drinking and wastewater infrastructure in part because of a hesitancy to increase water rates. An infusion of additional funding will help bring these systems back up to where they need to be for Americans’ safety and quality of life.
  • $180 billion for rail and bus – Divided into $130 billion for public transit and $50 billion for rail, which will include acceleration of implementing Positive Train Control.
  • $200 billion for transformative projects – Vital Infrastructure Projects (VIPs) as the “Blueprint” calls them would help to elevate not just the quality of our infrastructure, but also put us on a strong path for the future.
  • $75 billion for schools – Most of our school buildings were built to originally teach baby boomers and modernization is desperately needed so that schools can prepare students for the 21st
  • $65 billion for ports, inland waterways, and airports – Broken down to $30 billion for airports, including through the effective Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and to implement NextGen, $10 billion for dredging, lock maintenance and other needs for ports and inland waterways, and $25 billion to build more resilient communities, which ASCE has highlighted the importance of as one of its eight key criteria when assessing infrastructure.
  • $100 billion for energy – Including upgrades in transmission and distribution, along with increased resilience.
  • $20 billion for public lands – Directed in part to increased funding for the National Park Service, which infamously has had challenges maintaining its infrastructure, including the iconic Arlington Memorial Bridge.
  • $10 billion in seed money for an “IBank” – Expected to be $100 billion for infrastructure once fully leveraged, this would be a way to test the Infrastructure Bank concept on the national level. The Blueprint also notes the need to protect WIFIA and TIFIA, two programs that like TIGER have proven value and should be used to ensure strategic investment.
Missing from the proposal is funding of water resources projects authorized in WRDA14 and WIIN16. These programs would improve dams, levees, and other water resource infrastructure that are in need of improvement and would benefit from an infusion of investment. One other major sticking point when it comes to federal infrastructure investment: How to pay for it. Democrats maintain the proposal’s $1 trillion investment would be covered by closing tax loopholes.  Under its “Principles,” ASCE supports infrastructure investment from all levels of government and the private sector. Ultimately, our nation needs a long-term, sustainable funding solution for all areas of infrastructure. A down payment to modernize our infrastructure that is funded, not just financed, will put us on the right track. *Italicized text notes ASCE’s comments on specific parts of the proposal based on ASCE Public Policy Statements.

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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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State Gear Up to Tackle Road Funding in 2017

December 1st, 2016 | By: Maria Matthews

Over the past three years, 17 states have increased their gas tax to generate additional revenue for surface transportation.  In almost every state the recent increase was the first in nearly two decades.  Even with the passages of last year’s FAST Act, states are still facing uncertainty when it comes to funding sources.  Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, driving habits are changing and consumers are seeking out vehicles that run on alternative energy sources while most states’ gas taxes are not tied to inflation—and therefore lose value with each passing year. As we look to the 2017 legislative session we expect many states will take up legislation to address increasing revenue that can be invested into their roads and bridges.  The gas tax increase is the most commonly discussed methods and we can expect to see legislation in states like Indiana and Tennessee. Both of these states have tried in prior legislative sessions to move the needle on a gas tax increase and 2017 might be the year they succeed. . In 2015, another odd-year legislative session, we saw increases signed into law in nine states (at that time North Carolina signed a bill that will raise its gas tax but, only after it initially dropped the rate by a penny). Missouri and Wisconsin again find themselves at an impasse when it comes to investment in their transportation system. Missouri attempted to increase its gas tax during its 2016 legislative session with a bill passing only one chamber. The state later included a 23-cent cigarette tax increase to fund roads and bridges on its November ballot which was ultimately defeated.  Wisconsin on the other hand approved a lockbox to protect its transportation funding coffers but, has not be able to reach consensus on how to best fund road and bridge projects, maintenance and improvements. Another state to watch in 2017 is Colorado, which will launch a four month vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) pilot. They will join pilot programs currently underway in California and Oregon. We can also expect to see programs pop up in many east coast states in the upcoming year as they vie for federal funding to determine the viability of interstate VMT programs. ASCE recommends that adequate funding for operating, maintaining, and improving the nation’s transportation system be provided by a comprehensive program with sustainable dedicated revenue sources. We will keep a watchful eye on these states as they move to close their transportation funding gaps and improve their transportation network.

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TIGER Grants: They’re Grrrrrreat!

August 4th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last Friday the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the 40 projects that will share $485 million in TIGER grants in FY16. This is the eighth round of TIGER grants (properly called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program). The program was authorized as a part of the 2009 recovery act to support innovative projects that are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs. Since the program is paid for from the general fund, not one of the user-fee supported transportation trust funds, it can be used for projects of any transportation mode and this year’s batch of grants includes a number of intermodal projects. This year’s grants award $193 million to highway and bridge projects, $97 million to pedestrian and bicycle paths, $93 million to transit projects, $54 million to maritime infrastructure and $47 million to freight and passenger rail projects. TIGER grants are highly competitive. There were 585 applicants requesting more than $9.3 billion, demonstrating the significant transportation investment needs in our country. The majority of this’s years’ recipients had applied for TIGER grants in previous years. Although the TIGER program is popular on both sides of the aisle, its future is not assured. As a discretionary program, it is subject to appropriation process each year. Over its eight-year history, the TIGER program has incentivized innovation in communities of all sizes and spurred local and private investment. This year’s $485 million federal investment will support $1.74 billion in overall transportation projects. To see who will be receiving TIGER grants and learn about the projects, go here.

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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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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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House Passes Resolution Limiting Options to Fix the Highway Trust Fund

June 10th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Con. Res. 112, a resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans expressing Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. As yesterday’s blog post highlighted, this resolution may be non-binding, but it puts Congress on the record in opposition to a viable option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the HTF has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the past eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke passionately in opposition to the resolution. In under 24 hours, over 200 advocates responded to ASCE’s action alert and contacted their representatives in opposition to H. Con. Res. 112. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress opposing the resolution. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) read extensively from the letter in his remarks on the House floor. As a concurrent resolution, H. Con. Res. 112 will pass over the Senate for debate and vote. It remains to be seen if that body will pick up the measure.  

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