Transportation

Since the completion of the interstate highway system two decades ago, there has been no national vision driving federal transportation policy. Today, our nation's economy is constrained by crippling traffic and air congestion in metropolitan regions, by its vulnerability to volatile gas prices, and by the lack of transportation options in most communities. These problems, combined with the need to plan for projected population growth and respond to global climate change, calls for an overhaul to the planning and management of our transportation systems. America needs a transportation policy for the 21st century that can help rebuild the economy, promote energy independence, protect the environment, and provide affordable and dependable mobility options for all Americans.

America 2050 is calling for a strategic national transportation plan that provides the underpinnings for robust, competitive and sustainable growth in the 21st century in the way the interstate system shaped America's development in the 20th century. This strategic plan would include a "Trans-American Network" of intercity passenger travel and goods movement investments reaching all areas of the country. It should include clear federal objectives for transportation investments, new tools and resources to metropolitan regions to coordinate land use and transportation investments, and a range of new funding sources.

The Trans-American Network and the regional and local investments will likely take a generation or more to implement--which is why we must get started today. The nation's current transportation law expires in September 2009 and the debate over the next surface transportation bill has already begun.

Our recommendations for the upcoming transportation bill focus on five areas:

  • Clear national objectives for federal transportation investments to which states and regions are held accountable, such as: promoting economic productivity, transportation connectivity, energy efficiency, climate stability, safety and health, and equitable access to jobs. 
  • Establishing a Trans-American Network of intercity passenger travel and goods movement to complete our nation's transportation system and to provide reliable and energy efficient means of moving people and goods.
  • A commitment to system preservation to maintain our existing roads, bridges, and transit systems in good repair.
  • Direct funding and greater flexibility to metropolitan regions to implement comprehensive transportation and land use plans that boost economic productivity, energy efficiency, and transportation options.
  • Expanded sources of revenue at the federal, state and local levels, including raising the gas tax, establishing an infrastructure bank, and new financing tools, such as investments by state pension funds in revenue-generating infrastructure and PPPs.
America 2050 is a member of Transportation for America (T4 America), which has released a detailed Campaign Platform for the next bill, which we support.

America 2050 has commissioned and released a number of transportation policy papers and recommendation in recent years, relevant to the upcoming bill. They include:

Recommendations for a Trans-American Passenger Network
Performance Measures and Accountability
Finance and Revenue Sources
Reform of Federal Policy
For more information about America 2050's transportation program, contact Petra Todorovich:  Petra(at)rpa.org

Recent Entries

usdot.jpgThe MAP-21 Reauthorization Roundup is a collection of news stories regarding the reauthorization of the surface transportation legislation, MAP-21, which expires on October 1st, 2014. This roundup of articles is especially salient due to the ongoing crisis regarding the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run dry this year (see the U.S. DOT's Highway Trust Fund Ticker).


MAP-21 Reauthorization Roundup

US chamber of commerce backs gas tax hike to fund highways
The Columbian | Laura Litvan | February 12

US business, labor leaders urge congress to raise gas tax
Chicago Tribune | Eric Beech | February 12

Understanding the highway trust fund and the perils of inaction
Center for American Progress | Kevin DeGood | February 20

Foxx: highway trust fund 'on track to bounce checks before FY 2015
Better Roads | Amanda Bayhi | February 21

The national infrastructure bank: a cure-all for america's woes?
Georgetown Public Policy Review | Dennis Lytton | February 26

Obama proposes $302 billion, 4-year reauthorization bill, announces availability of $600 million in TIGER grants
Better Roads | Amanda Bayhi | February 26

Camp proposal would fund transportation, waterways infrastructure
E&E Daily | Nick Juliano and Annie Snider | February 27

Obama budget seeks new spending, new taxes to boost economy, tame debt

Washington Post | Zachary Goldfarb | March 4

Transportation reauthorization funding mechanism may be settled
Planetizen | Irvin Dawid | March 6

Funding shortage could delay U.S. road, rail projects this summer
Reuters | Elvina Nawaguna | March 12

Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-Getting-Back-on-Track.pdf

Rail freight traffic is expanding throughout North America, particularly to serve ocean ports. Assuring that transportation infrastructure capacity keeps up with demand is important for global trade competitiveness and national economic security.

A key growth area is in the Great Lakes Megaregion, where an industrial heartland route links Montreal, Toronto, Detroit/Windsor and Chicago. About 60% of Port of Montreal container traffic moves inland by rail, mostly to and from markets in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest - a corridor hampered by a bottleneck at the Detroit River, the world's busiest commercial border crossing. A century-old rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor handles more than 400,000 rail cars each year. The Port of Montreal is doubling container-handling capacity by 2020. The current tunnel can't handle 9' 6" double-stacked container rail cars or Auto-Max vehicle carriers, the most efficient rail shipping modes.

The Continental Rail Gateway (CRG), formed in June 2010, unites Canadian Pacific the Windsor Port Authority and the Borealis Infrastructure investment firm in a replacement rail tunnel venture. The public-private partnership owns the existing tunnel and rail corridor. Project funding calls for $200 million from the partners and $200 million from government sources in each country.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has published a state-by-state breakdown of the number of American jobs that would be lost if Congress fails to reauthorize the surface transportation bill that includes new revenues for the Highway Trust Fund, which will be depleted by FY2015. The bottom line is that 3,000,000 jobs nationwide are at stake if a stable funding solution for federal transportation programs is not found.

htf-shortfalls.png

The latest CBO estimates (above) show that the Highway Trust Fund will end fiscal year 2015 with a negative balance. CBO writes that since 2008, "Congress has avoided such shortfalls by transferring $41 billion from the general fund of the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund. An additional transfer of $12.6 billion is authorized for 2014. If lawmakers chose to continue such transfers, they would have to transfer an additional $14 billion to prevent a projected shortfall in 2015." 

They go on to say that bringing the HTF into balance "would require cutting the authority to obligate funds in [2015] from about $51 billion projected under current law to about $4 billion, raising the taxes on motor fuels by about 10 cents per gallon, or undertaking some combination of those options."

The current surface transportation bill, MAP-21, expires in September 2014. Please take a moment to tell your elected representatives to find a long-term, stable funding solution for transportation programs to protect the American economy before it's too late.

The American Road & Transit Builders Association (ARTBA) has a toll free action hotline that you can call to find tell Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund.


Download the CBO's latest "Status of the Highway Trust Fund"   


Amtrak recovers more of its operating expenses from ticket revenue than any other railroad in the nation.
Amtrak recently sent its fiscal year 2014 budget to Congress, which outlined the incredible progress the railroad has made in recent years. Amtrak makes critical connections across the country, moving nearly one million people on commuter and intercity rail services each day, and breaking annual ridership records in nine out of the last ten years. In March 2013, Amtrak moved more passenger than any other month in its history and is on pace to break another all-time annual ridership record. Amtrak has also become more efficient and self-sufficient, covering 88% of its operating costs with ticket fares and other non-federal revenue. In 2012, ticket sales reached a record $2 billion. However, Amtrak continues to need financial support from the federal government, particularly for capital expenses to maintain aging infrastructure concentrated on the Northeast Corridor and upgrade its fleet of trains.

In 2014, Amtrak is requesting $373 million for operating support, more than 20% less than Congress appropriated last year and 34% less than was appropriated in 2010. On the capital side of the ledger, Amtrak is requesting just over $2 billion.

We need your help to send the message to Washington that Americans want a strong national passenger rail network. Please take a moment to call or write your representatives in Congress and ask them to fully fund Amtrak's budget request. Visit www.govtrack.us/congress/members to find contact information for your elected officials. Then, make a call or write an email asking them to sign on to a letter of support for Amtrak's budget request that is being circulated by Senator Frank Lautenberg. 

A recent survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that a majority of people surveyed would be willing to choose high-speed rail over air or car travel if it were available. These results come at a time when the opportunity to expand mobility in the nation through investing in high-speed rail systems has never been greater, and confirms that many Americans understand the potential benefits and convenience of fast intercity train travel.

A new proposal by the House Ways and Means Committee would eliminate a crucial source of mass transit funding, posing a major threat to the nation's transit systems.

The bill would prohibit the use of gasoline-tax revenue to support public transportation, a funding stream that has been in place for more than three decades. If the bill were to pass, it would introduce a level of uncertainty that will make planning for capital projects far more difficult and expensive.

Around the country, over one-third of Amtrak passengers ride routes that receive substantial funding support from states. These 15 states understand the importance of passenger rail to their residents, businesses, and economies, and have invested in these routes to maintain and improve service. These routes are referred to as state-supported corridors and in 2010, they carried over 9 million passengers, about one-third of Amtrak's annual ridership. A new budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month proposes to eliminate every last one of them. The same budget proposal cuts funding for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program to zero.

A map of Amtrak routes supported by states

Criticism of Amtrak commonly focuses in on its federal subsidies. However, these 15 states have taken it upon themselves to supplement scarce federal resources and make critical investments in these corridors to improve service and grow ridership. The House budget proposal unfairly punishes these states for this and places the burden of budget cuts squarely on the shoulders of passengers on these state-supported routes.

Please contact your elected officials and tell them to fight this budget proposal that reverses decades of progress to vital passenger rail corridors in all corners of the country. Visit www.StandUpForTrains.org today to send your Senators, Representative, and President Obama the message that you want America to have a stronger national passenger rail system.