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Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
House OKs $4B for transportation projects

American City Business Journals/Orlando, Fla. – The U.S House of Representatives passed its housing and infrastructure bill July 23 on a 256-168 vote. The bill includes nearly $4 billion for high-speed rail and other national infrastructure projects.

Of the $4 billion in funding, $2 billion will be designated for high-speed and the remaining funds will go into the national infrastructure bank, which provides funding for other transportation-related projects.

This funding is separate from approximately $8 billion set aside to provide financial support for high-speed rail projects in President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

The Senate has yet to vote on its similar bill. [read more…]

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
U.S. Can Cut Half Its Carbon Emissions From Transportation by 2050, Report Says

The New York Times/ Greenwire – The United States can cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in half by 2050 with strategies ranging from cutting speed limits to imposing road pricing, according to a report released today by federal agencies and environmental and industry groups.

Examining about 50 transportation strategies, the report found transportation emissions could be reduced 24 percent by 2050 by acting to change travel behavior and land-use patterns. The emissions reduction hit 47 percent by adding road pricing techniques, ranging from pay-as-you-go insurance to charging Americans for every mile driven.

The report found environmental gains from advances in fuel efficiency would be mostly undermined by increased travel and population, making it important to address the efficiency of the transportation sector by investing in public transit, land-use planning and other low-carbon alternatives. [read more…]

Friday, July 24th, 2009
Transportation Bill Not Likely to Pass Soon

The Wall Street Journal – House lawmakers appear unlikely to reach agreement this summer over how to pay for a major transportation bill, disappointing state governments, transit agencies and construction companies hoping for a big boost in funding.

At a House hearing on Thursday, lawmakers debated different tax-hike proposals to pay for the bill, including new levies on motor fuels, shipping containers and crude-oil trading. But there appeared to be a lack of consensus, with three leading members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee offering different plans.

The transportation bill would channel $450 billion in funds to states over six years to upgrade roads, bridges and transit systems. The total would include $70 billion each year to spend on highway and mass transit systems.

“It’s extraordinarily unlikely” the bill would pass before October, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.), a leading proponent of the measure.

Instead, Congress is likely to extend the current annual spending level of about $50 billion, before it expires in September, following the White House’s suggestion. The Obama administration, seeking to pass an ambitious legislative agenda this year including a health-care overhaul, has said it is in no hurry to engage on a debate that potentially involves raising gas taxes, the primary source of funding for transport projects. [read more…]

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
Highway spending isn’t the stimulus it was envisioned to be

The Los Angeles Times – In February, when Congress approved President Obama’s mammoth plan to stimulate the economy, transportation projects were supposed to be among the fastest-acting pieces of the $787-billion package.

All 50 states moved quickly to qualify for their share of the money. But since then the pace has slowed considerably, particularly in California and Florida, where the effect of the economic crisis has been especially severe.

As of July 10, more than 3,600 of the 5,600 road projects approved by Washington — including six of the 10 largest approved projects — had not been given the green light to start construction.

“What we’re seeing is a significant level of bidding activity,” said Anne Lloyd, chief financial officer at Martin Marietta Materials, a nationwide supplier of stone, asphalt and other construction supplies. “But the big thing we’re not seeing is work on the ground.”

The reasons are many. One is the time needed to get heavy equipment and crews ready for jobs. Also, overburdened state officials have sometimes had trouble sustaining the early momentum.

Even where projects have begun, they haven’t always brought with them as big a burst of hiring as might be expected. [read more…]

Monday, July 20th, 2009
Spending bill would help high-speed rail projects

The Associated Press – President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail initiative would get an enormous boost under a spending bill that a House committee approved Friday.

Obama sought $1 billion for construction of a high-speed system and other intercity rail lines, which would come on top of $8 billion provided in the economic stimulus bill in February.

The House Appropriations Committee decided to provide $4 billion, part of a $123 billion measure covering transportation and housing programs.

Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., said the earlier money had generated about $70 billion in grant requests for high-speed rail projects.

Democrats turned back a GOP effort to take $3 billion of the rail money and deposit it in the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to go broke next month. [read more…]

Monday, July 20th, 2009
San Francisco: Train driver switched to manual before crash

The Associated Press – A federal investigator says the operator of a light-rail train that crashed in San Francisco, injuring dozens of passengers, switched his controls from automatic to manual before he should have.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said Sunday that the operator switched to manual in a tunnel near West Portal Station, instead of inside the station.

The operator, who has not been named, was injured in Saturday’s collision.

Turpin says the train crashed into a train parked at the station 24 seconds after the operator made the switch. The collision injured 48 people – four seriously.

Turpin says investigators haven’t interviewed train operators, and haven’t yet determined why the switch was made. [read more…]

Monday, July 20th, 2009
US gets 278 applications for high-speed rail

The Associated Press – US officials said Thursday they had received applications for 278 high-speed rail projects that could be selected for funding under the economic stimulus package.

“The response has been tremendous and shows that the country is ready for high-speed rail,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

He said his agency received 278 pre-applications for grant funding under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for high-speed rail project, which aims to rival the express trains of France, Japan and other nations.

“It’s time to look beyond our highways and invest in public transportation services like rail, which will enhance regional mobility and reduce our carbon footprint,” LaHood said.

The stimulus, or recovery act, included an eight billion dollar competitive grant program as a down payment to develop high-speed and intercity passenger rail networks.

President Barack Obama has proposed a continuing one billion dollar annual investment to further this effort, LaHood added.

Officials plan to award the first round of grants by mid-September under the new rail plan first revealed by Obama in April. [read more…]

Monday, July 20th, 2009
The Other Highway Funding Crisis

The New Republic (blog)
Robert Puentes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Adie Tomer is a research analyst at the Program.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood confirmed that, by August, the highway trust fund will “run out of money,” due to the fact that Americans are driving less (and more efficiently), while the gas tax hasn’t changed in 16 years. Last summer, Congress had to transfer $8 billion from the general fund to keep transportation programs solvent. Today, many in Washington are calling for another $20 billion in general revenues to cover the next year and a half.

Yet just as important as where the money comes from is how the funds are spent. Today, much of the funds authorized in the current program are given to states based on traditional factors such as road mileage, miles, and number of deficient bridges. But the largest federal highway program—the Equity Bonus program—exists solely to make sure that each state gets its “fair share” of revenue, defined as 92 percent of the state’s annual contributions to the trust fund. In other words, states get roughly as much money as they pay in gas-tax revenue.

But now that the highway account is set to get bailed out with $28 billion in general funds, that formula needs to be revisited. The Equity Bonus should make sure that states receive highway funds based on contributions to the general fund. Based on work from the Tax Policy Center, a joint effort by the Urban Institute and Brookings, states like New York, California, Washington, and Massachusetts all contribute far more in general tax revenue than they receive from the existing Equity Bonus program. Conversely, Florida, Georgia, and Texas all receive disproportionately large Equity Bonus payments:

If the current apportionments go unchanged, many states will be unfairly punished through this transfer of funds at a time they can ill afford it. The federal transportation program needs an overhaul on many fronts—the least Congress can do is make sure the Equity Bonus program doesn’t make a bad situation worse.

–Robert Puentes and Adie Tomer

[read more…]

Monday, July 20th, 2009
STIMULUS WATCH: Neediest areas not first for money

The Associated Press – Under the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan, needy communities were supposed to be a priority when doling out money to rebuild highways and jump-start the economy.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

The rules required that states give priority to counties considered “economically distressed.” Yet less than half the federal highway money announced so far is directed toward those high-unemployment, low-income areas, according to an Associated Press analysis of more than $16 billion in spending announced by the U.S. Transportation Department.

What was supposed to be a way to steer money to hard-hit areas has turned into a coin flip: 53 percent of the money is going to counties that don’t meet the federal standard of economically distressed areas. Those are places where lasting unemployment is higher than the national average or where income is significantly lower than the rest of the country.

“If economically distressed areas get the money, it’s just by coincidence,” said Democratic state Rep. Jim Dunnam, chairman of a committee overseeing Texas’ use of stimulus money.

Just days after Obama signed the law, Texas transportation officials testified before Dunnam’s committee that economic conditions were not a factor in their selection process. Since then, more than 200 Texas projects have started receiving almost $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money. Just 44 percent has gone to counties considered economically distressed.

“You do want to lean in on areas that need that help,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday. [read more…]

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