Transportation Bill Lacks Vision but Represents Progress
Jason Bittner, director of USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, has been following Congress’ action on the federal highway bill. Even though most of us fight traffic everyday, we don’t think much about how this type of legislation shapes our daily lives. Bittner explains:
Legislative compromise lives! Today’s details on congressional agreement to authorize our surface transportation programs for three years highlights that transportation once is a bi-partisan issue. There are wins for each side. There are losses too. But all in all, this is an opportunity to bring certainty to the transportation system and the jobs it creates and carries. Our economy can remain in motion. While this authorization won’t address the serious funding and infrastructure challenges we face, it at least doesn’t delay action. While it won’t advance connected vehicle technology and seamless intermodal systems to the maximum extent possible, it will ensure that road, bridge, and transit projects move ahead. This isn’t a vision for the future, but it won’t stifle development.
The bill offers up prominence for freight like never before. It requires a National Freight Policy that will define a national freight network – critical for funding and investment decisions. It will also prioritize projects to improve freight movement by increasing the federal portion of such projects (up to 95 percent for projects on Interstate system; 90 percent for other projects). The old approach of a disproportionate and increased burden on states like Florida and other critical ports of entry for the nation’s products is gone. Construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, and operational improvements directly relating to improving freight mobility will be built recognizing that freight doesn’t stop at state boundaries. We might, for a change, actually have regional discussions of what is important for our transportation network.
Congress also finally recognized that intelligent transportation systems and other technology to improve the flow of freight, efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of freight movement on the primary freight network, and real-time traffic, truck parking, roadway condition, and multimodal transportation information systems demand federal funding. Addressing truck bottlenecks will also be a priority for federal programs. The conference report places further emphasis on State Freight Advisory Committees to make transportation decisions that are critical to job creators. A comprehensive truck size and weight study will ensure global competitiveness for our manufacturers and agricultural exporters.
While bicycle and pedestrian advocates cannot point to many wins in the bill, the programs at least remain viable. An opt-out provision was included rather than outright removal of funding for transportation enhancements like bike lanes, pedestrian overpasses, and the like. Florida can take advantage of this provision and make targeted improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians while recognizing the need for highway widening to accommodate population and economic growth.
There are programs to help transit new starts and provide operating assistance to smaller agencies. Streamlining permitting will mean that projects can be built more rapidly. Programs to improve workforce development and require electronic on board recorders also are there. A host of new initiatives and opportunities for cleaning up the Gulf are included. It represents a three year commitment to putting America back on track – now if only this bipartisanship can spill over into other government investments!
Follow Jason Bittner on Twitter: @CUTRBittner