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April 27, 2012

OCTA CEO: Congress, stop kicking transportation bill down the road

by Will Kempton

There was positive news last week out of Washington as the House of Representatives voted to approve an extension of current highway and transit funding at existing levels through September 30.

The bill, which garnered bipartisan support, will now move to conference with the Senate’s $109 billion two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, dubbed MAP-21.

To boil it down, this action buys Congress more time as the well of transportation dollars was set to run dry June 30. Buying more time is nothing new when it comes to funding the expansion and maintenance of our nation’s highways and keeping our buses and trains running for the millions of people who depend upon them. This is the 10th time since October 2009 that the previous six-year transportation bill has been extended.

And while an extension is a step in the right direction, what we must have is a long-term surface transportation bill.

Without a dedicated and reliable stream of federal funding, we are significantly hampered in our ability to effectively plan for, deliver and maintain critical transportation infrastructure projects.

Nowhere is the need for freeway improvements and maintenance more apparent than in our own backyards. Every four years, the Southern California Association of Governments updates its Regional Transportation Plan.

Approved last month, the latest plan calls for a $524 billion investment through 2035. Of that amount, $305 billion is projected to come from existing sources, including local sales tax measures. The remainder, nearly $220 billion, is expected to be raised through yet-to-be implemented innovative financing strategies and new revenue sources. These efforts — like raising the federal gas tax or introducing a vehicle-miles traveled fee — face considerable obstacles.

Without question, finding a way to improve and continue to maintain our transportation system will be a significant challenge over the coming years.

In Orange County, we fund transportation primarily through local means, like the voter-approved, 30-year, Measure M half-cent sales tax. In fact, of funding for projects, 76% are local dollars, 13% come from state funds and the federal government provides 11% through the Highway Trust Fund.

And while 11% may seem like a small portion, the Highway Trust Fund is the lifeblood of transportation funding. Those are dollars Orange County can rely upon and use to plan for the future. Of course, that is entirely dependent upon Congress finally passing a multi-year transportation bill.

Unfortunately, transportation and its funding often takes a back seat to other high-profile national debates. The economy, healthcare and education grab headlines day after day, but there is arguably no issue that touches closer to home for more Americans than transportation. From an economic perspective, — both in terms of job creation and moving people and goods — mobility is a fundamental building block to ensure our economic prosperity, not to mention our quality of life.

The time has come to stop the extensions and pass a bill that recognizes how vital transportation is to our nation’s future.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Is aim to end transit violence with tasers misguided?" here.


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Author Bio

Heather Redfern

Public Information Manager, SEPTA


Marcia Ferranto

President/CEO, WTS International

Marcia Ferranto is President/CEO of WTS International.


Scott Belcher

President and CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America)


Joe Zavisca

Joe Zavisca is an independent consultant specializing in paratransit service.


Paul Mackie

Communications Director, Mobility Lab

Paul Mackie is communications director at Mobility Lab, a leading U.S. voice of “transportation demand management.”


Rob Taylo

Founder/CEO SinglePoint Communications

Rob Taylo is founder/CEO of SinglePoint Communications, an exclusive U.S. distributor of WiFi in Motion.


Joel Volinski

Director, National Center for Transit Research at CUTR/USF


Brian Antolin

Consultant, Transportation and Travel Industry


Zack Shubkagel

Partner/Creative Director of Willoughby Design

Zack Shubkagel is partner and creative director for the San Francisco office of Willoughby Design, a strategic branding and design firm.


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