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.
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Read our METRO blog, "Is aim to end transit violence with tasers misguided?" here.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.