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.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Regional (commuter) Rail system was inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads and the infrastructure in many sections of the system has been serving the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. Fifteen years ago, overhead catenary system (OCS) failures were a common occurrence on SEPTA Regional Rail, a result of fatigue cracks and wear. The all too common OCS failures were frustrating for SEPTA customers who occasionally found it difficult to depend on train service for their travels and for SEPTA, whose crews were constantly working to repair and maintain the system.
London is one of the grand cities of the world and in the midst of the cycling revolution. Led by the city’s transport organization – Transport for London, but supported by more fundamental changes in the city’s society, economy and perceptions of lifestyle and mobility, cycling is “on a roll”!
Tech-enabled ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft already appear to be acting as a complement to public transit. Uber analyzed its Los Angeles trip data to in this light. Over the course of a month, Uber found that 22 percent of trips taken near Metro stations took place during rush hour (between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday). This data could be telling us that people are using Uber like they might use bikeshare, as a last-mile and first-mile connection to transit.
Driverless cars have been in the news for quite some time. Last September, I speculated in PC 360, an insurance trade magazine, that insurance premiums for autos could decrease by as much as 40% over the next five years as autonomous cars made travel much safer. I increased my estimate to a 75% decrease in insurance premiums by extending the timeline to 15 years. When I wrote those two articles, I remember thinking how much of a personal paradigm shift was needed to accept a driverless car as safe. Now, it appears that driverless buses are in the near future as well.
What do transit authorities like SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART have in common other than transporting thousands, even millions of riders every day? All were recently ranked as four of the U.S.’s 500 “Best Employers” by Forbes magazine.
SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART were among 25 organizations included in Forbes’ “Transportation & Logistics” category, along with Southwest Airlines, Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific and Greyhound. In fact, SEPTA (#33) and MBTA (#49) placed higher than Apple (#55) and SEPTA was the highest ranked company in Pennsylvania.