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[IMAGE]MET8p36large.jpg[/IMAGE] The next surface transportation bill is
rushing headlong into the proverbial “perfect storm.” The winds that
are threatening the Federal transit program are coming from so many different
directions that it is difficult to know where to start in order to chart a
course toward safer seas.
Understanding the current state of the Federal transit program is
crucial to charting a course to a different future. Thus, outlining some of the
challenges that are roiling the seas is crucial to tacking to a different
direction for the transit program. What are those challenges?
Competitiveness– The nation is
in danger of lagging far behind other rapidly growing nations, such as China and India, in our surface
transportation systems. While they have not yet caught up to the U.S., they
recognize that the sustained growth of their countries hinge on a modern and
efficient surface transportation system. To remain competitive, we must invest
in the nation’s transit systems, roads, ports and intercity rail systems.
▶Highway Trust Fund– The Federal gasoline tax has not been raised
since 1993 and remains at 18.4 cents, of which 2.5 cents is allocated to the
Mass Transit Account (MTA) of the Highway Trust
Fund (HTF). The average price of gasoline was $1.00 per gallon in December 1993
when the last gasoline Federal tax increase was approved and it was $2.50 per
gallon in August 2005 when the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was signed into law.
It has now risen to more than $4 per gallon in most communities.
Significant efforts were made by
the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during consideration of
SAFETEA-LU to raise the gasoline tax and then index it to inflation. However,
these efforts were blocked by the Bush Administration and Congress lacked the political will to
overcome the President’s opposition. Consequently, the Congress is now faced
with the need to fill an $8 billion to $9 billion gap in FY 2009 and a nearly
$20 billion gap in FY 2010 between receipts in the HTF and authorized levels
for the highway program.
and Operating Costs–
Construction and operating costs are escalating at a rapid pace with little
modulation projected for the future. The American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) estimates that construction costs
increased nearly thirty percent between 1993 and 2006 and are projected rise to
47.9 percent by 2010. Rising fuel prices are only exacerbating this price
escalation for construction. Moreover, the rapid increase in fuel costs is also
dramatically affecting operating costs for transit authorities.
▶Greenhouse Gas Emissions– The transportation sector is responsible for 33
percent of the nation’s annual CO2 emissions, and those emissions are projected
to grow due to rising travel demand. Passenger vehicles and trucks contribute
60 percent of the CO2 emissions in the transportation sector, which is the
second largest and fastest growing contributor of greenhouse gases. Since 1980,
the number of miles that Americans drive has grown three times faster than the U.S. population
and almost twice as rapidly as vehicle registrations.
▶ Energy Independence and National Security– The nation’s land use patterns and increase in
driving not only impact greenhouse gas emissions but also result in an increase
in the consumption of oil. The Energy Information
Agency issued a report in June, which
found that world energy demand will grow by 50 percent over the next two
decades, resulting in an increase of oil prices to $186 per barrel. Some argue
that this estimate is too conservative since oil was approaching $150 per
barrel by mid-summer. The transportation sector heavily relies on oil with 95
percent of the U.S. transportation system petroleum-based. More than 60 percent of that oil is
imported, with a substantial portion of those imports coming from countries
that represent potential national security concerns for the U.S., such as Iran,
Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
Demographics– The nation’s
population is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2050. The nation’s population
will be older, more diverse and comprised of more single than married people.
These people will drive less and have a greater need to be closer to necessary
services. A surface transportation system that fails to recognize this
transition and the impact it has on housing and transportation services will
not adequately serve the nation’s population.