Category Archives: Transportation

Highway Trust Fund: Improved Solvency Mechanisms and Communication Needed to Help Avoid Shortfalls in the Highway Account

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-316, February 6, 2009

The Highway Account within the Highway Trust Fund is the primary mechanism for funding federal highway programs. The account– administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT)–channels about $33 billion in highway user excise taxes annually to states for highway projects. Although DOT and others projected that the account could run out of funds in fiscal year 2009, the balance fell more rapidly than expected and a shortfall became imminent in August 2008. In September, Congress passed legislation to provide $8 billion to replenish the account, but DOT officials anticipate the account could reach a critical stage again in fiscal year 2009.

This report (1) describes the events that led to the decline in the account balance, including how DOT responded, and (2) identifies potential improvements in mechanisms to manage account solvency. This report also includes information on strategies GAO has reported on in the past that could be used to better align account outlays and revenues. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed information in legal and budget documents, reviewed account estimates, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders.

Crossroad

Source: Colby Itkowitz, Governing, Vol. 22 no. 6, March 2009

The feds are out to transform the transportation program this year. Here’s what’s ahead.

Now that the ink has dried on the federal economic stimulus bill and billions of dollars for road, bridge and transit projects are flowing to the states, the real battle can begin. This fall, the federal law that drives surface transportation policy and spending at all levels of government is set to expire. That law has been revised several times over the past two decades, and its name has always included the acronym TEA. What’s coming, however, may look more like a double espresso.

Clean and Green School Buses – Reducing Fuel Use and Exposure to Diesel Exhaust

Source: Jan Mueller, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, October 21, 2008

Making schools “greener” is not just about buildings. Transportation of students and staff to and from school is an important component of a school’s environmental and greenhouse gas footprint. School buses play an important role in minimizing that footprint, but they present unique challenges and opportunities in reducing fuel use, emissions, and health impacts.

Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network

Source: Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network, February 2009

The goal of the Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Network is to promote the use of valid, reliable data as a key element in improving the delivery of public services. In support of the Network, the National Center for Public Performance has implemented a series of initiatives: a comprehensive and continuously updated database of publications and cases; national conferences and workshops; publications of measurement-based books and articles; an Online Public Performance Measurement Certificate; and a monthly e-newsletter.

The communities are as follows: 311, Public Health, Municipal Performance, Nonprofit, Parks, Libraries, Transit, Education.

Beltway Burden: The Combined Cost of Housing and Transportation in the Greater Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area

Source: Urban Land Institute, Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing, 2009

Working families in the Washington, DC, metro area face many challenges. By national standards the median household income of $78,000 is high, but so too are the costs of owning or renting a home. Pockets of affordable housing exist in parts of the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, MD, but most of the homes in the central and inner suburbs, particularly in adjoining Fairfax County, VA, and Montgomery County, MD, are far beyond the means of the median-income family.

To find affordable homes, many in the workforce have followed the popular advice to “drive till you qualify” by moving to remote suburbs such as Warren and Fauquier counties, VA, in the west; Spotsylvania County, VA, and Charles County, MD, in the south; Frederick County in the north; and Calvert County, MD, in the east. As reflected in this report, however, efforts to save on housing expenses often lead to higher transportation costs, with the result that an even larger portion of household budgets are consumed by the combined burden of housing and transportation costs.

This report provides a comprehensive examination of the “cost of place” in the Washington, DC, region, presenting a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction look at the combined housing and transportation cost burdens for households in the metropolitan area. Drawing on the latest research and methodologies, estimates of household transportation costs are used to develop a new way of looking at the total cost of housing and the issue of housing affordability in the region.

Region-wide, households spend an average of nearly $23,000 per year on housing and $13,000 on transportation. Combined, these costs represent almost 47 percent of the median household income. These cost burdens vary significantly across the 22 jurisdictions. In some areas where households spend more on housing, they tend to spend less on transportation and vice versa. Across the metropolitan area, however, there are neighborhoods where households are saddled with both high housing and high transportation cost burdens.
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FHWA’s Oversight of Design and Engineering Firms’ Indirect Costs Claimed on Federal-Aid Grants

Source: Office of the Inspector General, Project ID: ZA-2009-033, February 05, 2009

From the summary:
On February 5, 2009, we issued our audit report on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) implementation of Section 307 of the National Highway Systems Designation Act (NHSDA). Section 307 of NHSDA requires the use of the Federal Acquisition Regulation as criteria to determine cost allowability when performing indirect cost rate audits of design and engineering (D&E) firms. Indirect rates are comprised of costs such as executive compensation; employee fringe benefits and wages; facilities charges; and insurance, legal, consultant, and travel costs. State departments of transportation (DOT) use indirect cost rates for reimbursing D&E firms for allowable costs incurred, establishing final contract costs, and negotiating new contracts. Our audit objectives were to evaluate the implementation of NHSDA Section 307 audit requirements, and test the allowability of executive compensation and other high risk indirect cost elements billed by D&E firms on state DOT contracts.

Transportation & Infrastructure Finance

Source: Sean Slone, Council of State Governments, CSG National Report, 2009

This report examines the transportation funding issues states are faced with, the finance options available to them, and how states can decide which options best fit into their transportation plans. It draws on the work of two federal commissions created by Congress–the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission–as well as the research and assessment of numerous other transportation, law and tax policy analysts, expert panels, and state and federal officials.

Most states have begun to look at and even implement innovative ways to fund transportation. Their efforts come with the realizations that raising fuel taxes is politically difficult and that the future revenue yield from existing funding sources will be inadequate to maintain the nation’s existing transportation systems and to increase capacity for the future.

America’s Most Improved Commutes

Source: Matt Woolsey, Forbes, February 3, 2009

In these 10 areas, getting to and from work has become less of a hassle.

Boston may have bad weather, bad drivers and a bad accent, but it’s one of the only places in America where “commuting” isn’t a four-letter word. Boston is one of the only cities to improve both its rail and road commutes since 2000.