Category Archives: Transportation

When a Bridge Falls Down

Source: Matt Sundeen, State Legislatures, October/November 2007

http://www.ncsl.org/magazine/07SLOctNov07_Bridge.pdf

The catastrophic collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in August sent shockwaves that reverberated well beyond the immediate vicinity of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The deteriorating condition of the country’s network of highways, bridges and rail lines is a problem that has long concerned transportation experts. For most, the bridge collapse was a call-to-action to fund overdue improvements and fix the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure. Although many federal, state and local lawmakers agree repairs are needed, what the appropriate response should be continues to be a matter for debate.

Transportation for a Metropolitan Nation

Source: Robert Puentes, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Project, Congressional Testimony, Committee on the Budget United States House of Representatives, October 25, 2007

Debate on the nation’s transportation policy focuses narrowly on new revenues needed to bolster the federal program. In recent testimony before the House Budget Committee, Fellow Robert Puentes argues that we should start with a clearer articulation of the goals, objectives and desired outcomes.

New Study: Gas Tax Varies Greatly Among the States, No Longer the Road-Building Fee It Once Was

Source: Jonathan Williams, Tax Foundation, Background Paper, no. 56, October 2007

From the press release:
As the price of oil, and subsequently the price of gasoline, has continued to rise in recent years, many motorists have expressed outrage over the “pain at the pump.” A new study released today by the Tax Foundation shows that drivers’ ire should be aimed not only at oil and gas producers, but also at the uneven and increasingly unprincipled taxation of gas across the United States.

Repairing Bridges without Raising Gas Taxes

Source: Heidi Sommer and H. Sterling Burnett, National Center For Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis, No. 597, October 18, 2007

While there are legitimate concerns about the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, increasing the federal gas tax is unnecessary and will ultimately hurt America’s poor and low-income citizens. Fortunately, Congress can better ensure the soundness of the nation’s bridges and overpasses without raising taxes, simply by shifting existing funds within the transportation budget.

Taking a Toll: Rapid growth and declining public funds send states racing toward alternatives to pay for new highways

Source: Ed Brock, American City & County, Vol. 122 no. 9, September 2007

… Georgia is not the only state turning to PPPs and toll roads to handle increased traffic. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), 21 states allow the use of PPPs to fund transportation projects. Also, since the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991, 27 states and one territory have implemented major toll road operations, according to the August 2006 FHA study “Current Toll Road Activity in the U.S.A. Survey and Analysis.”

Landmark Study Puts Rail Infrastructure Needs at $148 Billion

Source: Lance R. Grenzeback, David T. Hunt, and Daniel F. Beagan, Association of American Railroads, September 2007

From the press release:
About $148 billion must be invested to expand the nation’s freight rail infrastructure over the next three decades to make sure that adequate rail capacity exists to meet future demand, according to the results of a first-of-its-kind study to measure rail capacity needs. Released today, the National Rail Freight Infrastructure Capacity and Investment Study explores the long-term capacity expansion needs of the continental U.S. freight railroads.

The study, conducted by Cambridge Systematics, paints a dire picture if freight rail capacity isn’t increased: “Without this investment, 30 percent of the rail miles in the primary corridors will be operating above capacity by 2035, causing severe congestion that will affect every region of the country and potentially shift freight to an already heavily congested highway system.”

The study highlights needed investment in new tracks, signals, bridges, tunnels, terminals and service facilities that railroads need to keep pace with demand for rail freight transportation, which is expected to almost double over the next 30 years.
Capacity Maps: Current and Future

Highway Bridges in the United States–an Overview

Source: Jeffery Memmott, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Special Report, SR-003, September 2007

Bridges are an integral part of the U.S. highway network, providing links across natural barriers, passage over railroads and highways, and freeway connections. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) maintains a database of our nation’s highway bridges–the National Bridge Inventory (NBI)–with detailed information on all public road bridges greater than 20 feet. This special report gives a brief synopsis of that inventory, including bridge condition and the resources spent for maintenance and upgrades.

Federal Highway Administration’s Oversight of Structurally Deficient Bridges

Source: Calvin L. Scovel III, testimony before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure United States House of Representatives, CC-2007-095, September 5, 2007

The Inspector General testified on September 5, 2007, before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Inspector General’s statement highlighted bridge safety and funding as significant issues for the Department of Transportation, discussed previous work regarding structurally deficient bridges in the United States, and made observations on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) actions to address prior OIG recommendations regarding improving its oversight of such bridges. The Inspector General called on FHWA to develop a data-driven, risk-based approach to bridge oversight to better identify and target those structurally deficient bridges most in need of attention. Additionally, the Inspection General described actions that can be taken immediately to strengthen the FHWA’s oversight.

Engineers Await Tragedy’s Inevitable Impacts

Source: Aileen Cho, Tom Ichniowski and William Angelo with reporting from Tom Armistead, Craig Barner, Lucy Bodilly, Eileen Schwartz, Tudor Van Hampton and Deb Wood, Engineering News Record, Vol. 259 no. 6, August 13, 2007

Just as West Virginia’s Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 marked a new era for bridge inspections and awareness of U.S. infrastructure issues, so will Minnesota’s Interstate 35W bridge collapse be another ante-upping chapter. The chapter is still being written. U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has vowed a “top-to-bottom review” of federal bridge inspection guidelines. The specific structural issues that may be reshaped depend largely on what the National Transportation Safety Board will determine from its investigation. Fatigue cracks, lack of redundancy, bearings corrosion, welding codes–a variety of possible factors have been thrust on the national stage. But engineers caution against premature theories regarding why the 40-year-old steel truss bridge collapsed Aug. 1. What does seem clear is that this will lead to updates in inspection guidelines, increased use of monitoring technologies and renewed attention to the complex issue of funding.

Remaking Transportation Infrastructure

Source: The Brookings Institution, August 2007

Potholes, rough surfaces, and rusting bridges are manifestations of America’s deteriorating infrastructure, tragically demonstrated with the disaster in Minneapolis.

State and local leaders are already clamoring for more federal money to prevent future tragedies. But just two years ago, states got a mammoth $244 billion for transportation. But the bill also contained over 6,000 earmarks, many dedicated to new projects, and awarded with no coherent plan or national priority.

The Metropolitan Policy Program’s Transportation Reform Series, led by Fellow Robert Puentes, has broadly reassessed the nation’s transportation policies, providing options beyond the current hodgepodge of pet projects, to better address these critical needs.