All this talk of infrastructure

March 26, 2021

Several transportation bills, along with a preview of an infrastructure package, unveiled this month

As the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act has put COVID relief in the rearview mirror, the industry’s attention has turned to President Biden’s highly anticipated infrastructure proposal.

Major news outlets like The New York Times received some of the details of what to expect from the proposed package, which is said to include nearly $1 trillion for roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and more. It is believed that Biden’s plan will focus on renewable energy for transportation. Media reports indicate that the president will unveil the details of the infrastructure package in Pittsburgh next week on March 31

During the transition for the new administration, the Biden-Harris team’s infrastructure plans made mention of providing every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options as well as adopting a national framework for autonomous vehicles. 

A commitment to improving the nation’s public transportation systems could be just what the nation needs, as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently gave a “D-” rating to U.S. transit systems as part of its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. This rating for public transit is a full grade below the nation’s overall rating (C-) and even further behind the ASCE report card for rail systems (B). In the report card’s overview, ASCE says 45% of Americans have no access to transit, and much of the existing system is aging as transit agencies often suffer from lack of funding to maintain their systems. Currently, there is a $176 billion backlog of transit upgrades, which is expected to significantly grow over the next decade.

“Failure to address the transit revenue shortfall will only exacerbate ridership declines as service cuts mean that trip delays and reliability issues become more frequent,” the ASCE report says. “This stands to increase congestion, hamper the economy, and worsen air quality in the coming years.”

While the American Rescue Plan Act did provide the public transportation sector with $30.5 billion in COVID-19 emergency relief funding, the estimated $176 billion transit backlog suggests there is a lot more work to be done to support U.S. transit systems.

Meanwhile, likely as a result of the much buzzed-about infrastructure package, several pieces of transportation-focused legislation have been introduced in Congress over this last month. The American High-Speed Rail Act would invest $205 billion federal dollars into high-speed rail, with a goal of providing the country with a number of transportation improvements by better connecting economic mega-regions along high-speed rail corridors to increase productivity and global competitiveness. The Complete Streets Act was also reintroduced in Congress this month, which would allow eligible local and regional entities to apply for technical assistance and capital funding to build safe streets projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and bus stops. And finally, the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act was introduced, which would invest $500 billion over 10 years in state, local, and tribal projects with the goal of jumpstarting the transition to all electric public vehicles and rail and to help modernize the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

For this month’s feature-length coverage, our first article addresses “Developments in Traffic Safety Technology”. Erin Schwark from the Wisconsin DOT explains how smart work zone systems in the state are helping reduce traffic incidents. The department is deploying Queue Warning Systems (QWS) to alert drivers of upcoming traffic conditions in an effort to reduce the number of work-zone crashes. WisDOT completed a study in 2017 to determine the effect a QWS had on queue-related crashes. In the study, where a QWS was installed, the number of crashes decreased by 15% and the number of injury crashes decreased by 63%.

Our second feature covers “The Future of Public Transit” from APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. This feature focuses on the needs and support received for the public transportation industry throughout the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and breaks down the benefits the American Rescue Plan Act offers to public transit and Amtrak. Skoutelas says that the pandemic and the latest round of emergency funding present an opportunity for the industry. “We must pivot from ensuring survival to planning for success,” he says. “This will require fresh thinking about how we deliver mobility in a post-pandemic world defined by different travel patterns, preferences, and priorities.”

The last feature in this month’s coverage is “Intelligently Managing Traffic with Advanced Dynamic Message Signs”. M.J. Maynard, CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, discusses the traffic management system across the city of Las Vegas, particularly with the recently implemented active traffic management (ATM) signs along the site of Project Neon. The ATM system includes 42 full-color, high-resolution signs that resemble scoreboards, with the largest reaching 13 ft high by 77 ft wide. Maynard says these ATM signs provide the ability to dynamically manage traffic congestion based on prevailing and predicted traffic conditions using data, such as average speed for individual travel lanes, which is collected via loop detectors throughout the corridor.

As always, we hope you enjoy this month’s coverage from Traffic & Transit. Happy reading!

About The Author: Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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