The business community, freight industry and other stakeholder groups need to get engaged now and work in partnership with federal, state and local officials to develop new transportation policies to meet the challenges of the future and help ensure America remains globally competitive, the nation’s top transportation construction association executive said this week during two speeches in southern California.
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane delivered his remarks Nov. 13 at the National Industrial Transportation League annual meeting in Anaheim and Nov. 14 at the “Mobility 21” conference in Long Beach sponsored by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ruane cited U.S. Department of Transportation data showing that between 1998 (the most recent year available) and 2020, the value of highway freight will increase 204% and the number of tons shipped on highways will grow 75%.
The real story of the recently passed highway/transit law, known as Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)—Ruane said was the “opportunity lost” to take meaningful steps to improve America’s highways, bridges and transit systems. SAFETEA-LU’s annual funding gains are only 1.8% when accounting for inflation, compared to the real increases of six percent annually in the previous law—TEA-21 and don’t come close to meeting the nation’s transportation needs as outlined repeatedly in federal government and private sector reports, according to ARTBA.
Noting the scope of the problem, Ruane cited the recently released U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Foundation report, which found that federal highway and transit investment will fall short of the amount necessary to simply maintain current surface transportation conditions and congestion levels by $23 billion per year. Nearly $50 billion more annually is necessary to actually begin improving these conditions, the report says.
“Arguably, there has been no compelling national vision for transportation since President Eisenhower signed the law in 1956 authorizing construction of the Interstate Highway System,” Ruane said. “The Interstate 50th anniversary in 2006 provides a unique opportunity for policymakers and the President to formulate new approaches to transportation planning to meet the daunting challenges facing America’s transportation infrastructure. I believe it can be done, but it is going to take the unprecedented involvement and leadership of the business community and other stakeholder groups, and political will by Congress.”
Ruane said the public supports boosting transportation investment to deal with the growing problem of traffic congestion and road safety, noting last week’s election results on several transportation ballot initiatives.
In one of the most closely watched transportation-related decisions, Washington voters Nov. 8 soundly rejected a proposal to repeal that state’s recently enacted 9.5-cents per gallon gasoline tax increase. The Washington state legislature enacted the increase, which will be phased in over four years, earlier this year to help finance an $8.5 billion, 16-year transportation improvement plan. Transportation investment-related ballot initiatives were also approved in Maine, New York, Ohio and Texas.
“Make no mistake about it. The costs of improving and modernizing America’s transportation systems will be significant, but the costs of doing nothing for future U.S. economic growth, traffic congestion and air pollution levels and highway safety are far greater,” Ruane said.
There are a number of things that policymakers and stakeholders should be pursuing, the ARTBA executive stated.
“Number one is significantly increasing highway and public transit capital investment. All revenue raising options should be on the table.”
Ruane cited a key provision in SAFETEA-LU mandating creation of a “blue ribbon” commission to identify the best ways to finance federal transportation investments after 2009. Congress has recognized the current revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund is not sufficient enough to meet the federal government’s responsibilities in transportation. The importance of the commission effort cannot be overstated, he said.
“The status quo is no longer acceptable for America’s transportation network.” The goal—beginning with scheduled 2009 reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU—Ruane said, should be a major rebuilding, modernization of existing infrastructure and adding significant capacity across all modes of transportation.
“Toll financed truck-only lanes should be considered for existing Interstate highway right-of-way, where appropriate. New interstates, free-trade corridors, elevated roadways and trains and high-speed rail routes, and tunneling in some urban areas should also be seriously considered as options.” Modernization and expansion of ports, waterways and airport runways should also be part of the mix," the ARTBA CEO said.