Milestone Money

March 27, 2007

New Jersey has proposed a step up for transportation to the state’s highest funding level ever, $800 million more than in 2006. The $3.2 billion program for 2007 and the four following years was unveiled on April 11 by Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Kris Kolluri, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

New Jersey has proposed a step up for transportation to the state’s highest funding level ever, $800 million more than in 2006. The $3.2 billion program for 2007 and the four following years was unveiled on April 11 by Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Kris Kolluri, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

NJDOT said the proposed five-year capital plan would address the state’s current and future congestion problems. The agency estimates that vehicle-miles traveled will grow between 2001 and 2015 by 18% on New Jersey’s interstate highways and freeways and by almost as much on other major New Jersey roads.

“It will help us substantially improve the condition of our infrastructure in the state,” Kolluri told Roads & Bridges.

The governor’s priorities are to repair and rehabilitate the state’s roads, bridges and rails, improve safety, relieve congestion and improve overall quality of life, said Kolluri.

Half of the $3.2 billion annual financing for the program will be provided by the state. Another $1.55 billion will be contributed by the federal government. The remaining $50 million will come from other sources.

The investment of about $1.9 billion per year in highways and roads will fund 125 bottleneck-relief projects now in planning, design or construction, a $150 million resurfacing initiative to improve traffic flow and other programs.

The plan will put almost $725 million into new construction in 2007, Kolluri told Roads & Bridges. The amount is the largest in the state’s history for new construction.

Added to the $150 million road resurfacing initiative, Gov. Corzine plans to invest $525.4 million in improvements to the state’s aging highway bridges, the most the state has ever spent on bridge repairs.

The proposed investment of about $1.3 billion, or nearly half of the plan’s overall budget, in transit will provide for 15 major rail station improvements, hundreds of new rail cars and convenient new services for commuters.

The transportation capital plan goes hand in hand with legislation that Corzine signed on March 23 to revitalize the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Revenue for the trust fund will be boosted by restructuring $1.8 billion of the state’s existing transportation bonds; dedicating to the fund the final 1.5 cents of the 10.5-cent gasoline tax instead of diverting that 1.5 cents to the general fund; and dedicating to the fund $12 million of toll-road revenue.

The bond restructuring means the state will have more debt that it will eventually have to pay off.

“The good news is that there’s more money for now,” Greg Cohen, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, told Roads & Bridges, “but the bad news is five years down the road there’s going to be a day of reckoning with the debt.”

Kolluri called the proposal “a perfect interim plan. The governor recognizes that in order to come up with a long-term plan to make sure the Transportation Trust Fund is viable, there’s got to be discussions with the legislature, with the executive branch and also the general public.”

Peters appointed

President George W. Bush appointed Mary Peters in mid-April to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission as created by Section 1909 (b) of the SAFETEA-LU transportation bill. Peters, a senior vice president with the architectural and engineering firm HDR, is based in the firm’s Phoenix office. Peters served as FHWA administrator from 2001 to 2005.

The commission is charged with conducting a comprehensive study of the current conditions and future needs of the surface transportation system; short-term sources of Highway Trust Fund revenues; long-term alternatives to replace or supplement the fuel tax as the principal revenue source supporting the Highway Trust Fund; sources of revenue under current laws and anticipated revenue needs for the next 30 years; and whether the amount of revenues needed is likely to increase, decrease or remain constant absent any change in law, taking into consideration vehicle choices, fuel use and travel alternatives that may influence revenues into the Highway Trust Fund.

The commission also must develop a plan to ensure that the surface transportation system will continue serving the nation’s needs, including recommendations on design and operational standards, federal policies and legislative changes.

The commission includes 12 members, with congressional leadership of the House and Senate appointing eight members, and three members appointed by the president. The secretary of transportation serves as the chair.

States’ budgets on balance

Two-thirds of the way through fiscal year (FY) 2006, the budgets of many states are stable as they are putting their balances toward programs that have not seen many new resources during recent years of budget crisis, according to the latest fiscal report from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Meanwhile, the federal budget deficit continues to rise, according to various news reports.

Transportation, along with higher education, capital projects, unfunded pension liabilities, tax relief and rainy-day funds are some of the more popular places states are putting year-end balances, NCSL reports.

“This news is good, but it’s not the whole story,” said Illinois Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, NCSL’s president. “Spending pressures continue to mount for states and the federal government continues to impose unprecedented unfunded mandates on states.”

Between FY 2001 and FY 2005, states closed a collective budget gap that exceeded $256 billion. States turned the corner in FY 2004. Fiscal offices in 42 states now report they expect to end FY 2006 with a collective $28.9 billion year-end balance. Of the 41 states that have revised their revenue forecasts since the start of the fiscal year, collections are exceeding expectations in 18 states, on target in another 18 and below forecast levels in only one, NCSL reported.

Meanwhile the U.S. Treasury reported the difference between spending and receipts for just the month of March totaled $85.47 billion, an increase of $71.21 billion a year ago. Revenues, however, were up 10.5% through March, helped by an 8.5% gain in personal income taxes, according to news reports.

Eight states report that all major tax categories are performing strongly or above expected levels. Another eight report collections on or slightly above target. Most other states report mixed performance. Business taxes are especially strong. Personal income and sales taxes are performing well in most states as well.

While this snapshot gives states a clean bill of fiscal heath today, it portends trouble ahead. The growing costs of operating expensive programs like Medicaid, corrections and K-12 education are causing budget overruns in some states. States are able to manage these overages this year, but by 2007, 10 expect structural deficits to catch up with them. That number grows to 19 by the end of FY 2008.

Vermont, for example, places spending trends at 6%, with forecast revenues at 4%. In Maryland, general fund spending is growing at 11%, while revenue growth is projected at less than 6%.

“The fact that states predict they’ll end the year with balances does not mean that their finances are stable in the long term in every case,” said NCSL Executive Director Bill Pound. “Some states had to borrow to get through difficult budget times.”

ATSSA honors innovations

Three lifesaving roadway safety products were recognized with Innovation Awards during the American Traffic Safety Services Association’s (ATSSA) 36th Annual Convention and Traffic Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early March. ATSSA Innovation Awards were developed three years ago to recognize companies that have created new, innovative products that help save lives on roadways. Public officials from the roadway safety industry judge and select the winners who focus on known roadway safety problems, while considering the cost effectiveness of their product, as well as the products’ potential for saving lives.

All companies that participate in ATSSA’s “New Product Press Conference,” a separate event held for local and national media during the Annual Convention and Traffic Expo, as well as those companies that submit a product listing for the New Products Showcase in the convention’s program and exhibit guide, are eligible for the awards.

The first place ATSSA 2006 Innovation Award was presented to Davidson Traffic Control Products, a division of Filtrona Extrusion, Tacoma, Wash., for their Interstate Grade FG 300 Curb System. The new lane-separation system is designed for use on high-speed interstates and has been proven extremely durable while safely guiding vehicles in a variety of roadway scenarios.

Second place honors went to Light for Life Signs Inc., Crystal Lake, Ill., who introduced a work zone “Stop/Slow” sign that contains bright LED lights to capture the attention of motorists up to one mile away in almost any weather condition. The signs have proven popular in school crossing zones and with emergency responders such as fire departments, police departments and towing companies. The new signs are battery powered, programmable, lightweight and durable.

The third place award went to Barrier Systems Inc. of Rio Vista, Calif., for their Barrier Guard 800, a new steel protective barrier that is used in roadway construction zones to separate roadway workers from vehicles and other hazards. The system is easily transported to jobsites, where it is then quickly and efficiently assembled.

ATSSA members across the country manufacture and install various roadway safety devices that motorists pass by or utilize every day. These include guardrails, bright reflective signs, roadway striping, lighting, reflective apparel and work-zone safety and training.

Mich. road projects get big bucks

Now that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican legislative leaders have reached an agreement on how some of the state money should be spent, millions of dollars can be invested into local road projects.

Under the new plan, the state will give grants to local governments to match federal transportation dollars, getting $400 million in projects under way, WWMT Digital Channel 3 reported.

According to Gov. Granholm, speeding up road-construction projects will add up to 7,100 jobs over the 2006 and 2007 construction seasons. The agreement also allows communities to ask voters to approve taxes for mass transit projects. Tourism also will benefit as a result of the new plan, with the agreement setting aside $7.5 million this year and the same amount in 2007 to attract out-of-state travelers.

A list of state road projects included in the agreement was issued by the governor’s office.

No agreement, reduced spending

Transportation leaders in the state of Virginia recently said they will be forced to slash spending on urban roads by a third if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by early June, the Hampton Roads News reported.

Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer told members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board that cutbacks would fall heavily on the state’s most congested cities, and he noted that Virginia Beach is the largest recipient of urban road dollars.

Plans to widen Holland Road, Princess Anne Road, Laskin Road, Nimmo Parkway and Witchduck Road would face delays if the budget impasse continues, according to projections by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Improvements to Military Highway on Norfolk, Va., would be postponed, and a bridge replacement on U.S. 13 in Chesapeake would be slowed. Total reductions to these projects would be an estimated $101.6 million, the Hampton Roads News reported. Those cities also would be faced with a proposal to cut back aid next year for new buses and other mass transit needs by nearly three-fourths, to $37 million statewide.

According to Homer, the cuts reflect the rising cost of concrete, steel and asphalt and a decline in gas tax collections caused by skyrocketing fuel prices.

Legislators failed to meet their March 11 deadline to adopt a two-year, $74 billion state budget. While they have been working overtime for more than six weeks, House and Senate leaders remain deadlocked over whether to increase taxes for road and transit improvements, the newspaper reported.

Senators want to increase transportation spending by $1 billion annually through tax increases on gasoline, motor vehicle sales and real estate transfers, while House leaders oppose tax increases and back a plan to devote most of this year’s $1.4 billion budget surplus to roads, the Hampton Roads News reported.

Even if legislators reach an agreement on a spending plan, Homer believes that projects in Hampton Roads and northern Virginia could face delays because those regions must complete air pollution reviews before construction work can begin.

VDOT’s proposed cuts for urban roads alarmed several city leaders, such as Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf who sent a letter to the city’s representatives in the General Assembly detailing the projects that could be delayed.

“Please put intra-party differences aside and adopt a budget to provide adequate funding for transportation and other needs and responsibilities of the Commonwealth,” Oberndorf wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Virginian-Pilot.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees state road spending, will adopt a six-year, $6.9 billion transportation plan on June 15, according to the Hampton Roads News. Barbara Reese, VDOT’s finance chief, said the plan cuts spending on urban and rural roads by $870 million during five years.

Homer said no projects already under construction will be halted. Instead, projects waiting for start-up money will be postponed.

House Transportation Chairman Leo Wardrup (R-Virginia Beach) said the pared-back road plan is unnecessary. He said there is broad agreement in the General Assembly that more money should be earmarked for roadbuilding this year. The disagreement, he said, is over future spending levels, which he said should have no effect on VDOT’s plan.

According to Homer, VDOT is required to base road plans on dollars approved by the legislature. He said the agency does not have authority to earmark money for projects based on speculation that the budget will be approved before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Maryland bridges falling down

Motorists in Maryland may not have noticed, but nearly 150 bridges in the state, from small one-lane structures to overpasses carrying major highways, have been deemed in need of repair or replacement, according to a Capital News Service analysis of state data.

Inspection data provided by the Maryland State Highway Administration showed that 146 of the state’s nearly 5,000 operating bridges require repairs or other “corrective action.” Of those, 58 need to be replaced entirely, the data show.

The database of inspection information is used to provide the Federal Highway Administration with a measure by which to allot federal funding to the state for bridge maintenance, Capital News Service reported.

From a distance, the bridges listed as needing repairs look like most others; however, a visit to many would show that all have cracks, rust and other signs of wear, Capital News Service reported.

State officials say that none of the bridges on the list of those considered in need of repair or replacement are unsafe or in danger of collapse.

Joseph Miller, the inspection division chairman in the highway administration’s office of bridge development, said the numbers do not tell the whole story. “Our system is in better shape than it’s ever been,” he said.

Miller said that the evaluations in the data could mean that a bridge has structural deficiencies or that it is simply “functionally obsolete,” which could mean that the bridge was only designed to carry a certain amount of weight or that its number of lanes does not match up with the approaching roadway.

“It could be in 100% condition,” he said, “but it might have been designed for a 30,000-lb vehicle instead of today’s 80,000-lb vehicle.”

The majority of bridges that are marked as needing repairs fall into the latter category, Miller said. According to the data, 35 of the bridges are open with no restrictions in regard to weight or the number of vehicles the bridge can carry.

A 2003 study in the Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities ranked Maryland as having the sixth most bridge failures in the country between 1989 and 2000. The state had the highest ratio of bridge failures to number of bridges at 0.49%.

Chung C. Fu, director of the University of Maryland’s Bridge Engineering Software and Technology Center, said that bridge collapses “rarely happen” and that Maryland is no worse than any other state when it comes to safety.

Maryland is not in an area at risk for weatherizing damage, such as earthquakes and frequent hurricanes, which can lead to immense damage that causes collapses, Fu said. As for repairing the damage that does occur, Fu said budgetary limitations and considerations such as location, traffic and other factors contribute to the process of determining the work bridges need in the state.

“Based on the budget, they prioritize the bridges,” Fu said. “If you look at those bridges, mainly in the countryside, many probably lack maintenance.”

However, the database shows that not all bridges that need work are in the countryside. Fourteen of the bridges that need repairs carry fairly heavy traffic—an average of over 10,000 vehicles a day. Some, mostly over small creeks or river branches, are estimated to carry less than 100 vehicles a day. And others are nestled in scarcely traveled parts of urban areas, Capital News Service reported.

Several of the bridges that are assigned for repairs hold up major thoroughfares, including the crossing of I-270 over Little Seneca Creek in Montgomery County, the crossing of I-895 over Potee Street in Baltimore and the crossing of state Rte. 450 over the CSX Railroad tracks just west of Rte. 197 in Prince George’s County.

While inspection information provides a framework, Miller said, his division uses other methods to determine which bridges in the state need immediate repairs.

According to Miller, SHA engineers visit about 200 bridges and identify the 75 that need the most immediate repair work and approximately 10 that need replacing. Miller said his division then presents a “state of the state of bridges” report to the department’s financial division to ask for appropriate funding.

For all the Maryland bridges for which there are estimates, it would cost the state a total of nearly $1.2 billion to repair them, the data show. For fiscal year 2007, nearly $130 million in state money and $25 million in federal funds are earmarked for repair and replacement, Capital News Service reported.

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