America’s transportation network is at a crossroads and meeting the challenges of the future will require policymakers at all levels of government to develop and embrace a new approach to transportation planning if the U.S. is to remain globally competitive, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) top executive said August 10.
ARTBA President and CEO Pete Ruane, who has more than 35 years of diversified experience in the economic development, transportation and construction fields, delivered his remarks at the 8th Annual Texas Transportation Summit in Irving during a keynote address about the new highway /transit reauthorization law.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)--which was signed into law by President Bush in Illinois August 10, is a step in the right direction, Ruane said, but will not come close to meeting the nation’s highway/transit needs identified in repeated government reports.
“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.
“President Eisenhower embraced a vision for transportation 50 years ago when he created the Interstate Highway System. It’s now time for policymakers and the President to formulate a new transportation vision for the next 50 years. I believe it can be done, but it’s going to take the unprecedented involvement and leadership of the business community and political will by Congress.”
Adjusted for inflation, SAFETEA’s average annual funding gains are only 1.8%, compared to the real increases of 6% annually in the previous law –TEA-21. Traffic congestion levels will increasingly threaten business productivity and just-in-time delivery. There is also unlikely to be reduction in highway fatalities under the new law, ARTBA says.
With the U.S. population projected to increase 45% to more than 415 million people and the number of licensed drivers to grow another 86% to more than 380 million drivers over the next 50 years, there are a number of things policymakers should be considering to meet the nation’s transportation challenges, the ARTBA president said.
“Number one is significantly increasing highway and public 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, Ruane said.
An ARTBA analysis of Federal Highway Administration data found that between 1998 (the most recent year available) and 2020, the value of domestic airfreight will increase 204%; rail freight will be up 132% and water freight will rise 145%. The value of international freight is also expected to skyrocket by 310%.
Ruane said the U.S. Department of Transportation should use the occasion of its 40th anniversary in 2006 to issue a “report card” assessing whether it has met its mission as defined in the 1966 law signed by President Johnson creating the agency, and also evaluate its role in shaping future transportation policy.
The goal for policy makers—beginning with scheduled 2009 reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU—Ruane says, 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, as well as 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, he said.