ROADS/BRIDGES: Nothing comes cheap anymore

Funding related issues pervade DOTs; U.S. residency names its price 

News December 08, 2014
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Former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood recently told the 64th annual Maine Transportation Conference that unless the gas tax is raised the country will become “one big pothole.” Despite such a remark’s flirtation with hyperbole, this has been LaHood’s post-appointment stump speech for some time—and with good reason. Across the U.S., funding and funding-related issues have begun to take center stage as DOTs attempt to figure out exactly what the future is going to look like and exactly how it can be afforded, with May’s exhaustion of federal funding growing closer day by day.
 
The Michigan State Transportation Commission (STC) adopted a resolution calling on the state legislature to “immediately take action” to increase state revenue devoted to transportation infrastructure. This overture was made in conjunction with the STC’s 2015-2019 draft of a 5-year transportation program, which highlighted among other things, funding issues. According to the STC, the state is losing $3 million each day in decaying roads and bridges, and if there is not enough state-derived cash beginning in 2016, the state could be looking at losing as much as $759 million in federal aid per annum.
 
Kansas has decided to throw caution to the wind and proceed with its plan for $1.2 billion in highway projects over the course of 2015-2016, including an expansion of the I-235 exchange in Wichita. The state faces a $279 million shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 2015 and a project $436 million drop by June 2016, yet despite looming concerns among Ks. lawmakers, state transportation secretary Mike King was quoted as saying, “As people are talking about (the) budget and talking about, you know, how to help secure that, we’re in good shape.”

A little further southwest, in Charlotte, N.C., the N.C. DOT reaffirmed its commitment to a 10-year roads plan that will include express toll lanes on the widening of I-485 from Rea Road to U.S. 74, I-77 from uptown to the South Carolina line and U.S. 74 from uptown to Matthews. The express lanes would ask travelers to pay a toll in return for an assured speed for 45 mph, while existing lanes would remain free. This comes in conjunction with the state’s progress on plans to build new toll lanes on I-77 in north Mecklenburg, a plan that would void the toll for any vehicle holding three or more passengers. How such a thing can be tracked has yet to be made clear. The most ambitious of the projects, which looks to rebuild I-77 in south Charlotte, is scheduled to begin in 2024. This marks the first time the state has committed to a start date for this project.
 
On MSNBC show Morning Joe, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) stated the a highway funding bill is a top priority for the GOP, that Americans can expect to see “a long-term transportation infrastructure bill.” The congresswoman went on to insist that “there's already been an outline put together between the House and the Senate that I think is a good foundation for [a bill].” The annual $16 billion shortfall in transportation investment is something that can no longer be sustained, it seems, by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that has traditionally been used to pay for infrastructure.
 
Finally, in one area of the country when funding dries up it seems best to find something worth selling. In Pennsylvania, that something is U.S. legal residency. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials are taking advantage of 1990’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, which allows foreign investors to chip in at least $500,000 for U.S. projects of regional significance in exchange for residency under the oversight of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service.  Turnpike officials are courting Chinese investors to fund half of the I-95 interchange project cost in exchange for permanent-residency visas from the U.S. government. The mainline turnpike spans I-276 in Bristol County. I-95 currently passes over the turnpike in northeast Philadelphia with no interchange, the correction of which has been in the planning for years.

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