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National Transport Report Draws Praise, Criticism

There has been plenty of reaction to the national transportation plan presented Tuesday by a congressional commission. Commissioners called on Americans to set new goals and employ new methods in creating a 21st Century transportation system.

These are excerpts from some of the governmental, transportation industry and environmental group responses to the commission's report.

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials President Pete Rahn
"The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has put forth some bold and groundbreaking concepts to deliver on the promise of mobility for this and future generations."

"Some of the recommendations in this report will be considered controversial, but clearly the ideas presented will help to stimulate the national debate we must have if we are to chart a course for a transportation network equal to the demands of the 21st Century."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, chairman of the commission and one of three dissenting members
The Commission Report recommends an increase of $0.25 to $0.40 per gallon in Federal fuel taxes over the next five years (with automatic increases every year after that) and assumes substantial increases of state and local transportation taxes to ensure a Federal share representing 40 percent of total capital investments.

The fact that the public has overwhelmingly opposed an increase in Federal fuel taxes since 1993 represents a lack of investor confidence in current transportation policy. The public correctly understands that increased fuel taxes will not remedy the woefully inadequate transportation system performance they so frequently experience today.

While the Commission Report recognizes the potential of road pricing to reduce congestion and improve system efficiency, it does not recognize pricing as the essential element in a proper alignment of supply and demand as it is in almost every other major sector of our economy.

Although the Commission Report identifies the growing availability of private infrastructure capital, the Commission Report actually proposes unprecedented new national regulations on states wishing to contract with the private sector. The Commission Report also fails to adequately consider the important role the private sector can play in a performance-based investment model. (Read the full statement.)

American Council of Engineering Companies President David A. Raymond
"The Commission did a good job in putting aside politics and coming up with meaningful recommendations. They recognize the need for a strong federal role, including a long overdue increase in the gas tax; and that we need to use more tolling, congestion pricing and public-private partnerships as part of the overall funding solution."

The challenge today is similar to that which confronted President Eisenhower some fifty years ago when he launched the interstate system. ... Today, if we are to compete successfully in the global marketplace and meet both economic and quality of life concerns, we need a renewed emphasis on our transportation program."

American Highway Users Alliance President and CEO Greg Cohen
"Today marks a new day of hope for American motorists, truckers, families, and businesses. The distinguished panel of national commissioners has mapped a way forward. Success will require a lot of money but we have no doubt the benefits will far exceed the costs. Over time, public support will grow if Congress reforms the program, adopts a 'performance-based' plan that rewards success in meeting national objectives, and respects the integrity of the special "user pays, user benefits" taxing system.

"Highway users should also be pleased that the commission has proposed new, non-highway sources of revenue for the surface transportation program. This is a key condition for expanding the Highway Trust Fund to a broader, Surface Transportation Trust Fund. We will work to ensure that such a plan provides strong funding for alternate modes while reducing the subsidies of non-highway modes by highway users.

America Moving Forward
America Moving Forward, a nonprofit coalition, commends the commission for recommending that Congress encourage the use of public-private partnerships, tolling and pricing but challenges their recommendation to place federal limitations on private investment. ... America Moving Forward is devoted to advancing innovative solutions to the infrastructure crisis that is currently plaguing America's roads, bridges and highways.

"The commission is absolutely right -- our nation faces staggering transportation infrastructure needs," said Peter Loughlin, executive director. "We need to utilize all the resources we can harness to invest in our transportation infrastructure. To that end, we must use private sector investment to help meet these needs. Placing roadblocks in the way of this critical investment runs counter to our nation's goal."

National Association of Manufacturers' President and CEO John Engler
"Modernizing our nation's infrastructure system is a top priority of manufacturers," Engler said. "We depend on the ability to move goods throughout the country efficiently yet face transportation bottlenecks that cost industry nearly $8 billion a year.

"The commission reached a consensus on the clear need to increase investment in our nation's transportation system to lessen these bottlenecks," he said. "While there are bound to be differences among commissioners over the level or source of funding, these differences do not diminish the compelling case for additional investment."

Environmental Defense transportation director Michael Replogle
The report issued [Tuesday] by the National Surface Policy and Revenue Study Commission provides valuable ideas for improving America's surface transportation system, according to a leading group in promoting more environmentally-friendly transportation policies. The group, Environmental Defense, said it would be a mistake for Congress to boost gasoline taxes and other revenues for transportation investment without first adopting significant reforms to ensure sound transportation spending.

"New revenues from gas tax increases, tolls, or public private partnerships won't solve transportation problems unless it's clear what the goals are and unless the revenue measures, projects, and policies are designed to address them," Replogle concluded. "We are pleased that the Commission's report calls for more attention to performance and accountability for transportation investment - whether it comes from public or private sources."

Joint statement by Smart Growth America, Reconnecting America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership
The National Surface Transportation Study Commission has provided an invaluable service in marshalling evidence that the federal transportation program is in need of a "new beginning," leaders of an emerging transportation reform alliance said [Tuesday].

While agreeing that the depletion of the transportation trust fund in a rapidly growing nation is cause for alarm, the three organizations said that it is premature to call for more than doubling the gas tax before the outlines of that "new beginning" are clear to the American people.

"The system is broke, but it's also broken," said Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America. "The American people want to be assured that their hard-earned money is building bridges that stand, not merely bridges to nowhere."

By Robert Thomson  |  January 16, 2008; 5:37 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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Comments

How much study does it take to decide that our goal should be to set goals?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 16, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Dr G., a bit of disclosure could be in order, though I wouldn't fault you for not knowing about it.

The nonprofit coalition called America Moving Forward is much like a number of other organizations playing Washington politics. They're set up and funded by corporations to "research" and "inform" Washington decision-makers.

In this case, AMF is a newcomer on the Washington scene. Highway blogger Peter Samuel, based up I-270 in Frederick, recently wrote about the group's formation. To quote from his Tollroadsnews blog, "The four steering committee members for AMF are representatives of Cintra, Goldman Sachs, Macquarie, and Transurban."

see http://tollroadsnews.com/node/3335

Hey, aren't Cintra, Goldman Sachs, Macquarie, and Transurban the same players in line for tolling the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes and the Beltway from Springfield to the American Legion Bridge? The Dulles Toll Road and Greenway too?

You duly cited the following quote from AMF's Peter Loughlin:
"We need to utilize all the resources we can harness to invest in our transportation infrastructure. To that end, we must use private sector investment to help meet these needs"

Everyday folks might want to decode this as the same players in line for tolling NoVa's highways telling us:
"If you want to reduce congestion, build more toll roads and dedicate express toll lanes on existing roads."

Not a judgment on whether that's good or bad, but your readers deserve to know who these people are so as to help demystify what was said.

Posted by: Pete, but not the same as mentioned above | January 16, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

why is the infrastructure of the US for sale? all this talk about privatization is just a give away to the big corporations.
I don't recall being asked at any time since 1993 whether I would support a raise in fuel taxes. raising taxes isn't really the issue, the real issue is taking the money and actually using it responsively.

Posted by: arlington | January 16, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse

is the infrastructure of the US for sale? that sounds like a great idea, wipe out the deficit!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

As the coordinator of our work on transportation policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, I must say I was underwhelmed by the report. There are some gems here including the recognition that the nation doesn't need another "echo-TEA" bill, that we need to play catch-up with investments in rail infrastructure, and that alternative pricing measures would provide benefits. But the commission has a tin ear vis-a-vis global warming and energy security concerns, and is distracted by tired fixations like "environmental streamlining" and big gas tax increases which would fund the same old projects.

Check out my blog entry about this at
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/denial_it_aint_just_a_river_in.html

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