Thursday, June 25, 2009

Break the Political Traffic Jam on Transportation Overhaul

Big thinking after World War II changed the nation. It must evolve again.

By Joshua Schank , Matthew Dallek
Posted June 25, 2009

Joshua Schank is transportation research director at the Bipartisan Policy Center and was the transportation policy adviser to former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Matthew Dallek is a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center and teaches history and politics at the University of California Washington Center.

In recent months, the heated-up healthcare debate has short-circuited a serious and much-needed discussion about America's transportation and infrastructure agenda—and all of the economic benefits that will flow from enacting a revitalized transportation policy. Transportation has become a policy orphan amid the healthcare tsunami that's overwhelmed the news coverage of Obama's America...

To read the full piece, head on over to the site of US News & World Report

Monday, June 22, 2009

A website devoted to infrastructure

FYI, There's a new website out,, devoted entirely to, you guessed it, infrastructure. We are not affiliated with the group but are spreading the word anyways!

Monday, June 15, 2009

User-Pay and Mode-Neutrality – Inconsistent? Responding to Bob Poole

The recently released NTPP report has started to generate discussion, including articles in The New York Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and in the Journal of Commerce. The coverage has generally been favorable, but if everyone agrees where is the fun in that?

Bob Poole at the Reason Foundation, for example, agrees with NTPP’s proposed performance-based approach and that great reforms are necessary. But he also says that that the NTPP principles of “user - pay” and “mode neutrality” and inconsistent with one another. Jeff Davis of Transportation Weekly spoke of the same “conundrum” when he asked a question of the Finance Commission at a press conference releasing their report.

A charge of “inconsistency” is rarely just that – people will often overlook inconsistencies if it suits their intended outcomes. The real issue is that Reason and others do not like it when user fees are collected from highway users but spent on other forms of transportation.

On the face of it this might seem like a reasonable complaint. If highway user fees are being spent on “other” modes of transportation, we will under invest in highways relative to their use. This will lead to insufficient highway capacity and poorly maintained roads, while “alternative” modes receive overinvestment unrelated to their use.

There are two fatal flaws with this kind of thinking. First is that it assumes that different modes of transportation operate independently from one another. Second is that it assumes that highway users pay something approaching the full costs of their transportation. Both assumptions are clearly incorrect.

All modes of transportation interact with and depend on one another. Highway users, being the primary mode in the U.S., benefit from the use of other modes because it frees up capacity. And transit users typically do not have subway stations in their living rooms – they must access these stations using roads or sidewalks (which are typically provided as part of road construction). Moreover, the vast majority of public transportation users in the U.S. ride buses, and these run on roads and highways.

This leads to the second flaw. It could be argued that because transit systems, sidewalks, and bicycles are all subsidized through government revenues that are not strict user fees, these systems are not paying for themselves. But this argument only works if highway users are actually paying something approaching the full cost of their transportation, which they are not. They are not paying the congestion, environmental, energy or safety costs, much less the full cost of maintaining the highway system. Moreover, now that the U.S. Government owns General Motors, many highway users are being subsidized even more.

Perhaps, someday, we will charge highway user fees that approximate true marginal cost. When that day comes, perhaps it might be useful to discuss user-pay consistency across all modes. But we are a long way from that. Until we get there we will never have a cohesive and comprehensive transportation system unless we break down the modal silos and start considering the network.

-Joshua Schank

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The panel has wrapped up and the official launch is concluded, but our full report and executive summary are available on the website!
Douglas Holtz-Eakin is optimistic that major reform can happen, thinks Congress is becoming more aware of the current policies' failings
Rob Puentes notes importance of making sure funding tools improve performance
Tyler Duvall observes it is important to have a national conversation about these fundamental reforms, states and localities need to be on board
Nancy Kete of WRI notes how this report helps cities and states tackle climate change and energy issues thru transportation investments
Cong. Sabo kicks off the panel. Go watch our new video about the project at!
Sen. Warner calls for new, innovative ways for improving the 'green' aspects of the vehicle fleet
Sen. Warner calls for partnership with env. groups in linking transportation and environmental concerns
Sen. Warner notes importance of breaking down modal silos in funding and in Congress
Sen. Warner calls for bipartisan approach to transportation legislation
Sen. Gorton calls for a performance driven approach to policy and funding
Cong. Sabo calls for funding transportation with user fees, not general funds
Congressman Boehlert calls for fundamental reform and integrating energy and environmental concerns into transportation investment decisions
The press conference has started and Senator Mark Warner is also here, due to speak in a few minutes
Our new website is up and running this morning, check it out at!

Monday, June 8, 2009

We will attempt to mobile blog our launch event tomorrow, so check the site to stay up to date as the day unfolds!

NTPP Launches Its Report - June 9th!

The Bipartisan Policy Center and its
National Transportation Policy Project
invite you to the launch of its report

Performance Driven:
A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy

Press Conference at 9:00 AM featuring NTPP Co-Chairs
Dennis Archer, Former Mayor of Detroit
Sherwood Boehlert, Former U.S. Congressman from New York
Slade Gorton, Former U.S. Senator from Washington
Martin Sabo, Former U.S. Congressman from Minnesota

Keynote Address at 9:20 AM
The Honorable Mark Warner, U.S. Senator from Virginia

Panel Discussion at 10:30AM
The Honorable Thomas Petri, U.S. Congressman from Wisconsin
Tyler Duvall, McKinsey & Co.; Former Asst. Secretary for Policy at U.S. DOT
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, DHE Consulting; Former Director of CBO
Nancy Kete, Director of the WRI's Center for Sustainable Transport
Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Breakfast Available

Washington Court Hotel
Atrium Ballroom
525 New Jersey Ave, NW
Washington, DC

RSVP to or 202-204-2399

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Current Energy Legislation has Transportation Components

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) recently approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee has many members of the transportation community up in arms. BNA’s Transportation Watch reported on Monday that many stakeholders are fighting the bill’s proposal to require states to submit greenhouse gas reduction plans, including transportation planning options, to the EPA. Industry groups fear that the bill could “end up hurting transportation quality and efficiency in the name of environmental protection.” Their particular concern is that EPA does not have the DOT’s experience in transportation, which could lead to unnecessary delays in approval of transportation projects. Moreover, critics say, the bill would corrupt efforts made in the last transportation authorization to consolidate transportation policy decisions within the DOT.

Yet the general idea of closely tying energy and climate concerns with transportation planning is sound, and solutions for these challenges can also benefit the economy. While the EPA does lack experience in transportation, it is also fair to say that transportation policy to date has not comprehensively focused on reducing transport-sector emissions. In coming months we will see the development of major energy and transportation legislation, presenting the opportunity to integrate energy and climate concerns with transportation investment decisions. Indeed, these challenges are so intertwined that only by addressing all of them in a coordinated fashion can any of them be solved.

This recent piece of energy legislation is not a comprehensive plan to combat the transport-sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. However, as concern over climate change escalates and the current economic recession demands increased efficiency in addressing the nation’s problems, now is the time for transportation and environmental leaders to unite. As both energy and transportation legislation move forward, an open mind must be kept toward integrating these vital issues whenever, and in whatever form, the opportunity arises.

-Sarah Fletcher, Daniel Lewis