Thursday, December 3, 2009

NTPP’s Call for Federal Surface Transportation Policy Reform Continues in Minneapolis

We held our third public forum in Minneapolis on November 23rd at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. With an engaged audience of over 150 attendees, we discussed our blueprint for surface transportation policy reform Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy. The forum, featured as part of the Martin Olav Sabo Lecture Series, held in partnership with the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, attracted prominent local and state transportation policymakers, academics, business leaders and other key transportation stakeholders, as well as the interested public. Speakers grappled with both challenges and opportunities of implementing the recommendations of our report in a region like the Twin Cities. Sponsorship for the event was provided in part by The McKnight Foundation.

Overall a resounding sense of urgency flavored conversations through the event. There was consensus among forum speakers and audience participants that now is the time for reform. Policy and revenue discussions, necessary for strengthening the next authorization bill, have the potential of going on for months, if not years. It was made clear by speakers during the event that the American people and our national economy cannot afford to wait. Now is the time to act on authorizing a national transportation bill that, among other things, puts mechanisms in place that prioritize program funding and project spending in line with well-defined national goals.

Panelists who spoke at the event generally agreed that real reform has to come from Washington. States and localities are exhausted and operating under severe budget constraints, leaving less time and energy for innovation. As the NTPP report argues, this situation is likely a result of historically misguided policies and funding mechanisms. By offering increased flexibility and rewarding innovation federal funding could help invigorate local transportation planning and investment. Some attendees remained skeptical of these conclusions, stating that program design and data collection methods left up to individual jurisdictions leaves room for wasted time, inferior methods, and error, and that a top down approach might in fact be superior. This highlights the foundations of the proposed NTPP framework, that states and localities have grown accustomed to doing things a certain way, as dictated by the federal government. The U.S. transportation system would be more functional, efficient, and cost controlled if states and local jurisdictions were rewarded for demonstrating performance of each dollar invested.

The event also marked the release of an NTPP research paper, Performance Metrics for the Evaluation of Transportation Programs authored by Richard Mudge, Vice President, Delcan Corporation and Keith Jasper, Senior Associate, Delcan Corporation. This paper highlights the fact that transportation investments have a profound ability to stimulate national productivity and economic growth, and though increased investment is necessary to maintain national transportation infrastructure in this country, it is essential that any future investment be made wiser and held accountable for demonstrating beneficial results.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, NTPP member, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and Senior Policy Advisor to John McCain’s presidential campaign gave a keynote speech during lunch of this event. Dr. Holtz-Eakin talked about how understanding near term economic events and likely future economic outcomes, such as the housing finance crisis that occurred in this country and the larger financial market crisis triggering the most severe economic downturn experienced in the United States since the 1930s, are critically important for thinking about our nation’s transportation policy.

Other featured speakers during the Minneapolis event included:
Former U.S. Congressman and NTPP Co-Chair Martin Sabo;
• Minnesota State Senator and Chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures' Transportation Committee D. Scott Dibble;
• Minnesota State Representative Mary Liz Holberg;
• Peter Bell, Chair of the Metropolitan Council;
• Peter McLaughlin, Commissioner of Hennepin County;
• Tom Sorel, Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Transportation;
• Mike Erlandson, Vice President - Government Affairs of SUPERVALU, INC. and NTPP member;
• Charlie Zelle, President of Jefferson Lines;
• Laurie McGinnis, Acting Director of University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies;
• Humphrey Institute Dean J. Brian Atwood; and
• Lee Munnich, Director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey Institute.

A full video recording of the event can be viewed here.

A number of news pieces ran in the days following the forum:

Retooling transportation policy,
Fleet Owner by Sean Kilcarr

Oberstar waiting for green light as U conference urges reform of nation's obsolete transportation system, by Steve Berg

U of M forum takes aim at transportation funding issues,
Minnesota Public Radio by Dan Olson

The next NTPP forum will take place in New York City on Monday, January 25th at the Kimmel Center at New York University (NYU).