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Vol. 14, No. 1 - January/February 2003

Paying for Roads: Where Will the Money Come From?
(Abbreviated remarks of your Editor at the Urban Texas Inc. Conference, “Creating Policies to Shape the Future,” Austin, TX, November 21, 2002)

Funding has become a hot button issue in the transportation community. Many of us believe the time has come to take a serious look at the way we currently finance transportation and at the steps we must take to ensure that we will have adequate resources to finance our transportation needs in the future. The reason for this new focus is a concern that the customary revenue source - the gasoline tax - may prove to be insufficient to keep pace with the nation’s growing transportation needs. The possibility of a revenue shortfall is made all the more real by the prospect of more fuel efficient cars and increased market penetration by hybrid vehicles in the years ahead. Every one-mile-per-gallon increase in fuel efficiency is estimated to result in a $3.5 billion/year loss of income to the federal highway trust fund.

There are a number of steps we can take to forestall a funding crisis. I shall discuss in turn possible solutions at the federal level and then at the state and local level.

The November Transportation Referenda: A Post Mortem
Other than the stunning Republican sweep at the November polls, nothing has caused more consternation, soul searching and hand wringing (at least within the transportation community) than the failure of several prominent transportation referenda. Among the defeated initiatives was a well-financed campaign to raise local sales taxes for transportation projects in Virginia’s Washington suburbs, losing 55% to 45%; and a statewide initiative for a 9-cent increase in the gasoline tax to finance highway construction and transit in the state of Washington, rejected by nearly two to one. What does all this mean? We posed this question to several political analysts and individuals who were active (pro and con) in the local campaigns. Their conclusion: there was no single formula for winning and no single reason for losing. The success or failure depended on a variety of local factors not the least of which was the skill with which the initiative was sold to the public.

ITS at a Crossroads
Two announcements during the month of December have profoundly shaken the ITS community. The first was an announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation that it would not renew its advisory committee relationship with ITS America when it expires in March 2003. The second was an announcement of the termination of SmarTraveler, the once highly-touted regional traveler information service that its sponsors hoped would demonstrate the commercial viability of electronically delivered personalized traffic information. The two announcements, together with an earlier announcement by the Ford Motor Co. that it was withdrawing support from its “Wingcast” telematics initiative, have come at a critical juncture as Congress is about to begin its consideration of the future scope, direction and funding of the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program as part of the upcoming transportation program reauthorization.

Survey Shows Californians Prefer Suburban Lifestyle
For the second straight year, an overwhelming number of Californians told pollsters they prefer to live in detached, single-family homes in low-density suburban neighborhoods and drive alone to work... The poll shows a wide disconnect between what people say they want and what urban planners, academicians and environmental activists say is “good policy.” Smart-growth crusaders argue that states and localities should adopt tighter land-use policies, forcing housing and other development into existing urban areas rather than allowing it to spread out. Higher-density housing, they say, should be linked with policies that discourage automobile travel and promote mass transit. The California poll shows growth management advocates to be swimming against a strong tide of public opinion. People are not ready to embrace a vision of “smart growth” that would deny them the opportunity to enjoy a suburban lifestyle. And few politicians are willing to go out on a limb and champion restrictive growth policies that run counter to the expressed preferences of their constituents. It looks increasingly like smart growth is destined to remain a rhetorical abstraction — paid lip service by many, but ignored in practice by the vast majority.

New Study Finds Minorities and Poor Harmed by Anti-Sprawl Policies
Policies to combat sprawl penalize minorities, the poor, urban families and the young, says a new report released by the Center for Environmental Justice of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-profit, non-partisan think-tank in Washington D.C. ... The smart growth movement is a somewhat uneasy coalition of two groups — the “new urbanists” who harbor a visceral dislike of the suburbs and its auto-oriented culture and want to channel growth into existing cities; and, in large part, upper middle class environmentalists who, already secure in their mostly suburban habitat, want to see the remaining urban open spaces preserved in their natural state and remain off limits to further development. The study’s authors are correct in referring to the smart growth movement as exclusionary and elitist. It is ironic that many liberals who traditionally led the battle for equal housing opportunity now find themselves allied with the most conservative elements of society in denying minorities and immigrants a chance to share in the American dream of home ownership.

Maryland’s Smart Growth Policy —After Five Years Little to Show For
As Maryland’s Governor Glendening prepares to leave office, his proudest legacy - the “smart growth” policy, once hailed as “the most promising new tool for managing growth in a generation”- is leaving little visible trace upon the state.... The kindest thing one can say about Governor Glendening’s Smart Growth policy is that it may be too early to judge its effectiveness since changes in land use and housing stock occur very slowly. However, the policy may not be given a chance to prove its worth. Given its demonstrable lack of support among local officials and the indifference of the public, Maryland’s smart growth policy is likely to fade out of view once its architect and principal cheerleader is gone.

New Ideas to Get America Moving Again
Harnessing Market Forces to Combat Congestion
As Congress and the Bush administration consider the first major federal transportation legislation of the 21st century, they have an opportunity to go beyond tinkering with the status quo and embrace fundamental reform that would adequately provide for the nation’s long range transportation needs. Substantially increasing federal-aid funding is an important means toward this end but it is not the only one. With this issue we launch a dialogue on what those other policy levers might be and how they could be implemented through the new Surface Transportation legislation. In this, the first in a series of commentaries to appear in the coming issues, Rob Atkinson, Vice President of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the “New Democrats,” recommends making greater use of market forces, including variable tolls, to combat congestion.


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