Posts Tagged: infrastructure

High-speed rail network requires networking among states

Taiwan, like Illinois, supports HSR

Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business predicts Illinois will get about $1 billion in additional high-speed rail money that Florida forfeited when their governor, Rick Scott, put the brakes on an Orlando to Tampa high-speed rail line. Under Gov. Pat Quinn and a Democratic legislature, Illinois has strongly supported Barack Obama’s high-speed rail ambitions. But the next steps are politically tricky.

Hinz writes that Illinois will get a “decent-sized piece” of high-speed rail money because, “This state, unlike others seems prepared to spend the money without dithering.” But Illinois must rely on the non-dithering of its neighbors. (more…)

Keep high-speed rail moving

If the Obama administration pushes forward with all the lines that states have agreed to fund, and if other governors — Democrat or Republican — stay the course and insist on modern rail infrastructure in their regions, states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and now Florida will live to regret their decisions rejecting these projects, and their residents will, sooner or later, demand that they get the same services that exist around the country.  (In Wisconsin, voters would have had to commit all of two cents per year per person to get their line built).  All this will happen if there are enough states and enough politicians in Washington willing to stand up for smart growth on a national scale (as well as on the local one).  And funds that were slated for states saying no to high-speed rail must be used for those states willing to move forward.

Year In Review: States Not Doing So Great

The Wall Street Journal’s Conor Daugherty reports that state and local revenues were down seven percent in the third quarter of 2009 from a year ago — and the third quarter of 2008 was not exactly the salad days of local revenue collection. The culprit is less money from income taxes and sales taxes. The result is that states must increase tax rates and spend less at a time when the federal government is cutting taxes and spending more. The Obama administration and Congress leavened this huge federal-local disconnect by handing states fiscal stabilization money from the stimulus bill. However, the administration has not responded to the crisis in local governance with the comprehensive aid package that they provided to, say, financial firms in peril. (more…)

Rotten Infrastructure Should Mean Great Jobs

Charles Duhigg of the New York Times delivers this indictment of sewer systems in New York City and across the country, which violate clean water laws regularly by allowing raw sewage and chemicals into America’s rivers and streams, usually when routine rainfall overwhelms the systems.  More than one-third of sewer systems report violating the law in this way, yet “fewer than one in five sewage systems that broke the law were ever fined or otherwise sanctioned.”  So that’s a job for EPA or Justice.  But fixing these sewage systems — a very significant infrastructure project that would also have health and ecological benefits for the entire country — are the kind of jobs the Obama administration should be creating.   (And yes, I almost always agree with Bob Herbert).


The New York Times’ Michael Cooper and Griff Palmer excoriate state governments across the country for spending federal stimulus money on rural, instead of urban, highway and road projects. Cooper and Palmer point out that 2/3 of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan regions and 3/4 of economic activity occurs in these regions yet less than half of the $16.4 billion in stimulus transportation cash allocated so far has gone toward metropolitan areas.

The Obama administration’s response is that they’re learning lessons about how to best direct transportation money, particularly as the five-year surface transportation spending bill is up for re-authorization. The lesson, though, seems pretty clear: if it is indeed of paramount importance that congested and/or crumbling cities get transportation cash, earmark that money directly to the cities. Maybe that usurps state rights, but, if so, that’s a conversation to have when Congress passes the transportation spending bill. It’s not that something to learn after the Transportation Dept. has already sent out the money.-MB


David Epstein of ProPublica talks about mass transit:

Federal stimulus funds have swooped in to prevent service cuts to healthcare and education, but no such remediation has been granted to public transit. Transit systems nationwide are getting billions for new buses and trains. According to the language of the stimulus bill, however, the money can’t be spent to run them — to pay for operating costs like wages and fuel. Although national mass-transit ridership is at a 50-year-high, a recent survey by the American Public Transportation Association found that 90 percent of transit agencies have cut service or raised fares.

This will soon change, sort of. The war funding bill passed by Congress has a provision that 10 percent of federal stimulus cash for mass transit can be used for the daily operations of transit agencies. The stimulus bill had provided $8.4 billion for construction projects. That money will help but isn’t nearly enough to solve the problem. For example,the St. Louis Metro is $50 million in the hole and now can use $8 million in federal money to cover that deficit. With most states in the red, the trend of increased deficits, even with increased ridership, will continue indefinitely.-MB


Every five years, Congress passes a massive surface transportation bill (the one set to expire cost $244 billion) that funds infrastructure projects for highways, roads and mass transit across the country. This was supposed to be the year for a new bill but Michael Cooper of the New York Times’ says it won’t happen: the current plan will just be extended for 18 months. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood told Cooper the long delay was the "most realistic approach."

For a small but dedicated group of people who write about urban politics, surface transportation re-authorization is a BIG DEAL. Here — with growing resistance toward automobiles that cause greenhouse gas emissions — was a chance to break the decades-long ratio of 80 percent of the bill’s spending going to highway and road projects and just 20 percent to mass transit. In that spirit, it made sense to discuss the bill along side the cap-and-trade legislation glacially winding its way through Congress. It also seemed for a while there that the Obama administration was making public transit a pet issue.

Instead, taking on glaring urban infrastructure problems and the auto-industry complex will wait another day, or, I guess, year-and-a-half. Hopefully Obama and LaHood will still be inclined then to push Congress to change the legislation’s spending structure.-MB


Understanding Government received a backhanded compliment from a high-ranking D.C.-area transit official who has read our new report on WMATA — the parent organization for Metrorail and Metrobus in the nation’s capital.  The official called it "not a bad report from authors who have no background in transportation."  Yesss!

Actually, we appreciate a critical reading from experts in government agencies who know their subject better than we do (when they don’t know it better, we’re all in trouble).  Our job is to get things rolling with the best research we can do, presented in the most accessible way, for the broadest possible audience. 

This particular critic (not, by the way, a WMATA employee) took issue with two main issues in in our report. (more…)