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Reason Foundation

Surface Transportation News #123

US congestion less than in Europe. Managed lane networks taking shape. Competing bills on infrastructure financd.

Robert Poole
January 9, 2014

In this issue:

Surprising Findings on Transit and Traffic Congestion

For the several decades that I’ve been involved in transportation policy, the primary justification for using a portion of highway user tax money for urban transit has been that shifting people from cars to transit benefits the remaining drivers by reducing congestion. That point sounds so obvious that it has been accepted without question by legislators at all levels of government, transportation reporters, editorial writers, and probably a majority of state DOTs. But is there quantitative evidence in support of this relationship?

That’s the question taken on by Tom Rubin and Fatma Mansour in a new Reason Foundation Policy study, “Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There a Connection?” (http://reason.org/news/show/transit-utilization-and-congestion) The authors used data covering 1982 to 2007 for the 74 largest urbanized areas, and also did closer-look case studies of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, and Portland. The two research questions were (1) Does increased use of transit lead to reduced traffic congestion and vice-versa, and (2) Does an increase in driving lead to increased traffic congestion and vice-versa.

To address the first question, they employed two measures of transit use—annual transit trips per capita and annual transit passenger miles per capita. For the second question, they used daily vehicle miles of travel (VMT) per lane-mile on freeways and daily VMT per lane-mile on arterial streets. In both cases, the congestion measure was the widely accepted travel time index (TTI) from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

They carried out regression analyses using the 26 years of data from all 74 urbanized areas to determine the extent of correlation between each transit variable and each driving variable in relationship to the TTI. The extent of correlation is indicated by the R2 value for each regression. The results were as follows:

Regression

R2

Transit trips per capita vs. TTI

0.13

Transit passenger miles per capita vs. TTI

0.17

Daily VMT per freeway lane-mile vs. TTI

0.78

Daily VMT per arterial lane-mile vs. TTI

0.41

As you may recall from statistics class, a perfect correlation would have an R2 of 1.0 and the complete absence of a relationship would be 0.0. The two transit correlations are so low as to indicate no statistically significant relationship, whereas both of the highway correlations are statistically significant, especially the freeways one. In other words, as transit use increases, there is no consistent decrease in traffic congestion—and vice-versa. But as highway traffic per lane-mile increases, congestion increases, and vice-versa.

The finding of no relationship either way between transit use and congestion seems hard to believe, but that is the finding for the overall data set. And in the seven very large metro area case studies, only Chicago had a statistically significant transit/congestion relationship, and that was for passenger trips per capita. But the other measure, transit passenger miles per capita, was not significant. And surprisingly, neither measure was statistically significant for the New York urbanized area, which has by far the nation’s highest transit usage; with just 6% of US population, it accounts for 40% of all transit trips.

The authors conclude that policies designed to increase transit use are unlikely to reduce traffic congestion. To reduce congestion, based on the other two regression results, either highway lane-miles must be increased or VMT must be reduced relative to the available highway capacity during congested periods (which can be done via congestion pricing). This does not mean transit has no role to play, but it does argue for greater scrutiny of the costs and benefits of proposed transit expansions.

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Taking Trip-Time Reliability Seriously

In the early days of what we now refer to as managed lanes (aka express toll lanes), feasibility studies mostly used stated-preference surveys to estimate what people thought they might pay to save a certain number of minutes on their daily commute. That turns out to have been misguided, for two reasons. First, stated preference surveys are not very accurate; it’s far better to rely on revealed preference data—what people actually do when given a new option such as a priced congestion-relief lane. Second, value of time (VOT) was not the only relevant measure. We now know that people are willing to pay about as much for predictable trip times (value of reliability—VOR) as they are for time savings itself.

The first important work that highlighted these points was led by Prof. Ken Small of UC Irvine. In a key paper in 2006, he, Cliff Winston, and Jia Yan used detailed survey data and econometric techniques to tease out what users of the SR 91 Express Lanes were paying for, which was a combination of time savings and reliable trip times. One finding was the huge variability in both VOT and VOR among individuals, but also for the same individual with different trip purposes. Their median values for Express Lanes customers were $26/hr. VOT and $24/hr. VOR, explaining the total price paid of $50/hr. Those data were from 1999-2000, so that would be about $70/hr. today.

In 2012 Prof. Mark Burris and colleagues at Texas A&M studied prices paid to use the HOT lanes on I-15 in San Diego and I-394 in Minneapolis. Neither is as congested as SR 91 in Orange County, but they found the prices paid on the I-15 lanes averaged $49/hr. AM and $54/hr. PM and on the I-394 lanes $73/hr. AM and $116/hr. PM. Their paper “Willingness to Pay for High-Occupancy Toll Lanes” (in Transportation Research Record No. 2297) suggests that because these values are so high, the HOT lane customers are paying for trip-time reliability as well as time savings.

Fitch Ratings, in a 2012 special report called “Paying for Predictability,” concluded that variably priced managed lanes are likely to generate much higher—but more volatile—toll revenue than conventional toll roads. In a follow-up special report on the same subject in November 2013, they take trip reliability even more seriously, saying that the ability of a managed lanes operator to maintain reliable trip times will be “crucial” for the lanes’ success. A December 2013 report by the Conference Board of Canada parsed the total amount paid by users of Toronto’s variably priced 407ETR toll road into the value of time savings and the value of trip-time reliability. (“Commuting on 407ETR: The Value of Travel Time and Reliability”)

In a newer report on tolls paid on Minneapolis’s I-394 and I-35W HOT lanes, Michael Jansen and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota also expressed surprise that people were paying high amounts for relatively small actual time savings--$60 to $120/hr. of time saved. While some saw that finding (and similar high values on other HOT lanes) as motorists having an exaggerated view of how much time they are actually saving, economist Randall Pozdena of ECONorthwest disagrees. As he told Tollroadsnews.com last August, those express lane customers are acting rationally. His explanation is one that Burris, et al. have also suggested: that an urgent trip purpose accounts for many decisions to use the HOT lanes rather than the general-purpose lanes. “The users who self-select to pay to join the toll express lanes are drawn selectively from the upper tail of the VOT distribution, and would not be expected to display average values of time.”

All the above points are reflected in a 2013 report from the 2nd Strategic Highway Research Program. SHRP2 Report S2-C04-RW-1 is “Improving Our Understanding of How Highway Congestion and Pricing Affect Travel Demand.” It summarizes recent findings on VOT, VOR, trip purpose, and trip length as factors that need to be built into modeling of priced highway facilities.

I was also glad to see that in the latest (2012) Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the data tables for each metro area now include not just the freeway travel time index but two indicators of trip time (un)reliability: a freeway planning time index, one for 80th percentile and another for 95th percentile. Value of Reliability is finally getting the respect it deserves.

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Misleading Information on Commuting Trends

Last month saw the release of a report from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which claimed that in most of the 100 largest urban areas, people were shifting in significant numbers from driving to work to using transit, walking, and bicycling. PIRG’s city-specific news releases were, for the most part, picked up and written about uncritically by busy reporters. That’s unfortunate, because “Transportation in Transition” is highly misleading in the story it attempts to tell.

Initial tipoffs come in what sorts of numbers were presented. Nearly all the numbers were percentage changes, rather than absolute numbers. But if transit in city X has a commute mode share of 5% and driving alone has 70%, then a 10% increase in transit share means an increase of 0.5 percentage points, while a 10% increase in drive-alone share would be 7 percentage points—meaning 14 times as many more people would be driving alone than would be switching to transit. Second, a rigorous report would make all its before/after comparisons using the same set of years. But at various points in the report PIRG compares 2000 to 2011, 2000 to 2007-2011 (whatever that means), 2004 to 2012, 2005 to 2010, and 2006 to 2011. Those kinds of disparities suggest cherry-picking the data to find the set of years that best makes the point PIRG wanted to make on a given topic.

PIRG’s first big claim is that driving has declined in most large urban areas (which account for the large majority of population and personal travel). For this comparison, PIRG compares 2006 to 2011. Total US vehicle miles of travel (VMT) peaked in 2007 just before the Great Recession, and has only recently begun to increase again. But from 2000 to 2011 total VMT increased by 7.25%, while VMT per capita (which peaked in 2004) decreased by 2.8% over the same 11-year period. (My figures all come from the Oak Ridge National Laboratories Population and Vehicle Profile, 1950-2011.)

Next PIRG makes a big point about a decline in the share of commuters driving to work. In the American Community Survey data on commuting, there are two categories of driving: driving alone and car/van pooling. Over the same 2000-2011 period I used above, driving alone increased slightly, from 75.7% to 76.4%. What has dropped dramatically is car/van pooling, which went from 12.2% in 2000 to 9.7% in 2011. There was a small increase in transit’s share, from 4.6% in 2000 to 5% in 2011, as well as a larger increase in work-at-home, from 3.3% to 4.3%. So yes, total people going to work in cars decreased, but entirely due to reduced carpooling, so the number actually driving a car to work increased.

PIRG also claims that the fraction of households without a car increased between 2006 and 2011, which could well be a consequence of the recession. But ACS data on vehicle ownership show that the fraction of zero-car households decreased from 10.3% in 2000 to 9.1% in 2010.

PIRG will probably reply by noting that nearly all their figures are for specific urban areas, most of them for the hundred largest, while all those I have cited are national averages. That is true, but the figures I have cited here cover a full decade, rather than being cherry-picked to highlight recession years. And as usual, PIRG gives away its agenda in its concluding section of policy recommendations. “Since” people are shifting out of cars to using transit, bicycles, and walking, they say, transportation plans should shift funding from roads and highways to these “expanded transportation options.”

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Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) Communicatios: Safety Benefits at Unknown Cost

For a number of years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been researching “connected vehicles”—cars, trucks, and buses equipped with two-way communications. The two types involved are vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I). The main rationale for the concept is increased safety: if all vehicles can communicate in this way, software will be able to warn drivers of impending collisions if they appear to be on intersecting paths. The robust version of V2I would include communications to and from all traffic signals at intersections and perhaps even to and from all stop signs at non-signalized intersections.

Last year NHTSA ran an ambitious real-world test of V2V in Michigan, in which 3,000 cars, trucks, and buses were linked by Wi-Fi in what the agency dubbed its Safety Pilot Model Deployment, mostly driven by ordinary people. After initial “driver acceptance clinics,” about 90% of the participants said they would like to have such features in their personal vehicles (though there was apparently no information provided about what it would cost them). In the deployment phase, the equipped vehicles were driven on the streets of Ann Arbor. Each in-vehicle device broadcasts a basic safety message (BSM) about the vehicle’s size, position, speed, heading, acceleration, and braking, 10 times per second. When software on the vehicle detects an impending crash based on signals from another vehicle, it alerts the driver to the type of possible collision, to spur corrective action. This is analogous to the Threat Collision Alert System (TCAS) that has been required on airliners and business jets since the late 1980s.

NHTSA had been expected to announce a decision by the end of 2013 on whether it would mandate V2V for all new vehicles, but at year-end the agency said that it would announce its decision “in the coming weeks.”

Despite reading a great deal about V2V (and V2I) over the last several years, what I have yet to see is a serious benefit/cost analysis. Preventing collisions is always given as the primary benefit, with the most common figure being that V2V has the potential of preventing 76% of all collisions between vehicles. Look a bit closer and that turns out to be 76% of all collisions not caused by “impaired drivers.” I could not find a definitive estimate for what fractions of collisions are due to such drivers, but NHTSA’s online Traffic Safety Facts puts the fraction of fatal crashes due to impaired drivers at 32%. If that fraction applies to all collisions, then V2V would have the potential to eliminate about half of all collisions. But that is only its potential. In any actual impending crash, preventing it requires not only that the system work properly but that the one or both drivers take the appropriate corrective action. So those human factors would further reduce the fraction of prevented collisions.

A proper benefit-cost analysis would have to model the impact of what would likely be a 20-year V2V phase-in, as the vehicle fleet turns over and old (unequipped) vehicles are replaced by equipped ones. In the early years, most impending collisions would involve either one or no equipped vehicles, and it wouldn’t do much good for the equipped vehicle to be sending out its BSM if the other one couldn’t detect it. So the safety benefits would start at zero and gradually increase over a long period.

On the cost side, the basic equipment package for new vehicles can be expected to decline in cost over time, as computer and communications technology continue to improve. But there are other costs, as well. The recent GAO report on V2V (GAO-14-13, November 2013) pointed out that the cost of the needed V2V communications security system “could be significant,” compared with the “modest” cost of the basic vehicle box. And a recent Forbes article (Aug. 12, 2013) called “Digital Carjackers” interviewed academics and Pentagon-funded hackers who have tapped into existing auto computer systems to take control of basic systems such as brakes and throttle, underscoring the need for a robust security system.

A problem that has bedeviled aviation’s TCAS is false alarms; when planes are operating in congested airspace, TCAS may sound alarms for situations pilots are already aware of and taking action to avoid. But if such alarms become common in automobiles, drivers may tend to not take them seriously—or even disconnect the system that keeps annoying them.

Privacy is yet another potential concern. Just as proposals for an in-vehicle GPS box to keep track of miles driven (for purposes of charging a mileage-based user fee) have stirred up serious privacy concerns, proposals for mandated V2V broadcasts may raise similar concerns. And just as with autonomous vehicle proposals, V2V systems and warnings raise new questions of liability, which at this point remain unresolved.

I agree that there are potentially large safety benefits from this kind of universal collision-warning technology (as there have been with TCAS in aviation). But no decision on mandating universal equipage with V2V should be made in the absence of a detailed benefit-cost analysis, taking all such factors into account. If NHTSA or anyone else has produced such an analysis, it needs to be widely disseminated. 

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Further and More on Bicycle Routes (and Lanes)

My November article expressing some concerns about plans for a U.S. Bicycle Route System brought a number of responses, prompting this follow-up article. First I had a good conversation with David Lee of Florida DOT, who’s been working on development of the Florida segment of U.S. Bike Route 1. He explained that the program does not involve building anything; it merely designates appropriate routes along existing highways and streets that would be suitable for longer-distance bike travel. These points were reinforced by Ginny Sullivan of Adventure Cycling in Montana, the leading national group supporting the U.S. Bicycle Route System. Both Lee and Sullivan pointed out that this effort dates back many years and is being coordinated by AASHTO and FHWA.

I was relieved to learn that this system is not using either federal or state highway user tax money to build bike routes, for two reasons. First, long-distance bike travel infrastructure should not be a federal government function under any sensible parceling out of appropriate roles for federal, state, and local governments. Second, to the extent that governments are going to provide such infrastructure—as many city and county governments are now doing—there is no justification for making highway users (rather than all local taxpayers—or bicyclists) pay for such facilities.

But there followed an attack on what I wrote by Todd Littman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. In two posts on Planetizen, he took after both my article about interstate bike routes and a Weekly Standard article by Christopher Caldwell, “Drivers Get Rolled,” about the growing movement to add bike lanes to city streets. Caldwell, with some hyperbole, argued that “bike riders don’t ‘share’ the road so much as take it over,” and elsewhere stated that “There are probably a million dedicated cyclists in this country, bent on taking over a quarter or a third of the nation’s road space” as bike-only lanes.

Littman’s answer to this was a numerical example: “A typical urban arterial has a 60 foot width right of way. A typical bike lane is 3 to 4.5 feet wide, so two [bike] lanes require 10-15% of total width.” But let’s look at what groups like Smart Growth America and other groups promoting “complete streets” and “road diets” are actually advocating, unmentioned in Littman’s posts. It’s easy to go online and find their recommended before/after urban arterial cross sections. The “before” cross section typically has four 11-ft. travel lanes (two in each direction) and a parking lane on each side. The “after” vision has just one 11-ft. travel lane in each direction, two 5 ft. bike lanes and 10 to 12 feet in the center as a landscaped median plus left-turn lanes at intersections. So the basic vehicular throughput capacity of the arterial is cut in half by these designs. Plans like these are popping up all over the country, often with the support of local planners and media.

Local streets and roads are mostly supported by local taxes, such as property and sales taxes. So it is appropriate for cities and counties to decide on whether to spend some of their transportation money adding sidewalks where there aren’t any, and bike lanes where they don’t reduce needed roadway capacity for the vast majority of citizens. But since in most states the major arterials in urban areas are state highways, state DOTs have a responsibility to protect their lane capacity from “road diets.”

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Upcoming Conferences

Note: I don’t have space to list all transportation conferences that might be of interest. Below are those that I or a Reason Foundation colleague are taking part in.

Transportation Research Board 93rd Annual Meeting, Jan. 12-16, Washington, DC (Robert Poole speaking). Details at: www.trb.org/AnnualMeeting2014/annualmeeting2014.aspx

Global Financial Summit, Feb. 5-8, Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas (Robert Poole speaking). Details at www.freedomfest.com/gfs.

11th Annual Road User Charging Conference, March 5, Brussels, Belgium (Adrian Moore speaking). Details at:  http://roaduserchargingconference.co.uk

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News Notes

Misleading User Tax Report from Tax Foundation. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation, seeking to encourage greater use of the users-pay principle, has repeated a basic mistake it made in a similar study last year. In a report released on January 6th, the headline finding is that, overall, “revenues from gas taxes and tolls pay for only about half of state and local spending on roads.” WRONG. The numbers used by the Tax Foundation--$77.1 billion of state and local user fees and tolls out of total roads and highway spending of $153 billion—omit $46 billion in “federal aid.” But 100% of that federal money comes from highway user taxes. When you add that to state user taxes and tolls, the percentage of user support increases to 80%. But you can be sure that those who seek to divert ever more highway user tax money to non-highway purpose will seize on the Tax Foundation’s well-intended but incorrect report to say that half of what America spends on roads and highways comes from general taxes—so “highways are subsidized, too.”

Park & Ride Lots Too Small for Growing Miami Express Bus Service. The hugely popular express bus services between the Ft. Lauderdale metro area (Broward County) and downtown Miami, enabled by the I-95 Express Lanes, are becoming a victim of their own success. The most popular line, from Miramar to Miami, has outgrown its park & ride lot at a shopping center and is moving its origin, temporarily, to the North Perry Airport, four miles away. And the express bus that begins at Broward’s C.B. Smith Park is also running out of parking spaces there. While these are real problems, they are problems of success, and Broward Transit officials are actively searching for new park & ride locations, as well as planning additional routes.

VMT Increasing Again. The Federal Highway Administration reports that total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) nationwide was 2.3% higher in October than in that month in 2012. And VMT has increased in seven of the first ten months of 2013. Moody’s Investor Services reported in December that it expects VMT on toll roads to increase about 1.5% in 2014. While VMT per capita may have peaked, overall VMT seems to be back in growth mode due to continued population growth and economic recovery.

Trucking’s Role in Freight. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Census Bureau last month released their every-five-year Commodity Flow Survey, and the results show a larger share of goods moved by truck in 2012 than I’d realized. The survey found that trucks hauled 73.7% of all freight by value and, even more surprising to me, 70% of the tonnage (despite many bulk commodity shipments by rail and barge). Trucks are focused on shorter-length trips: the average truck haul was 212 miles. So trucking’s share of ton-miles is considerably lower. Also, only 3% of freight tonnage moved on multiple modes.

Port of Miami Tunnel Roadways Under Way. The Miami Herald reported on January 1st that paving of the roadways of the twin underwater tunnels has begun, with completion of the roadways and entrance portals expected by May. The tunnels will enable trucks, buses, and cars to go to and from the port directly from the regional expressway system, rather than via the congested surface streets of downtown Miami.

PPP Waterway Facilities Moving Forward in Europe. The long-planned French canal to link the Oise and Scheldt Rivers (106 km. long) has been redesigned to lower its estimated cost from $9.6 billion to $5.5 billion, and partial financing has been arranged from the EU’s Trans-European Network fund and the European Investment Bank. Those two developments may lead to renewed private-sector interest in pursuing the project as a long-term PPP; under the original concept, potential bidders viewed the project as not financeable. In the Netherlands, the Dutch government announced on Jan. 3rd that it will issue tenders for several PPP projects for new locks on waterways.

Orange County Turns Down New Express Toll Lanes. Despite Orange County, CA being the birthplace of express toll lanes and PPP concessions (the SR 91 Express Lanes), the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority voted not to proceed with a project to add such lanes to congested I-405 as part of a widening project. That decision will leave a major gap in the emerging network of priced lanes in the five-county greater Los Angeles region.

Toll Truckway Opens in Tampa. A mostly elevated toll connector linking the Port of Tampa with I-4 opened to traffic on Dec. 28th. Although not limited to trucks, its main purpose is to provide a fast link for port-serving trucks to the Interstate highway, bypassing the narrow, congested streets of the Ybor City neighborhood. The connector also gives motorists a direct link between I-4 and the tolled Selmon Expressway.

A Challenge to Smart Growth and Sustainability Planning. The Cato Institute’s Randall O’Toole has written a detailed critique of the set of housing and transportation premises on which the current fashion of sustainability planning is based. Whether you agree or disagree with those principles, you should be familiar with the array of peer-reviewed studies O’Toole has assembled to argue his case that this approach will not accomplish its intended goals. The paper is “Reducing Livability,” and is Policy Analysis No. 740, available on the Cato Institute website.

HELP Passes 20-Year Mark. HELP, Inc. was launched as a PPP in 1993 to assist trucking companies and state highway safety and enforcement efforts. It pioneered the PrePass weigh station clearance that allows certified trucks to bypass weigh stations. PrePass now operates in 31 states with 310 sites in operation or under development. Over 37,000 truck fleets are qualified under this system, operating nearly 460,000 transponder-equipped trucks. And more than half of the PrePass sites also operate weigh in motion (WIM) scales to screen for overweight trucks at highway speeds.

Apologies to Sen. Mark Warner. In last month’s article about the two congressional proposals for an infrastructure finance authority, my brain glitched and I typed (retired) Sen. John Warner rather than the actual sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D, VA). I regret the error.

Monocentric Cities? Several readers questioned my characterizing various large, congested non-US metro areas as “mono-centric.” Prof. Greg Thompson of FSU noted his on-site observations of non-centralized Berlin and various French cities, as well as the fact that in Vancouver more people now leave the central business district by transit each morning for jobs in the suburbs than come into the CBD by transit for jobs there. And demographer Wendell Cox, whose work I was summarizing in my article, agreed that very few major urban areas overseas now have traditional CBDs with 25% or more of the region’s jobs.

Another Pavement Condition Model. My November issue article about the cost of poor-condition pavements noted that the underlying analysis was done using the HDM model. Jack Svadlenak, Senior Economist at Oregon DOT, wrote to tell me that a newer set of models was described in a 2012 report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, NCHRP Report 720, “Estimating the Effects of Pavement Condition on Vehicle Operating Costs.”

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Quotable Quotes

“The Port Authority’s ‘fast-track’ approach to a project [Bayonne Bridge deck replacement] that will not alter the bridge’s footprint has generated more than 5,000 pages of federally mandated archaeological, traffic, fish habitat, soil, pollution, and economic reports that have cost over $2 million. A historical survey of every building within two miles of each end of the bridge alone cost $600,000—even though none would be affected by the project. After four years of work, the environmental assessment was issued in May and took into consideration comments from 307 organizations or individuals. . . . Fifty-five federal, state, and local agencies were consulted, and 47 permits were required from 19 of them. Fifty Indian tribes from as far away as Oklahoma were invited to weigh in on whether the project impinged on native ground that touches the steel-arch bridge’s foundation. Maybe it would have been easier to lower the water than to raise the bridge.”
—Sam Roberts, “High Above the Water, but Awash in Red Tape,” New York Times, Jan. 2, 2014

“There is a long-established precedent for financing infrastructure with capital raised up-front and paid for over time rather than funding it with current cash flow. All of the nation’s private transportation/communications infrastructure has been financed this way. . . . Equally important, long-term credit is the foundation underlying the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market—a market that would not exist were it not for debt issued by cities and local public agencies to finance their capital infrastructure needs. True, debt financing limits states to investing only in credit-worthy projects—i.e., projects that generate a stream of revenue (such as tolls) or are backed by dedicated or availability payments—but then, virtually all transportation megaprojects already fall into this category. In fact, except for mass transit projects and the California High Speed Rail project, no major transportation facilities planned or under construction today are funded with federal appropriations.”
—Ken Orski, “Financing Transportation Infrastructure the Traditional Way,” Innovation News Briefs, Dec. 3, 2013

“Giving harbor deepening money to ports with a weak economic case means less [federal] funding is available for more deserving ports and projects, said Payne, a maritime consultant. . . . It also risks poor returns for local and state governments that are being asked to share in deepening costs. What’s to be done? It’s unlikely the Department of Transportation’s newly established Freight Policy Council will come out with strong guidance on which projects most deserve deepening dollars. And even though there are rumblings of Obama creating another port panel, the political dynamics of pleasing ports in various states won’t change. Ultimately, it falls to ports to take a hard look at their own plans and make sure they are grounded in tough economic analysis, not just aspirations.”
—Mark Szakonyi, “The Water Buffalo in the Room,” The Journal of Commerce, Sept. 30, 2013

“[Secretary Foxx] understands that rail transit, public transit, drives economic development. The goal of any transportation system, especially rail transit, is not to move people. That is not the goal. The goal is economic development at the stations. The means is by moving people.”
—Christopher Leinberger, GWU, quoted in Juliet Eilperin, “Obama Taps Charlotte Mayor to Lead Transportation Department,” The Washington Post, April 28, 2013

“[S]treetcars alone are not enough to spur construction of residential and commercial buildings in neighborhoods with transit service. Just as important are the municipal regulations guiding new development. If zoning prevents large buildings around streetcar corridors, how exactly will streetcars lead to new construction? Transportation engineers are loath to support new streetcar lines because they cannot understand why it makes sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a rail line when a far cheaper bus service would provide similar, or even more, mobility benefits. From the pure perspective of moving people from one place to another, streetcars are irrational investments.”
—Yonah Freemark, MIT, http://nextcity.org/infrastructure/entry/when-it-comes-to-streetcars-zoning-matters-a-look-at-st.-louis-and-portland

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Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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