Currently viewing the tag: "federal policy"
  • www.Recovery.gov is up and running. Nuff said.
  • President Obama talks with the Washington Post, and discusses the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, to be taken up by Congress later this year.

…I think there should be some way for us to — just think how can we rationalize the process to get the most bang for the buck, because the needs are massive and we can’t do everything, and if it’s estimated that just on infrastructure alone it would cost a couple trillion dollars to get our roads, bridges, sewer systems, et cetera, up to snuff, and we know we’re not going to have that money, then it would be nice if we said here are the 10 most important projects and let’s do those first, instead of maybe doing the 10 least important projects but the ones that have the most political pull.

  • Great analysis on the high speed rail stimulus funds from Matthew Yglesias and Politico reports on the last minute inclusion of $9 Billion worth of high speed rail into the Stimulus Package and what that means for Obama’s legacy.
  • In local news…The City Commission will take up the Marlins vote on Wednesday, March 4, but it may still be a no go with a 4/5 vote required to waive the no-bid  contract.
  • Save some Metrorail tokens as souvenirs because they won’t be here for much longer. MDT is prepping for the switch to automated fare collection - welcome to the 21st century, woo hoo!
  • Both City of Miami and Miami-Dade county are refining their  stimulus project wishlists. Interesting, more on these later…

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…South Florida, and especially Miami, would become better-connected: locally, regionally, and internationally. According to this front page Miami Herald article, that is exactly what Mayor Diaz has asked for in his portion of the US Conference of Mayors infrastructure plan wish list. The list, which comprises more than $10 billion worth of projects, is the organizations attempt at shaping Obama’s infrastructure/economic stimulus plan.

The impressive list of projects on both the master list, and Manny’s own, outlines a way to create thousands upon thousands of jobs, while also making our country, and this Magic City, more sustainable and livable. Manny seems to be betting that the Obama administration- who will likely create the country’s largest infrastructure investment since the Interstate Highway system-will be amendable to at least some of the ideas proposed.

Obama has said he wants to make job creation nationwide a priority, and city and county officials estimate that the 1,720 projects on the list would create more than 150,000 jobs.

‘The quickest way to get people back to work is through infrastructure projects that can be rolled out quickly,’ said Diaz, who thinks the port tunnel project alone will create 2,000 jobs.

The wish list is ambitious, but it might be more than just a pipe dream. Though some requests are probably farfetched, others — like much-needed transit improvements — seem to fall in line with Obama’s vision.

Read the article to find out which projects Manny wants to see done here in Miami and South Florida.

A national transportation commission, with the scary sounding name of “National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission,” released a report last week known as Transportation for Tomorrow. This report calls for, among other things, raising the gas tax by 40 cents in five years, creating a new federal bureaucracy, imposing federal regulations on states ability to draw private investment in things like Public-Private Partnerships, and adding a federal transit tax on every transit ticket sold.

Ouch. Let’s look at this thing piece by piece. My first thought on the gas tax was that it wasn’t too bad of an idea. The Federal Highway Trust fund is expected to be short $4.3 billion in 2009, so a higher gas tax would solve the immediate problem. But U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and two other commission members released a dissenting report, where they point out some serious problems with the federal gas tax. First, the federal government already plays too large of a role in transportation funding. Since the feds redistribute the wealth between states, Florida and other states don’t get back what they pay in gas taxes. According to this report, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale Metro area gets only 61 cents for highways for every dollar paid in gas taxes, or 90 cents for the overall transportation network, including transit. It’s bad enough that our area has to pay for highways in Tampa and Orlando through redistribution of the state gas tax. But it’s much worse that we have to pay for transportation improvements in places like Alaska.

The second problem with increasing the gas tax is that it is a flawed system. With more fuel efficient cars and even a few electric cars on the road today, some users are not paying as much as others for the same service. As Secretary Peters pointed out, we need a new alternative. All users should pay for using the road, whether it be at a toll booth or using some kind of GPS mileage system or whatever. But now is a good time for change, as several states are already looking into alternative funding sources. If the federal gas tax is left alone, the shortfall in funding will gradually force states to seek alternatives such as these.

Creating more bureaucracy is a bad thing, especially at the federal level where it will only strengthen the federal control of transportation. Telling states what they can and cannot do with private investment will only hurt projects like I-595 and the Port of Miami Tunnel, and make states even more dependent on federal dollars for transportation improvements.

Taxing transit tickets is sheer lunacy. Thankfully, Peters also comes out against this. Transit agencies set prices to cover as many costs as they can while still attracting the number of riders they need. If the federal government throws a tax on every ticket (the actual commission report says “all trips,” which would apply to free trips like the Miami MetroMover), that will only upset the balance the transit agency has reached between revenue and ridership. They would be forced to sacrifice their ridership or reduce fares and eat the cost of the tax themselves. The tax money would go to the general fund, where it could go towards paying for new highways or someone else’s transit system. So the chances are good that it will take away money from transit agencies. I will personally write to any congressman who dares to introduce such idiocy into a bill and I hope that the thousands of transit riders would also join us in opposing such an idea.

If you want to know who was responsible for this, read their names here. Every commissioner but Mary Peters, Maria Cino, and Rick Geddes supported the report. We’re grateful these three retained enough sanity to dissent.

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As planners, advocates, and community groups, we can condemn poor localized planning to our heart’s content. Heck, we may even win a few battles now and again. However, if we want to win the war, we must carefully examine how federal policy affects transportation and planning.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Federal Department of Transportation’s budget for project funding in Fiscal Year 2008. Using completely backward, archaic philosophies, DOT has set aside $42,000,000,000 for highway projects, and a trifling $1,400,000,000 for transit projects. That’s right - $42 billion for highways and $1.4 billion for transit. We can certainly see where DOT’s priorities still lie.

How on earth are we supposed to improve inner city and regional transit, with the feds only dolling out $1.4 billion for transit projects? How are cities supposed to improve sustainability, reduce congestion, and improve mobility? Plus, when you consider all the money going towards highway building/expansion, it makes it even more difficult for transit systems to compete.

“There’s still a lack of understanding how fundamentally broken the transit program is. The demand for transit has never been higher…at the same time, the federal government substantially underfunds transit, so it’s very competitive to get those funds”, says Brookings Institution fellow Robert Puentes.

The Washington Post elaborates:

Unlike federal highway funds, which states receive based on a formula and may spend as they wish, money for new transit projects is awarded at the discretion of the FTA. The agency doesn’t have much to dole out. The FTA has proposed spending about $1.4 billion on new transit projects next fiscal year, compared with $42 billion that states will receive for highway maintenance and construction, according to federal figures. More than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years, according to a federal report.

In deciding which projects deserve funds, FTA officials consider primarily which would attract enough riders and save them enough time to be worth the investment. They also consider the state and local governments’ ability to help pay for construction, maintenance and operating costs. Other considerations include impact on air quality, development around stations and the ability to move lower-income workers to jobs.

FTA evaluations can take years, because it rates a project — and grants permission for it to move forward — at several different points, controlling it from preliminary engineering through construction.

So there you have it. This is what Miami is up against; this is what America is up against. It goes to show that our federal government is not serious whatsoever about curbing driving demand, pursuing sustainability, or fighting climate change. Until this gross discrepancy is corrected, we cannot expect any appreciable improvement in transit, traffic congestion, or the quality of our urban environments.

How do we fix this? It comes down to politics. We need to help elevate smart growth to the forefront of political issues for subsequent election campaigns. These planning issues are so important, so critical to millions of people, it’s unfathomable that they have not commanded more press time. I mean, after all, smart growth lumps together so many classic issues like the environment, energy, oil (gas prices), climate change, health care, and poverty. The trick will be finding a way to consolidate these issues, which will require a unified effort by leaders of each sub-issue.

Sooner or later it will happen, so let’s do what we can to make it sooner.

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