Transportation Experts Blog

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Biography provided by participant

Deron Lovaas is the Federal Transportation Policy Director for NRDC. He has worked at the intersection of transportation, energy and environmental policy for fifteen years and recently served as the chief strategist for major bipartisan oil savings policy and the 2005 federal transportation bill. He is also a member of the Board of 2020 Vision, an energy and security group, and Chair of the Air Quality Public Advisory Committee for the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region. Lovaas has testified before Congress several times and authored numerous analyses, reports and articles. He has his own blog at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas. Previous to his seven years at NRDC, Lovaas worked, among other places, for the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and Maryland's Department of Environment. Lovaas is a graduate of the University of Virginia who grew up in other countries including Honduras, Panama and Niger.

Recent Responses

May 24, 2013 03:06 PM

First of all, there's nothing about the emerging trend that Baxandall and Dutzik have done yeoman's work analyzing that is "sudden." This sank in for me when I saw a bar graph from Pisarski and Cambridge Systematics displaying annual VMT growth rates averaged by decades. There were 6 bars, starting with the 1950s, and they looked like a staircase going down. In the '50s, growth was nearly at a blistering 5 percent per year. By the 2000s, it was almost down to one percent. Steadily, the rate has decelerated.

This is why I thought AASHTO's climate goal of halving VMT growth per annum from two percent to one percent was sheer genius, assuming they didn't really want to drive any of that with policy. When they adopted it, it wasn't difficult to see that we were already headed in that direction! This is also why I was pleased that PIRG is digging into the most recent, emerging trends, especially those associated with demographics. What is happening with the Boomers, and the Millenials? Some of what Baxandall and Dutzik discuss, especially with regard to that generati

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February 22, 2013 04:05 PM

Reason did us all a real service by rolling out its analysis of the state of repair of the road system this week. It's good news indeed that in spite of all the rhetoric about infrastructure falling apart, road conditions have been improving so a small percentage of them are in "poor" condition. On the other hand, a substantial percentage of bridges are still "structurally deficient" and there is tremendous variation between states vis-a-vis deferred maintenance.

The upshot, I think, is that "fix-it-first" is a challenge that a fiscally constrained nation can tackle successfully. We're already headed that way. Road and bridge repair jobs get a lot of bang for the buck, and as reporter Michael Grunwald pointed out they are fiscally responsible since they take care of a backlog but don't generate more future repair costs.

The interstate highway network in this nation is extensive at about 50,000 miles, and along with fixing it (and other infrastructure such as public transportation) something else we should do is develop serious goals reg

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February 14, 2013 04:48 PM

Most readers are familiar, I'm sure, with Stephen Covey of the Seven Habits fame. One of his many pithy bits of wisdom is apt here, namely that you ought to make sure that in addition to climbing your ladder quickly you oughta make sure it's up against the right wall in the first place. TTI needs to re-think things methodologically.

The guy who figured this out is Joe Cortright of CEOs for Cities, and he laid out the case against this ranking three years ago. You can listen to him debating TTI co-author Tim Lomax here. Lomax seems impervious to the critique in his response, and in this year's ranking it seems that holds true.

There are some issues with focussing on road congestion as the transportation enemy #1, as this report tends to encourage due to the massive amount of media coverage it receives and due to the simple fact that we all hate road congestion. As James says in his response above, focussing on this leaves a lot of commuters out of the picture entirely. The latest Census shows how many of us ride bus or rail,

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January 17, 2013 10:35 AM

I can't help but think that Governor McDonnell assumed media coverage would focus almost exclusively on elimination of the gas tax. This levy is hugely unpopular, so leading with that was at least politically smart.

But then there are the details of the plan (or in some cases, lack thereof).

First of all, moving away from the gas tax flies in the face of the important "users pay" principle. To be clear, I strongly disagree with others who define "users" so narrowly as to forbid investments in public or nonmotorized transportation options. Based on our public opinion research, I think most Americans also see themselves as users of a variety of transportation services, not just "highway users," and consequently (and correctly) believe it's fair for gas tax revenue to support multiple choices.

"User pays" is an important principle, especially since such payment raises the price of fuel -- albeit modestly -- so it's more closely aligned with environmental and social costs of burning it in autos. This proposal violates tha

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December 10, 2012 01:59 PM

This essay was written by and posted on behalf of my NRDC colleague Rob Perks.

America's love affair with the automobile seems to be entering a new phase. At this stage of the romance, our passion for cars has cooled into more of a marriage of convenience for a lot of us. Sure, we still like our cars well enough but with the hassle of traffic and the cost of gas, many of us (especially the Boomers and Millennials) just aren't that into driving as much these days. America seems to have a new love, and it turns out to be an old flame: transit.

That's right, good old public transportation is making a comeback. Ridership on buses and trains is soaring, with combined bus and rail surpassing levels not seen since the 1950s -- before America's car craze. And why not? Transit offers us so much: it boosts economic development, eases congestion, saves oil, reduces pollution, promotes public health, and it creates jobs.

Not only does America need more transit, Americans want more of it. In fact, three out of four

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November 16, 2012 10:35 AM

There are some good answers to this week's question already. New financing including greater collaboration with the private sector is a hot topic, justifiably so. There are a variety of options for bringing more resources and creativity to bear in transportation, and the new book Collaborative Governance offers a conceptual framework for development of new arrangements and partnerships in this vein. However, this is just one tool available to policy makers, and it will require government to climb a learning curve since shared discretion means that purposes need to be well-aligned, especially since such joint work often entails a mismatch of information and incentives that could lead to damaging outcomes. It also requires iterative learning and adjustments in the relationship over time; agreements are likely to be amended repeatedly.

Still there's lot of promise here, which is why I praise new initiatives likely to move both sectors along with collaboration on infrastructure such as the

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June 20, 2012 04:38 PM

“Streamlining” is a loaded term. “Cutting public accountability and oversight” is a more apt, less rhetorically lofty term to describe what some in Congress—particularly some in the House GOP—propose.

In reality, with the potential streamlining measures, we are entering dangerous territory with great potential for harmful consequences.

NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has been one of the most successful and respected bills in US history. Versions of it have been adopted in countries around the world as well as in many state governments.

NEPA's main goal is to ensure that, in the course of carrying out their large million or billion dollar project, organizations have "looked before they leaped,” and done a thorough job of it. As a society, we don't want large organizations to build with blinders on. We want them to actually look around at the places and people where they are building. This way, they consider the effects and alternatives before spending that money and impacting local schools, co

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May 4, 2012 07:41 AM

This is one of those issues where a claim has been repeated so often it seems true. And yet there's less here than meets the eye. To put a sharper point on what Emil says, there is little evidence that environmental reviews are the reason for project delays. The Congressional Research Service issued its latest report on this just last month, and right there on page 2 is a key finding:

"Despite the focus on the NEPA process, it is unclear whether or how changes to that process

would result in faster highway project delivery. Available evidence regarding potential causes of

project delays associated with environmental compliance is largely anecdotal and specific to

unique, individual projects. Still, that evidence, while limited, points to issues or requirements

apart from NEPA as more common causes of project delays.”

It's worth unpackaging this a bit. First, and this is one of the most annoying things about this debate, is the fact that it is driven by anecdotes. If you've worked at a

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April 24, 2012 06:11 PM

Double meaning intended. The transportation system, as is well documented, still suffers - in spite of the injection of funding from ARRA - from a deferred maintenance problem. And the political and policymaking system is still broken down.

Yes, the Senate managed to pass a bill. But it is -- or rather was, since it took long enough to pass and then the House dithered further -- just a two-year deal. And while it has notable performance-oriented and structural reforms, as Emil Frankel and the BPC have advocated, it also has some criticism-worthy odds and ends like those Ken mentions.

But the House couldn't even do that. Determined to rely only on a majority of the majority rather than reaching across the aisle, GOP leaders put forth multiple proposals and never got to 218 except by passing a non-bill transportation extension with some riders such as the Keystone pipeline added to it.

The Miller Center's new report on transportation is worth a read, since it includes not just a helpful communications strategy (and I really do think we talk too much to ourselve

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March 20, 2012 06:27 PM

The House should pass the Senate bill. As Emil says, the bill has some foundational pieces requiring actual performance-measurement and objectives-setting that can be built upon when it expires in less than two years. It's a good, if imperfect, piece of legislation.

I have seen the vitriolic posts in the blogosphere on the Senate bill, and chuckled when I saw the "crap sandwich" quote. These rhetorical flourishes, however, remind me of the key phrase from a speech Republican President Teddy Roosevelt gave a hundred years ago: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly..."

The critics aren't actually in the arena. They proffer proposals that don't succeed because they're unprincipled, for example linking speculative drilling revenue to transportation finance for the first time ever, moving away from user fees. Or they are

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March 9, 2012 03:16 PM

I know that phrase is overused, but I really think it's what is capsizing the transportation program in Congress right now.

What are the forces at work?

First, I think there is the notion that there's no such thing as a good tax. President Reagan talked up "user fees" and "revenue enhancements" for this program. The program needs to grow to underpin a growing economy, and to deliver a variety of options better suited to an aging population and a world where oil is becoming a "dearer" and therefore more expensive-to-extract commodity as the Economist noted in its new issue. As Bill Lind says, it needs to build infrastructure for likely future, not a museum for a glorious past.

That requires program growth, but everyone is allergic to taxes (and unfortunately, Bob, I think the allergy extends to tolls). The federal gas tax hasn't increased in nearly 20 years. That's ludicrous.

Of course, the upside to this is that waste is likely to be cut out of the program. Renewed fiscal discipline for a program that's grown willy-nilly f

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February 29, 2012 10:27 AM

First of all, just to inject some context into this discussion: These bills are rarely passed on time. TEA-21 took almost a year, and SAFETEA-LU took almost two. And those were debated when the revenue pie was expanding as opposed to the chronic shortfalls now afflicting the program.

Aviation law was extended 23 times over five years, and it's a much smaller bill than surface transportation.

Building majorities in both chambers and assuring a Presidential signature takes perseverence, negotiation and time.

I hope those in the transportation industry will explain the consequences of not passing a long-term law. The main one that concerns me is that we're missing a chance to enact a new national transportation investment strategy at a time when other national governments aren't sitting on the sidelines. We need more investment, and more importantly we need smart, targeted investment that's a downpayment on a 21st century infrastructure that can undergird more economic development.

I long for the President to use his bully pulpit to push for a bold new pr

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February 10, 2012 07:56 AM

The House bill is problematic on a number of fronts. First of all, consider the titles that contain the program new funding would "buy," written by the Republicans on T & I (not a single Democrat voted for the bill reported out of committee). Title 3 is an extreme wish list undermining procedural protections due to the 40-year-old National Environmental Policy Act. I have long been appalled at the interest in legislating away project delays by targeting this part of the process. What little study has been done shows there are other reasons for delays. More study and informed policymaking is warranted if reducing project delays is truly the goal, although I suspect that this is mostly for the sake of simplistic rhetorical bashing of environmental reviews.

CMAQ is opened up to single-occupant-vehicle-carrying projects for the first time ever. Dedicated bicycle and pedestrian support is abolished, and to further stick a finger in the eye of those who bike and walk the paltry amount of funding for bicycle and pedestrian coordinators is eliminated. These are some

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January 6, 2012 03:32 PM

There are three ways to look at this. First, what's needed? To help prop up the economy in the short term, and to build a framework for lifting GDP in the future, it's pretty clear we need a lot more investment in transportation. And this investment should be better aimed, at metro areas rather than at states. Charleston, Savannah, Nashville, Seattle, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc. -- these will be the units that compete in the global economy rather than states.

Second, what's possible? Huge contrast here. A radical extremist -- Grover Norquist -- hamstrings Congress with a facile pledge about taxes (Who doesn't hate taxes? What a super-easy campaign goal). So there will probably be no more revenue for a program. This makes a 5-6 year bill hard to contemplate, especially with a sluggish economy and remarkable progress in fuel-effiency driving down projected revenues for the highway trust fund. Extensions are the default alternative. However, the Senate EPW and Commerce Committees have cobbled together a viable option -- a two-year bill at current funding. They might just thread

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November 3, 2011 03:18 PM

It's hard to take this as a serious policy proposal from the Republican Leadership. First, because it is a drop in the bucket vis-a-vis what a number of studies say is needed to reduce our deferred maintenance backlog, to expand linkages between our metro areas, and to enhance capacity within them in order to remain competitive in a ruthless global economy. One estimate I heard recently is that this might generate a few billion dollars in revenue over the next decade. And that assumes that revenue-sharing with states can be negotiated to federal advantage.

Second, because this flies in the face of the "user fee" principle that members of both Parties have stuck with for decades, something that President Reagan spoke about in his ultimately successful effort to secure a five-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase in the early 1980s. The gas tax may not be a perfect instrument, and road-user charges are spreading as a complementary (and perhaps one day substitute) tool, but it has done yeoman's work to-date. Disconnecting funding from use entirely would remove an incenti

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September 20, 2011 01:02 PM

Based on some of the comments below I'm not sure writers have actually read the study, which I commissioned with colleagues at Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Reason Foundation and the American Bus Association. I thinks it's a pretty good model for more such analysis, and interesting in part due to the dearth of assessments without one of two polar opposite punch lines ("Let's slash this" or "Don't touch this").

First of all, we don't propose simply eliminating the whole program (although I know some of us believe that's advisable). We took a subset of communities that could benefit from service from a cheaper, cleaner alternative mode -- 38 of the possible 152. We stuck with the lower 48 states, and looked only at those that are less than 150 miles from one another. The purpose of the study was to examine an alternative way of linking communities into the transportation network, not cut them off, in order to save money and reduce pollution.

Second -- and this is a tribute to the consultant -- we wanted to do a solid job of quantifying cost diffe

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September 2, 2011 03:36 PM

Just looking at some of the items on the APTA web site's list of recent analyses makes me shudder:

Nearly Three in Four Private Sector Transit Businesses' Activity Decreased or Remained Flat Due to Lack of Public Transit Investment Nearly 80 Percent of Public Transit Systems Forced to Implement Fare Increases or Service Cuts Due to Flat or Decreased Local and State Funding

And of course we're all aware of the state of disrepair on portions of the road network and - dangerously - the bridge network. I remain hopeful that support for federal programs that can help remedy that is strong enough that it will trump the simple-minded, overly rigid doctrine that seems to prevail among some in Congress right now that the only way to deal with government is to shrink it and drown it in a bathtub.

Senator Whitehouse of the EPW Committee broke out a compelling analogy during their hearing about transportation in July, comparing the nation to a homeowner facing a leaky, broken roof. A smart homeowner would realize that repairs should be made

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July 15, 2011 02:35 PM

On the one hand, the transportation cuts mean that state and local jurisdictions would have to innovate in order to pay for roads or new highway infrastructure, likely turning to road and congestion pricing. With a consequent cost of driving somewhat closer to its true cost to society, people would have more information when choosing about their means of getting around.

There are some other positives. The plan seeks to broaden TIFIA and RIIF participation, which would make it easier for rail and transportation infrastructure projects to obtain low-interest loans. The draft also includes a maritime component to support domestic shipbuilding. This provision would expand short-sea shipping, a possible alternative to truck transport that could cut congestion and pollution.

However, overall the bill would ditch far too much needed investment by cutting highway and mass transit funding by one-third. Lack of strategic investment is short-sighted and the consequences of this are even greater in the context of a 6-year versus a 2-year bill. We must direct funds to brid

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