Transportation Experts Blog


Emil H. Frankel

Biography provided by participant

Emil H. Frankel is the Director of Transportation Policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, and an independent consultant on transportation policy and public management issues. In early 2008 he served, as Acting Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. From 2005 to 2007 he was a Principal Consultant of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the international engineering and consulting firm. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Frankel was Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation from 2002 to 2005. Appointed by President George W. Bush, Frankel played a key role in the coordination and development of the Administration's proposal to reauthorize the Federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs. He also provided policy leadership in such areas as intermodal freight transportation, reform of the Nation's intercity passenger rail system, transportation project financing, and the application of information technologies to transportation systems operations. From 1995 to 2001 Frankel was Of Counsel to Day, Berry & Howard in the law firm's Stamford, Connecticut, office. During that time he was also a Management Fellow at Yale University's School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, engaged in teaching and research on issues of transportation, energy and environmental policy and public management. In 1995 he was a Joint Fellow at the Center for Business and Government and the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Frankel was Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation from 1991 to 1995, responsible for managing an agency with more than 4,000 employees and an annual budget of over $1 billion. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a senior executive of The Palmieri Company, a national firm engaged in business and real estate reorganizations. Previously, Frankel served as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as a Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York. Frankel served as a founding Vice Chair of the I-95 Corridor Coalition and as a Director of the Regional Plan Association of New York He currently serves on RPA's Connecticut Committee. He was a Selectman of the Town of Weston, Connecticut, from 1999 to 2001. Frankel received his Bachelor's Degree from Wesleyan University and his LL.B. from Harvard Law School, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Manchester University in the United Kingdom. From 1981 to 1997 he was a Trustee of Wesleyan University, where he is now a Trustee Emeritus.

Recent Responses

June 5, 2013 01:05 PM

There seems to be a broad consensus on the need to invest in America's infrastructure and on the importance of assuring that transportation facilities and systems are able to support a productive and efficient national economy. However, despite that consensus, America is substantally underinvesting in its infrastructure, as is evident from the recent "report card" of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the December 2007 report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, the reports of several organizations and "think tanks," and the biennial "Condition and Performance" reports of U.S Department of Transportation. Importantly, there is no agreement about how to establish a sustainable stream of revenues to support the necessary level of federal infrastructure investment spending.

But the basic elements or principles of current national transportation policy can be seen in both action and inaction. First, with federal transportation spending stagnant (or even declining in real terms), and Congress and the

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April 11, 2013 06:05 PM

Although the gasoline tax is less and less effective, as a proxy for a user fee, it is likely to remain a significant revenue source for surface transportation programs at both the federal and state levels for many years. However, as has been noted, greater fuel efficiency, the introduction of alternative fuels, stagnating vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and, most importantly, the failure to increase motor fuels tax rates at the federal level and in many (although not all) states have caused the gasoline tax to provide a decreasing proportion of the revenues needed to operate and invest in surface transportation facilities and networks.

As many transportation professionals and experts have advocated over the past several years, a mileage-based user charge (or VMT fee) would be a much more accurate and appropriate proxy for use of the transportation system. However, the challenges to the adoption of such mileage-based fees, particularly at the federal level, seem daunting, not least because of public misconceptions about privacy issues.

If there is to be a broad ad

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April 5, 2013 05:00 PM

The President is to be complimented for continuing to emphasize the need to invest in the nation's transportation infrastructure. While there may be some disagreement about whether the American people see transportation infrastructure in a state of "collapse," clearly many transportation facilities and networks are aging, deteriorating, and congested. As has always been true, America's long-term economic growth and prosperity depend on a productive and efficient transportation system, and we have not been investing enough to assure that those conditions are established and maintained.

The President's remarks and recommendations in Miami are most interesting, however, because they represent a continuing and general shift away from current and user-based federal funding of transportation improvements to greater reliance on financing tools, on leveraging federal funds, and on general revenues. For the last several years funding federal surface transportation grant programs at the levels authorized by Congress has depended on transfers to the Highway Trust Fund (H

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March 5, 2013 04:13 PM

In densely populated and urbanized regional corridors passenger rail can play a key role, in providing efficient and essential intercity transportation services. That fact has been demonstrated throughout the developed world, as it has in the United States, in such regions, as the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Specifically, between city-pairs located 250 to 500 miles apart in urbanized regions, there is clear evidence that there is sufficient market demand for regular, reliable, and frequent intercity passenger rail services and that passenger rail can compete successfully against air and automobile travel. In these circumstances, such rail services can be "profitable" (exclusive of amortization of capital assets) and commercially sustainable.

These facts have not been sufficiently recognized in national passenger rail policy in the United States over the last four decades. Amtrak is not truly a "national passenger rail system," but rather a combination into a single corporate framework of both viable and potentially commerically successful regional ope

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February 20, 2013 06:29 PM

As any accountant or financial executive knows, there is a difference between investing and spending. However, given the nation's fiscal challenges, persistent budget deficits, and high unemployment, voters and members of Congress seem resistant, to say the least, to an expanded national program of funding transportation projects, however described. Resources for investment are limited, and there is a need for those investments to be targeted on those elements of transportation infrastructure that are most essential to economic growth and to other national benefits. Indeed, the case can be made that such "wise" transportation investments are more, not less, urgent in the current economic and fiscal environment.

Despite ASCE's failing grades for the nation's infrastructure and its quantification of a funding gap of over $2 trillion to bring America's infrastructure to a state of good repair, as Ken Orski and others have noted, the American public does not generally perceive a national crisis or a transportation system that is unsafe and at physical risk. Inste

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February 6, 2013 03:58 PM

The best ideas for transportation mobility are hardly new, but they remain largely untried. Surface transportation remains, in my view, one of the least innovative sectors of the American economy. It sometimes seems that the last significant technological innovation in surface transportation was the invention of the internal combustion engine more than a century ago. Perhaps, it was really the introduction of the wheel!

For more than 25 years we have been talking about the promise of applying information technologies (IT) to the operation of surface transportation facilities, networks, and vehicles. In recent years there has been a great deal of progress, in introducing in-vehicle navigation devices and safety technologies (such as crash-avoidance systems) in the private marketplace. However, except for greater utlization of electronic tolling systems, like EZPass, precious little has occured in the public sector. For example, America's public transit agencies remain almost totally characterized by fixed-route and fixed-schedule services, despite the increased need f

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December 17, 2012 05:22 PM

While federal transporation funding is less directly affected by the looming "fiscal cliff," there could be impacts on transportation, resulting from the outcomes of broader policy considerations of budget deficits, spending cuts, and comprehensive tax reform. Despite the existence of a dedicated revenue stream, a trust fund, and contract authority -- all of which makes most federal transportation funding largely immune to the direct impacts of the sequestration, scheduled for January 1, 2013 -- a condition of constrained public resources for infrastructure investment is likely to remain the dominant "fact of life" for the transportation sector for many years.

For the foreseeable future, the level of transportation funding is likely to remain stagnant, as the proceeds of federal motor fuels taxes, on which surface transportation programs depend, decline. Over the last three or four years almost $35 billion has been transferred from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), in order to keep HTF solvent, and to maintain the program levels autho

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November 20, 2012 02:52 PM

The strongest argument for tolling is that federal funding for surface transportation is stagnant, and is likely to remain so for many years. Yet, the needs for the restoration and rebuilding of the nation's sytem of highways, bridges, tunnels, and key transit and commuter facilities are growing. To a significant degree, forms of user-based revenues, other than the federal gasoline tax, will have to become the primary sources of investment capital for the renewal of those elements of our transportation system, critically related to national goals of economic growth, national connectivity, and metropolitan access. Tolling of existing, as well as of new, Interstate Highways would provide important investment resources, as well as allow more thoughtful means to influence how and when travellers use the nation's most congested transportation facilities.

In an era of severely constrained resources for surface transportation, states and metropolitan regions should be afforded greater flexibility to fund and finance their transportation facilities and networks. In the absenc

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November 14, 2012 11:52 AM

It still seems highly unlikely that an increase in federal motor fuels taxes will be enacted either in the lame-duck session of this Congress or in the new Congress, unless such an increase is part of a "grand bargain" that addresses entitlements, spending reductions in domestic discretionary and defense spending, and comprehensive tax reform. Inclusion of an increase in the federal gasoline tax, as part of such a broad program of deficit reduction, seems unlikely, although it was recommended by Simpson-Bowles and almost certainly represents the only possible way that it might occur.

As the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the Eno Center for Transportation (Eno) noted in their recent report, "The Consequences of Reduced Federal Transportation Investment," we face the very real possibility of stagnating, if not declining, federal funding of transportation over the next several years. Increasingly, states and localities are recognizing that they will bear a heavier burden of investing in transportation infrastructure in coming years. In the absence o

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November 8, 2012 05:06 PM

Concern about adaptation to climate change and, partcularly, to rising sea levels has grown among transportation executives and policy makers over the last few years, as it has become increasingly evident that significant steps to mitigate these trends (aside from the implementation of more rigorous fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles) are unlikely to occur in the near future and would, in any event, come too late to alter the impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions already in the atmosphere.

Many transportation agencies have begun to take prospective steps to adapt to climate change by building rising sea levels and the risks of more severe storms into the designs of facilities that are-to-be-constructed. But these changes in design criteria, important as they are, would offer protection only in the future. Super Storm Sandy raised the urgent question of whether federal, state, and local governments are prepared to invest the hundreds of billions -- or, more likely, trillions -- of dollars into retrofitting existing infrastructure and constructing new storm

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October 16, 2012 05:18 PM

As I noted in my response to last week's National Journal question, what we urgently need is reform. With scarce resources we need to have institutional structures and analytical procedures in place that will allow us to make better and wiser investment decisions. The provisions in MAP-21 that consolidate programs and that address goals and performance are important first steps, in moving in the direction of a more accountable federal surface transportation program, but the key will be building on these foundational steps through their implementation by the U.S. Department of Transportation, by state and local agencies, and by MPOs and through future rounds of legislation.

We need, also, to define more clearly the core federal role in transportation, to provide for sustainable funding for transportation investments, and to remove the federal barriers that constrain the flexibility and innovation of states and localities, in developing funding sources and in delivering pojects.

The "big ideas" are really the tedious and incremental, but necessary, step

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October 10, 2012 02:13 PM

While sequestration, per se, will have only modest direct effects on federal transportation spending (contract authority, deriving from both the highway and aviation trust funds, is excluded from sequestration), the long-term trend is for stagnant, if not declining, federal support for state and local transportation investment. As the National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) noted in its June 2011 report and again in its more recent "Consequences Report" (September 2012), the nation's on-going fiscal challenges and the likelihood of severely constrained investment resources make fundamental programmatic reform even more urgent.

Even though the recently enacted MAP-21 would maintain -- or even slightly increase -- current levels of federal surface transportation funding over the now-remaining two years of this legislation, to do so will require an additional transfer of almost $20 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), on top of almost $35 billion of such transfers over the last few years, and wou

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September 10, 2012 01:34 PM

While there is a temptation to continue to debate national transportation issues "inside the Beltway," it is unlikely that the interest of transportation stakeholder and advocacy groups and of think tanks will be enought to motivate federal policy makers to address these matters again in the next year or two. Congress will act on surface transportation again only if they feel pressure from their constituents to do so, and that pressure seems unlikely to develop to any significan degree during the current campaigns.

Unless and until there is a broad national consensus around the need to invest in America's infrastructure, even in challenging economic and fiscal circumstance -- indeed, especially, in such times-- and to reform fundamentally transportation programs and planning processes, we cannot expect further significant Congressionl action on these subjects. .

The current Presidential and Congressional campaigns present opportunities for broad-ranging debates on national transportation policy and funding, but, alas, it appears unlikely that these will

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August 7, 2012 05:17 PM

In the present atmosphere of partisan and ideological stalemate, it is hard to imagine that a "grand swap" of transportation and Medicaid programs would have much chance of enactment. Moreover, this particular swap would appear to lack a driving logic: there is little nexus between the two program areas, and both state and national interests are involved in many transportation projects and programs.

To be sure, federal funding for surface transportation has stagnated, and may even decline, in the context of persistent annual budget deficits, a growing national debt, and the continued unwillingness of Congress even to consider increasing user-based transportation-related taxes and fees. In these circumstance, it is almost certain that states and localities will have to bear more of the burden of maintaining and restoring transportation assets, despite their own very serious fiscal challenges. The recent results in Georgia notwithstanding, there is a great deal of evidence that state and local referanda and initiatives to increase and dedicate specific taxes to

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July 23, 2012 03:58 PM

There is a broad consensus that motor fuels taxes no longer serve as effective proxies for use. Moreover, dwindling political support has made it difficult to increase them to rates that are adequate to support appropriate investment in the nation's transportation system. These circumstances would seem to demand reform, in order to establish a sustainable revenue stream for transportation, but the political will in most places -- certainly, at the federal level -- is lacking.

While it is quite unclear that there will be a "grand bargain" about the nation's budget deficits and rising national debt any time soon or that such a grand bargain, if it were to be achieved, would include addressing user-based revenue for transportation investment, it seems clear to me that the transportation funding issue will only be addressed in the context on the resolution of these broader fiscal matters.

Even then, the shift to more direct and sustainable forms of user-based revenues, such as a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, would seem to face daunting political challeng

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June 26, 2012 05:38 PM

With all of the uncertainty about the length of the bill, the levels of funding, the allocations between states, and the substantive provisions of a surface transportation bill that might emerge from the conference committee (or, indeed, if one is to emerge at all), it is difficult to address the issues of what is to be gained by such a bill and by whom.

For state transportation agencies and regional and local transit authorities, and for the construction companies and the engineering and consulting firms that provide services to them, a bill of longer duration and of established funding levels will be of great value and importance. For one thing, these agencies and companies will be able to plan and to staff with greater certainty. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of a transportation consulting firm.)

However, the question remains, what opportunities for fundamental programmatic reform may have been sacrificied, in order to achieve this certainty, if it is, in fact, contained in the conference committee report and the final bill. Both a

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June 8, 2012 06:08 PM

The nation's fiscal crisis, and the fact that federal resources available for investment in the nation's transportation system are likely to be constrained for many years, create an urgent need for reform in the way that federal transportation programs are structured and implemented. As the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) has advocated, federal funds should be used to address national goals, and principles of outcomes, performance, measurement, and accountability should come to characterize federal programs.

These essential reforms will necessarily prompt a reorientation of the federal-state partnership in surface transportation programs. This does not mean that the federal government should, or will, exercise more (or less) oversight of state and local program implementation, but, instead, the nature of federal oversight should change. If there is to be federal funding support for state and local transportation programs and projects, Congress should be clear about the national goals that are to be pursued, even as the federal government is permissive about how,states a

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May 22, 2012 06:28 PM

Whatever the outcome of the current Congressional process on authoriziing federal surface transportation programs, the longer-term trend is clear: the federal share of transportation investment is, at best, stagnating and, at worst, declining. These circumstances reverse a trend of half a century or more of growing federal surface transportation funding. It is evident that a greater portion of this funding and investment burden will now fall on states and localities.

But that is not the same thing, as devolution. There remains an important, if still inadequately defined, federal role in transportation. There are national goals and national purposes in transportation, and some projects are clearly national (to greater or lesser degrees) in scope and impact. There is, however, no clear line between these national, state, and local interests. Most "mega" projects involve a mix of interests: CREATE in Chicago has obvious local and Illinois benefits, but this program of rail and grade crossing improvements is probably most significant, in terms of the national

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May 1, 2012 06:05 PM

It appears likely that conference committee on the surface transportation authorization legislation will consider environmental streamlining. Both the Senate- and House-passed bills that are before the conference committee addressed this issue. In that connection, there are several steps that can be taken that would benefit the delivery of transportation projects without reducing appropriate environmental protections or without allowing important and relevant environmental impacts to be ignored. The most important of these is to move toward concurrent, rather than sequential, consideration of environmental issues and the granting of permits, and to introduce the mitigation of environmental impacts into the earliest possible stages of program and project planning. Another important step that would allow projects to proceed more quickly, and would reduce costs, would be to expand the area of categorical exclusions to include improvements or changes within existing transportation rights-of-way.

However, it is important to note that environmental planning and permitting is

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April 20, 2012 05:25 PM

A VMT fee, or some similar system or systems of user-based charges, is likely to emerge over time, as a principal source of funding for the nation's highway and road system. As two national commissions and a range of organizatins, including the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), have noted, motor fuels taxes are not sustainable sources of revenue for transportation. Indeed, a decline in transportation's dependence on petroleum is in the national interest and will, in any event, be the result of market- and regulatory-driven improvements in energy efficiency.

However, this transition will not happen soon, and we are likely to remain largely dependent upon gasoline and diesel taxes at both the federal and state levels for some time. Moreover, the political, financial, and technological hurdles to the introduction of a federal VMT charge seem substantial. Thus, as other respondents to this question have noted, change is likely to come from the bottom up, that is, VMT charges and more extensive use of tolling and other user charges almost certainly will be first introduced at

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April 2, 2012 03:17 PM

The on-going saga of passing legislation to authorize federal surface transportation programs -- legislation that is now more than two-and-a-half years overdue -- reminds us that two overriding public policy issues are intertwined: first, the scope of the national interest in surface transportation; and, second, the manner and level of the appropriate sources of revenue to support such a clearly defined federal program.

Although rarely noted, one of the most important points made in the excellent report of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (the Financing Commission), issued in early 2009, was that the level of federal gasoline tax increase to be recommended depended upon the scope of the national highway system (and other key national transportation interests) that had to be supported by federally-generated transportation-related revenues.

As the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), two national commissions, and a multitude of organizations and groups have repeatedly noted over the last few years, the United States is not investing

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March 20, 2012 04:47 PM

There appears to be much in the Senate-passed surface transportation authorization bill, MAP-21, that conservative members of the House of Representatives should be able to support, such as, establishing a foundation for incorporating values of goals, performance, and accountability into the federal surface transportation programs, emphasizing preservation and restoration of existing transportation facilities, consolidating and simplifying federal highway programs, and expanding the TIFIA program, in order to leverage greater private and public investment in transportation projects.

MAP-21 is not a perfect bill, by any means, and it does not go as far in some areas, as the Bipartisan Policy Center has recommended, but it is an important beginning.

While spending under MAP-21 would exceed transportation-related revenues to some degree during the short two-year term of the Bill, so would have the original five-year HR 7, drafted and proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T & I). Both bills would require, to greater and lesser degrees,

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March 8, 2012 03:50 PM

In some significant ways, consideration of reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs in this Congress is significantly different from prior bills over the last several decades both substantively and procedurally.

First, the Senate bill (MAP-21), and to some degree the bill reported out by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T & I), offers some significant first steps toward introducing performance management in the federal programs. MAP-21 has been described as a foundational bill. While it does not go as far in its attention to goals, outcomes, performance, and accountability, as has been recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) and other groups over the last three or four years, MAP-21 would establish new ground in its emphases on a consolidated highway performance program and on goals and performance management in the implementation of this program. While NTPP has argued that the goals and performance measures should be national in scope, MAP-21 is based on a view that neither

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February 22, 2012 06:43 PM

We are two and a half years beyond the expiration of SAFETEA-LU, and it is impossible to imagine that a new surface transportation authorization bill will be enacted before the current extension of SAFETEA-LU (its eighth), along with authority for the federal motor fuels taxes, expires on March 31st. Indeed, enactment of a new bill in this Congress seems equally unlikely. These are almost unprecedented circumstances for surface transportation legislation.

Only in the Senate, where the Majority and Minority Leaders and the Chairs, Ranking Members, and Members of the relevant authorizing and revenue-raising committees seem committed to the enactment of a broadly bipartisan surface transportation authorization bill (albeit one for only two years), do the prospects for passage of a bill in this session seem promising.

Unfortunately, neither the Budget proposals of the Obama Administration, nor the actions of the House Leadership have enhanced the prospects for enactment of a surface transportation authorization bill this year. For its part, the Administration never f

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February 9, 2012 07:14 PM

I have been generally pessimistic about the likelihood of enacting surface transportation authorization legislation in 2012, and I remain uncertain about how to evaluate these prospects, in light of significant activity in both Houses of Congress. In particular, I don't know whether I should regard HR 7 -- with all of the controversial elements added by various House committees to the original bill passed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T & I) -- as a serious effort to enact legislation. Is the result, instead, merely a political statement about energy, jobs, and other issues in a Presidential election year?

Still, a very wise person, one far more experienced than I in such matters, reminds me that there can be no conference committee to "iron out" differences between House and Senate, unless both Houses of Congress pass bills..

However one might feel about the specifics, provisions added to the surface transportation bill, reported out by T & I, by the Energy, Natural Resources, and Ways and Means Committee seem inconsistent

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February 2, 2012 05:17 PM

The issue is not whether there is "good spending" or "bad spending." Of greater significance is the importance of recognizing the nature and value of investment in the nation's transportation infrastructure. Some have claimed that "investment" is just another word for "spending." Clearly, that is not the case, and treating investment in America's key capital assets as the same as spending on operations or subsidies can create the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, that is, a transportation system that is aging, congested, and deteriorating and on which we can no longer rely for an efficient and productive economy.

While the federal government does not distinguish in its budgeting between capital and operating expenditures, almost every other governmental entity, at all levels, does, and of course the accounting principles applied to the private sector depend on this distinction. Even in the current environment of slow economic growth, high unemployment, and unsustainable budget deficits, "wise" capital invest

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January 17, 2012 01:23 PM

Investment in the most beneficial intercity passenger rail projects can bring both short-term and long-term economic returns -- construction and construction-related jobs right away and improved access to permanent jobs and greater labor market mobility in the long-term. These returns were described in some detail in a report by Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Martin Wachs, "Strengthening Connections Between Transportation Investments and Economic Growth," released by the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Transportation Policy Project in January 2011.

Certainly, the "right" intercity passenger rail projects woud fall into the category of transportation investments that could bring short- and long-term returns. However, the Obama Administration continues to struggle with the effects of having originally oversold the President's "high-speed rail" initiative. The initial marketing of this program suggested that America should strive for a national system of bullet trains, like those of Japan, France, Spain, and China. It remains highly unlikely, h

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January 3, 2012 05:29 PM

I will confine my remarks to the prospects for a surface transportation authorization bill in 2012.

While it is possible to imagine Senate passage of MAP-21 in the early part of 2012, House passage of a reauthorization bill is more difficult to imagine. While the Senate Finance Committee must still identify $12 billion to $14 billion of "pay-fors" to allow the use of general funds to bridge the gap between existing revenue sources and current surface transportation program levels (adjusted for inflation) and both the Senate Banking and Commerce Committees must complete action on their portions of this bill, these seem to be manageable, if challenging, problems.

The road map to positive House action, however, seems much more clouded. The gap between a five- or six-year reauthorization bill at something close to current program levels, as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) Chair, John Mica, has said that he wants, and current transportation-related funding is very significant, and that gap will not be bridged by speculative, long-

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December 20, 2011 04:09 PM

The United States Constitution provides adequate federal oversight, regarding state and local tolling measures. For example, the Interstate Commerce Clause prevents state and local authorities from using tolling to impose undue burdens on the flow of people and goods between states, and the Equal Protection Clause prevents the imposition of measures that would discriminate against individuals or classes of users of transportation systems.

Given the growing scarcity of resources for transportation investment and operations, the hand of the federal government should be lighter, not heavier, as states and metropolitan regions attempt to develop revenues for investment in their transportation facilities and systems.

Whether tolls are "just and reasonable" is a public question about which state and local officials can make appropriate decisions and for which they are ultimately held accountable by their constituents. Federal officials have no greater capacity or wisdom to make these decisions, than do state and local leaders.

The interests of transpo

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November 2, 2011 06:22 PM

The indications that the House Republican Leadership is willing to support funding for a six-year surface transportation authorization bill at something approximating current program levels, as suggested by the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman John Mica, should be viewed, as a recognition by Speaker Boehner and his colleagues that funding for these programs remains popular and that this bill might be viewed, as a powerful contributor to reducing exceptionally high unemployment levels, particularly, in the construction and construction-related sectors. In that sense, the Speaker's initiative, while a departure from the strict rules of the House-passed Ryan budget resolution that would have limited the funding available for these programs to transportation-related revenues (principally, federal motor fuels taxes) at current rates, is understandable, in terms of both economic and political realities.

But from where is this "new" money to come? It is not inappropriate to connect revenues from the oil and gas industry to

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September 6, 2011 09:08 AM

It should be noted that, aside from Corps of Engineers' dredging and inland waterway projects, generally, transportation infrastructure projects cannot be undertaken by the federal government on its own. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is a grant-making agency. Federal funds, whether grants or loans or other forms of credit enhancements, can comprise a significant portion -- often, up to 80 percent -- of the costs of projects undertaken and implemented by state transportation agencies, or by local or regional transit and airport authorities. Thus, the most important and beneficial investments, necessarily, depend on partnerships. If what is intended by President Obama is to speed-up federal environmental reviews and permitting of federally-assisted transportation projects already "in the pipeline" at the state or local level, than it must be emphasized that expediting the delivery of such projects is more complicated, than it sometimes appears. The reasons for the delays in the delivery of such projects, often focused on federal agency

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August 11, 2011 04:18 PM

For the last several cycles of surface transportation legislation, the focus of attention has been on jobs. For the most part, the jobs to which people have been referring have been the direct construction jobs, and the secondary and tertiary employment, stimulated by transportation investment. These are, to be sure, important considerations, but, as Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Martin Wachs noted in their January 2011 report for the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP), "Strengthening Connections Between Transportation Investments and Economic Growth," estimating the multiplier effects of these investments ". . . carry substantial uncertainty."

These uncertain effects come up again in the criticisms of House T & I Chairman Mica's recent surface transportation proposal, such as the one noted in this question, that his proposal would "kill 630,000 jobs." In fact, no one can be certain of exactly how many potential construction and construction-related jobs would be lost, by reducing federal surface transpor

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June 21, 2011 06:53 PM

Chairman Mica's proposal for change in intercity passenger rail services in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) can play a useful role, in stimulating a broader and more constructive discussion about how these services might be provided. Some have described (and criticized) his proposal, as a call for "privatization" of NEC. It more appropriately might be seen, as a proposal to open-up these services to greater competition and to market forces.

There appear to be some similarities between Chairman Mica's ideas and those contained in the Bush Administration's intercity passenger rail bill. The Bush proposal started from the idea that "Amtrak" was not necessarily synonymous with "intercity passenger rail" and that a "national passenger rail system" could be one that was constructed on the basis of viable regional networks, operating in corridors, in which there were markets for intercity passenger rail. Obviously, NEC is such a corridor.

Neither the Bush Administration bill nor, apparently, the Mica proposal recommended that the ow

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June 14, 2011 05:59 PM

The nation’s severe fiscal crisis – persistent annual budget deficits and a ballooning national debt – means that resources will be tight for many years in all sectors, including surface transportation. For the first time in decades, federal funding for highways, transit, and highway safety will not grow and is likely to decline. Public investment capital is constrained and will remain so. Historically, reform has happened in the transportation sector only when funding has grown and state and local grantees have been incentivized by the lure of more money to make changes in the way that they plan and invest. However, for the last fifteen or twenty years, while funding has grown, there have been few incentives for state and metropolitan regions to reform. As a result, today most transportation capital programs lack strategic purpose, and investments are neither targeted nor prioritized. The federal surface transportation effort has largely become a public works program with a focus on levels of funding, rather than on national purposes. Scarce resources create an urgen

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