By Amelia Myers
A day after blanketing Capitol Hill to highlight concerns with federal funding for transportation, attendees at NCSL’s 2014 Forum got a front row seat to a discussion with two transportation policy experts.
Oregon state Senator Bruce Starr (R), NCSL’s immediate past president, was joined by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for a conversation about potential long-term solutions for America’s transportation infrastructure.
Foxx began by focusing on the vital role state legislators play in selling the value of transportation infrastructure to their constituents, especially as more funding sources are necessary to pay for the upkeep and building of our roads and bridges. The taxpayers deserve a transportation system that provides public benefits and it is up to policymakers and transportation officials to demonstrate the benefits of 21st century infrastructure, Foxx said.
He also emphasized the important role of states as laboratories for innovations in transportation financing and delivery. For example, he said, the proposed GROW AMERICA Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities Throughout America), if passed, would allow states more flexibility in how they pay for infrastructure.
Starr highlighted a road user charge pilot program in Oregon under which 5,000 volunteer drivers will test a new method of paying for their road usage by recording their vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Foxx applauded this innovation and expressed interest in the results of the pilot as a model for other states if it was successful.
Foxx recognized that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to transportation financing, and the GROW AMERICA Act accommodates the different needs across the states. In some states, congestion pricing may be a revenue source, and in others tolling may be a better option. In the proposal, states could spend toll revenues more flexibly, using revenue from one project to finance another investment that mitigates congestion.
He stressed that with an increasing population—and urban areas experiencing significant growth— there will be a strain on the existing system and an increased need for more modes of travel. States need a “metro” focus for transportation solutions, he said. Transportation networks rely on the connectivity of all parts of an economy from all areas of a state, and solutions need include rural, suburban and urban areas, all critical components of healthy economies.
He recommended that state lawmakers empower local communities to levy option taxes, which would give the locality an option to tax an area of economic development and build infrastructure.
The secretary ended the conversation by charging all of the legislators to share their own large transportation visions with their constituents, instead of a list of disjointed projects. Improving infrastructure enhances economic mobility, improves quality of life and enhances safety. By selling the benefits in a cohesive vision of a better connected future, voters may be more willing to finance the ever-increasing infrastructure needs of today and tomorrow.
Amelia Myers is a research analyst in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program.