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Posts from the "Performance Measures" Category

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Transpo Committee Dems Submit Deficit-Reduction Ideas to Super Committee

Tomorrow is the deadline for Congressional committees to advise the super committee on how they’d like to see the deficit reduction plan formulated. The Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee submitted theirs today [PDF], divided into three sections: “Creating Jobs,” “Eliminating Waste, Fraud and Abuse,” and “Promoting Efficiency and Reform of Government.”

For transportation, they push for a transportation reauthorization more along the lines of President Obama’s long-forgotten $556 billion proposal and less like the House majority’s idea of capping spending at $230 billion over six years. (Of course, even the House majority is now backpedaling from those low numbers and hoping to come up with a more robust proposal.)

The Dems also put in a pitch for the American Jobs Act and its $50 billion investment in transportation infrastructure, but after Tuesday’s Senate vote, that looks like a moot point.

This proposal rescinds $154.9 million in excess contract authority provided to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Federal Highway Administration in the past few years. Most of it comes out of NHTSA’s seat belt program, which only ended up awarding one grant, but NHTSA lacks the authority to reallocate the funds. The FTA funds the Committee Democrats propose to rescind are $17.4 million in contract authority for formula and bus grants that were authorized but not appropriated.

They also recommend that the super committee consolidate many of the 108 transportation programs — a plank of every proposal that’s come out this year — and set performance targets to ensure that federal transportation funds are spent wisely and efficiently. “Currently, DOT does not measure how Federal transportation investment achieves national goals, nor does the Department distribute funding based on performance criteria,” the committee Democrats write. “The budgetary impact of specific performance measures will result in much more efficient use of taxpayer dollars, and provide taxpayers with tangible and measurable results for their investments.”

The budgetary impact of these efficiency measures is not estimated in the report to the super committee.

The report also recommends using federal highway dollars to reduce bridge deficiencies, which they say would then reduce the amount of bridge funding needed in future surface transportation authorization bills.

The super committee is gathering ideas from many Congressional committees in order to make its final decisions on how to cut up to $1.5 trillion from the budget deficit. They will vote on the plan by Thanksgiving and pass it off to Congress by December 2, so that Congress can vote on it by Christmas. A series of “automatic” cuts and measures will be enacted if the super committee fails to act, or if Congress fails to pass its recommendations.

Republicans on the Transportation Committee have not yet submitted their ideas, but they plan to.

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EPA Publishes Guide to Performance Measures for Livability

The results of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's performance monitoring program. Source: EPA

In the vein of several other recent reports that have highlighted significant transportation reforms that can be made now, with or without a reauthorization bill, the EPA has published guidelines for states and MPOs to make livability plans a reality [PDF]. They illustrate how using performance metrics can lead to better-designed transportation networks, especially when it comes to livability.

The EPA focuses on 12 important indicators that transportation agencies should be measuring:

  • Transit accessibility
  • Bicycle and pedestrian mode share
  • Vehicle miles traveled per capita
  • Carbon intensity
  • Mixed land uses
  • Transportation affordability
  • Distribution of benefits by income group
  • Land consumption
  • Bicycle and pedestrian activity and safety
  • Bicycle and pedestrian level of service
  • Average vehicle occupancy
  • Transit productivity

The EPA recommends a range of tools familiar to urban planners and reformers, like scenario planning and performance monitoring.

It acknowledges in the fine print that in some places, lack of data is still an obstacle to adequate performance measurement – especially on issues that DOTs are less likely to invest in, like bicycle mode share. Meanwhile, everyone collects data on VMT, for example. And when San Francisco established their performance measures through a planning process like the ones recommended by the EPA, they discovered just how far they were from their objective — even if they put ideal conditions in place:

San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission measures VMT per Capita under Investment and Policy Scenarios. Source: EPA

You don’t decide to start measuring transit access through long-range planning and corridor studies without having a goal in mind, though, and the EPA has several. It seeks to “protect natural  resources, improve public health, strengthen energy security, expand the economy, and provide  mobility to disadvantaged people”  by improving states’ accountability for making sure these livability measures are implemented.

Speaking of transit access: the guidelines get specific about how to measure access, explaining that access is determined by establishing how many jobs, residents, trip  origins, or trip destinations are within a ¼- to ½-mile radius of a transit  stop. And getting even more detailed, the EPA spells out exactly what those measurements should be:

  • Share of population with good transit-­job accessibility (100,000+ jobs within 45 minutes).
  • Number of households within a 30-minute transit ride of major employment centers.
  • Percentage of work and education trips accessible in less than 30 minutes transit travel time.
  • Percentage of workforce that can reach their workplace by transit within one hour with no more than one transfer.

Determining success in mixing land uses is a little more complex. It goes a little something like this:

Source: EPA

Follow all that? Yeah, me neither.

Performance measures, as a tool for getting the most value out of what we spend, are working their way into the mainstream discourse on transportation, embraced (at least rhetorically) by both sides. Planning, on the other hand, is still seen by many conservatives as the occupation of coneheaded urbanists, always trying to rein in man’s wild nature (which, I suppose, is to drive SUVs in exurbia).

Getting specific about how planning can be used to hold government accountable for its spending – and how those tools can help improve out health, economy, and environment, as well as our traffic throughput – could be a big step forward for transportation reform, even if Congress never passes a reauthorization bill. And by the looks of it, “never” sounds about as reasonable a timeline as anything else.

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Senate Leaders Vow to “Marry” Competing Infrastructure Bank Proposals

At a Commerce Committee hearing today, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) spoke out in favor of their infrastructure bank proposal, while Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Rockefeller (D-WV) championed their own legislation. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who is a member of the Commerce Committee as well as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also spoke strongly in favor of an infrastructure bank, although the transportation reauthorization outline she released yesterday didn’t say anything specifically about such a bank.

Steve Bruno of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen cautioned against over-reliance on the private sector when building public infrastructure.

“Isn’t it wonderful to see the bipartisanship behind the infrastructure bank?” Boxer said. “Count me in. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

She and other senators affirmed that raising the gas tax, or switching to a VMT fee, is off the table. Still, she criticized House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica for “walking away” from the Highway Trust Fund since it’s coming up short. “It’s a 36 percent cut in our basic program,” she said. “That’s a loss of 630,000 jobs.”

In the absence of new revenues, it becomes more important to leverage the scarce public dollars that are available, so the committee hearing focused on financing tools – specifically, an infrastructure bank.

Kerry and Hutchison have put forward a bipartisan bill to create an infrastructure bank with $10 billion in seed money that would fund not only transportation but energy and water projects as well. It would only make loans, not grants.

A somewhat more idealistic proposal is the Lautenberg/Rockefeller bill, which focuses exclusively on transportation. They also propose $10 billion, but over just two years, with $600 million a year for grants. Another major difference is that it would be housed within USDOT, whereas Kerry’s proposal was to create a completely independent entity. The Lautenberg/Rockefeller plan hews more closely to the administration proposal than Kerry’s does.

“I think our bill is the answer,” said Sen. Hutichson today. Addressing Sen. Rockefeller, who chairs the committee, she said, “I would love for this committee to pass our bill, and I bet you probably want your bill to be passed. So maybe we can work together or maybe we can report both of them.”

“Well, we usually work together,” Rockefeller said, and indeed, all subsequent comments from all the bill sponsors included messages of “marrying” the two bills.

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What Bipartisanship Hath Wrought: Zilch for Bike-Ped in Senate Bill Outline

Update 7/20: It has come to our attention that the complete draft of the Senate bill will include a hard commitment to bike-ped programs. Senate staff tells us that Sen. Barbara Boxer worked hard and was able to maintain her priorities in the bill, including dedicated federal support for bike infrastructure. More details will come out at tomorrow’s hearing on transportation in Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee, and we look forward to seeing a complete legislative draft soon. The rest of this article was written yesterday, before we received these assurances from staff.

The Senate EPW Committee just posted a transportation bill outline on their website, and despite previous assurances by committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), there appears to be no dedicated funding for bicycling and pedestrian programs in the bill. The outline focuses on the consolidation of programs and streamlining project delivery, much like the House bill. The performance measures mentioned in the outline – while not necessarily a comprehensive list – don’t include emissions reductions, undoubtedly at the insistence of climate-denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the committee.

One of Chicago's celebrated new bicycling facilities, the Kinzie Street protected bike lane. Will any federal support for bike/ped projects remain after the next transpo bill passes? Photo: Josh Koonce/flickr

The outline confirms that the Senate is working on a two-year bill but does not include the dollar amount. “Consolidation” is the name of the game these days and the Senate plays along, making seven core surface transportation programs into five, including a new Transportation Mobility Program, which “sub-allocates” some funds to metropolitan areas, and a National Freight Program, which proponents of multi-modalism have long pushed for.

It preserves the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which funds some bike and pedestrian programs. Transportation Enhancements, another major way such programs are funded, will probably now be under CMAQ. It’s unclear whether the Recreational Trails Program will move to CMAQ as well. But although bike and pedestrian projects will still be eligible for funding, there appear to be no explicit funding guarantees for bike-ped projects, and how funding levels will shake out in the final analysis is anybody’s guess.

Like the House, the Senate bill offers states “the flexibility to fund these activities as they see fit” – which amounts to a revocation of the federal commitment to funding this work. Many states, absent a federal mandate, will spend virtually nothing on bike/ped infrastructure.

Bicycling advocates had asked for dedicated funding that doesn’t pit them against road projects, the same funding proportion as they had in SAFETEA-LU, and changes to Safe Routes to School. None of those features appear to be in this bill.

“It’s hard to know without seeing the details, but at first blush it doesn’t look good for bike and pedestrian issues,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “Perhaps it’s to be expected that there’s nothing upfront in the language about protecting dedicated funding, given that it was a topic of some contention among the protagonists. But it’s pretty troubling to see no reference to any of the issues that affect cyclists and pedestrians – nothing about complete streets, nothing about dedicated funding.”

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Bi-Partisan Political Veterans Team Up to Design a New Gas Tax System

Transportation reformers around the country have long been disappointed at politicians’ unwillingness to raise the gas tax to pay for infrastructure. It seems, to many, an obvious and necessary solution for the chronic underfunding of our transportation system. Meanwhile, to the politicians, it is just as obvious that raising consumer taxes during a recession is a bad idea.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has teamed up with a multi-partisan group to reform the way our transportation system collects revenues.

The Leadership Initiative on Transportation Solvency, a project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has come up with a solution.

The three principals of the Initiative – former senator (and presidential candidate and basketball star) Bill Bradley (a Democrat), former governor and DHS secretary Tom Ridge (a Republican), and former comptroller general David Walker (an Independent) – aren’t transportation experts, which Carnegie Endowment President Jessica Matthews says is an asset, since they have “no constituencies to serve.” Indeed, their interest is in creating a paradigm for “the type of fundamental review and reexamination that must be undertaken with every major government program and policy,” according to Walker. All three spoke at an event yesterday to launch the 125-page report, “Road to Recovery: Transforming America’s Transportation.”

A New Way to Raise Transportation Revenues

In addition to other reforms, the three are advocating a formula for increasing transportation revenues in a way that might be more politically and economically palatable.

First, they say, tax gas when the price is on the way down. That’s the way to make it less controversial. They’d like to see a variable gas tax of anywhere between zero and 43 cents per gallon. It would go up or down counter-cyclically based on oil prices, rising when oil prices diminish.

The problem, of course, is that oil prices aren’t expected to diminish. Sure, they were on their way down over the last few months (and then spiked again last week), but over the long term, as scarcity increases, so will prices. The Bradley/Ridge/Walker strategy, then, would leave us with a lower gas tax – and less ability to pay for infrastructure. Right?

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Bipartisan Policy Center Proposes Major Redesign of Federal Funding

With the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee set to introduce its reauthorization bill the first week of July and the Senate EPW Committee already behind on its own timeline to introduce its own, think tanks and policy groups have a limited amount of time left to influence the process. The Bipartisan Policy Center got into the act yesterday with its report, “Performance Driven: Achieving Wiser Investment in Transportation.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center gets down to brass tacks on how the federal government can overhaul transportation funding for better outcomes. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

It’s a sequel to a 2009 study laying out “A New Vision for Transportation Policy,” which sought to divide all federal funding into two mode-neutral categories: system preservation (which would get 75 percent of all federal transportation dollars) and capacity expansion (which would take 25 percent).

The new report goes further to fully re-design the framework for how the BPC thinks the federal government should change the way it allocates transportation money. The authors take no position on how big the “pie” of federal transportation funding should be – they say their recommendations should guide how the pie is divided, no matter how big it is.

“This report takes as given the current revenue levels,” BPC Transportation Advocacy Director JayEtta Hecker told an audience yesterday at the report launch. “We’re not advocating for something there’s no receptivity for.”

“Given the bills that are being considered in Congress now, we wanted to be relevant to them,” said former Senator Slade Gorton, a co-chair of the BPC’s transportation project. Another co-chair, former New York Congressman Sherry Boehlert, said he would like to see a shift to a VMT fee and a significant hike in the gas tax in the meantime – but his view hasn’t prevailed, and so they’re stuck working with a small pie.

Many in Washington have turned to performance measures as an essential element of any transportation bill that includes lower levels of funding, in order to guarantee that those scarce resources are well-utilized. The BPC framework sets out specifically how the new system would work.

To start, the BPC recommends setting clear goals for the federal surface transportation program. BPC says performance should be measured against these five goals:

  • Economic Growth
  • National Connectivity (connecting people and goods across the nation)
  • Metropolitan Accessibility (providing efficient access to jobs and other services)
  • Energy Security and Environmental Protection
  • Safety

Starting from there, BPC recommends consolidating the 108 current federal transportation programs into 10 mode-neutral new programs:
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