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Posts from the "Mary Peters" Category

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When $1 Billion Doesn’t Buy What it Used To — And When it Does

Since Washington's economic recovery debate first began last fall, advocates for greater infrastructure investment have invoked one phrase more often than almost any other: "Every $1 billion spent on transportation creates 47,500 jobs."

one_billion_dollars.jpgHow many transportation jobs could this $1 billion create? (Photo: Infosthetics)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) used that figure in December, attributing it to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) was a little less specific in March 2008, shortening the claim to "over 40,000 jobs created."

But by the time Democrats were using AASHTO's estimate, the group had already lowered its number to 35,000 jobs created, attributing the claim to "analysts." And it turns out that members of Congress have been using the "over 40,000" range since at least 1997, before years of inflation limited the value of that hypothetical billion dollars.

Former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told Streetsblog Capitol Hill yesterday that she was amazed the outdated "47,500 jobs" number  had remained an article of faith at the U.S. DOT. In fact, Peters' chief economist tried to use the number last year to bolster a bizarre argument against spending stimulus money on infrastructure -- before getting taken down by my colleague Ryan Avent.

As Ryan observed at the time, casting transportation spending as a matter of economic productivity rather than job creation was a stunningly out-of-touch move by the Bush administration, and one that ignored the likelihood of imminent double-digit unemployment.

But focusing on that aging AASHTO estimate of job creation (also credited to the Federal Highway Administration) overlooks the fact that a more updated study of that billion-dollar hypothetical was recently completed ... for transit.

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Streetsblog Q&A: Bush DOT Chief Backs Transport Tech Funding


Former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who served for eight years in George W. Bush's DOT, sat down with Streetsblog Capitol Hill yesterday to urge that Congress add a dedicated funding stream of $1 billion each year for transportation technology to the next long-term infrastructure bill.

Since leaving office, Peters has transitioned to private consulting work in her home state of Arizona and joined the board of directors at Aldis, a Tennessee-based traffic management company.

Alids' GridSmart program, a panoramic camera that captures vehicles and pedestrians at intersections and helps "smartly" synchronize traffic signals accordingly (see the above video), would stand to gain if Congress heeds Peters' advice and directly funds transportation technology.

Peters acknowledged that her proposal for the next infrastructure bill would help Aldis, but she described the billion-dollar dedicated funding as an opportunity for states and cities to choose their own high-tech solutions for traffic management. "This is a great application," Peters said of the GridSmart, "but there are others out there."

The House's original version of the 2005 transportation bill, which was recently extended for another month amid political wrangling, included $3 billion over five years for technological upgrades, also known as "intelligent transportation." But that money was removed from the legislation during conference talks with the Senate, Peters noted, leaving states without federal help with modernizing their congestion management.

The annual $1 billion fund Peters is backing would be distributed to states by formula, but state DOTs would have to report back to Washington on how effectively their technological investments were meeting specific performance targets. (For more on Peters' support of a federal role in setting transportation standards, see Part I of the Streetsblog interview.)

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Chicago Loses NYC’s Congestion Pricing Money

chicago_buses.jpgWill Chicago get a second chance at federal funds for better bus service? Photo: celikins/Flickr
Looks like New York legislators aren't the only ones willing to pass up big money for transportation improvements if it means putting a fair price on private auto use.

Back in April, the feds withdrew a $354 million grant to New York City because Albany failed to pass congestion pricing. Chicago would have received $153 million of that for BRT pilot routes, but as Crain's reports, the city failed to hold up its end of the bargain:

The administration this week quietly pulled back a pending ordinance that would have hiked fees and taxes for off-street parking in garages and on surface lots downtown by as much as $8 a day. The measure was supposed to be the stick for a big carrot: a $153-million federal grant announced last spring to begin a pilot express transportation system known as bus rapid transit.

But the measure, which arrived in the wake of large hikes in parking-meter fees, drew strong opposition from business groups. And even if the mayor had put down the opposition, the ordinance was not approved by the Dec. 31 deadline mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With only a few days left in the Bush era, U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters, who initiated the Urban Partnership Agreement to spur initiatives like this, has indicated that she won't cut Chicago any slack. Which means this story could turn into an early test for incoming secretary Ray LaHood. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley still hopes to get the new parking policy through City Council, and if LaHood continues the urban partnership program, the city may not lose the federal funding after all.

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Gasoline Shortages Fuel Panic and Rage in the South

Here's a disturbing story from the Associated Press on gas shortages in Asheville, North Carolina, where hot-tempered drivers are waiting in long lines to fill up, only to find in some cases that the pumps are tapped. Asks one flustered motorist:

"What's wrong with our government? Why are they letting this happen to us?"

Maybe the saddest thing about that comment is that, months into the current gas price spike and years after Hurricane Katrina caused similar supply interruptions, Washington still isn't talking about how to wean Americans off the stuff. As Atlantans Twitter to find the nearest line and Tennesseans take to the Internet with profanity-laced rants, Senate Republicans this week blocked a spending package that would have boosted funding for overburdened transit systems, while the best US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters can do is a paltry $30 million federal allocation to be split among 15 commuter rail projects.

Video: WorldWide News Today/YouTube

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The U.S. Wants to “Borrow” From Transit to Pay for Highways

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said yesterday that due to declining gas tax revenues, the Highway Trust Fund would need to borrow money from its mass transit account to pay for road projects. Today's big news story was buried at the bottom of page A17 in the New York Times:

Gasoline tax revenue is falling so fast that the federal government may not be able to meet its commitments to states for road projects already under way, the secretary of transportation said Monday.

The secretary, Mary E. Peters, said the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases.

Meanwhile, America's historically underfunded transit systems are also struggling with rising fuel prices and record demand. No word yet on how taking money away from transit to pay for highways fits in to George W. Bush's plan to end America's oil addiction but maybe time for Americans to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what kind of nation do we want to be?

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What Is “Mode-Neutral” Funding?

Bus, car, pedicab
Different modes could be funded from the same pot, with allocations based on performance measures.

The beginning of 2008 has seen a flurry of debate -- at least in wonkish circles -- over federal transportation spending. In January, the bi-partisan Surface Transportation Commission released a report two years in the making, "Transportation for Tomorrow," which was promptly badmouthed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters for a gas tax hike proposal and partially redacted by the Bush administration to remove a section advocating for public transportation. Just last week the White House proposed paying federal highway obligations by "borrowing" from a fund set aside for transit. With the federal highway bill up for re-authorization next year, huge sums of money are on the line, not to mention the direction of US transportation policy.

One of the new phrases getting tossed around in these discussions is "mode-neutral" funding, which entails allocating money based on pre-determined criteria and cost-benefit analysis, instead of earmarks for roads or transit. Here is FTA Administrator James Simpson (a Bush appointee and former MTA board member), addressing the American Public Transit Association last October:

“Don’t think mode, think people.”  That’s become our motto.

I believe that such mode-neutral thinking is central to a new paradigm in transportation.  I believe that we must stop thinking in terms of mode--no more highways versus transit or bus versus rail. Instead, we MUST think in terms of people and focus on our customers.

And here is syndicated columnist Neal Peirce, endorsing the transportation commission's report:

...the commission faced the necessity of a dramatic rise in the federal gas tax, to 40 cents a gallon, indexed to inflation. And it sought accountability by combining today’s 108 federal transportation funding lines (for transit, highways, railroads, etc.) into 10 goal-oriented programs such as “Congestion Relief,” “Energy Security” and “Saving Lives.” The system would be performance-driven, outcome-based, mode-neutral -- a far call from today’s morass of earmarked transportation projects and billions flowing to states for still more highways.

So would mode-neutral transportation funding benefit a livable streets agenda? The short answer: "It depends."

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Secretary Peters Says Bikes “Are Not Transportation”

peters.jpgWe'd expect this kind of thing from some people, but not U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.  On PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" this week, Peters stated that instead of raising taxes on gasoline to renew the nation's sagging infrastructure, Congress should examine its spending priorities -- including investments in bike paths and trails, which, Peters said, "are not transportation."

Some excerpts:

  • You know, I think Americans would be shocked to learn that only about 60 percent of the gas tax money that they pay today actually goes into highway and bridge construction. Much of it goes in many, many other areas.
  • There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure.
  • Well, there's about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails.

PBS has the full transcript, along with video of the interview.

ADDENDUM: A tipster sends along this link to a prescient STPP report from 2003, debunking the myth that bridges are in ill repair because of spending in "other areas":

Why has bridge safety declined in some states while it improves in others? Although the bridge program is designed to put federal dollars where they're most needed, many states fail to take full advantage of the funding available to them. Overall, the states have spent only 73% of the bridge funding allocated by Congress over the last decade ...

Photo: FHWA

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Bush Administration Advocates for Congestion Pricing

Here's some more fodder for the debate that was prompted by today's earlier post about charging more for parking on city streets. This story, too, comes from the Wall Street Journal, and is available online to subscribers only. But you might want to run out and buy today's paper to read the whole thing, because the news is that in a budget blueprint to be released today, the Bush Administration is coming out in favor of congestion pricing:

[T]he centerpiece of the traffic plan involves an initiative that some critics say amounts to a tax, a plan depicted by administration officials as "congestion pricing." The administration will award $130 million in grants starting this spring to help cities and states build electronic toll systems that would charge drivers fees for traveling in and out of big cities during peak traffic times. The money also could go to other congestion strategies such as expanded telecommuting, but administration officials make it clear they think congestion pricing is the most powerful tool they have. The White House will seek an additional $175 million for congestion initiatives in next year's budget.

Beyond automobile traffic, the administration will also introduce legislation soon that could seek to impose a form of "congestion pricing" on airline travel, likely through user fees on airlines. The idea is to spread flights more evenly.

Bush's Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in an interview with the WSJ's John D. McKinnon that congestion is "a cost to business and probably affects our ability to be competitive on the global market. But it's also something that just drives people crazy."

In a press release, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that he applauded the administration's  traffic initiative and that New York should be aggressive in pursuing a share of the grant money. "I can't believe I'm saying these words," said Stringer in the release, "but I applaud the Bush Administration for their forward thinking on the issue of congestion and thank them for their willingness to work with local governments to address their unique problems."