AASHTO: Top 10 transportation issues in 2011
4. Moving on High-Speed Rail Grants.
State DOTs are working closely with railroads, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration to deliver on $8 billion in investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as another $2.5 billion allocated to state programs in 2010 under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. As a result, states and their contractors are gearing up to begin work on an unprecedented level of investment in our nation’s passenger rail system. Whether it is establishing a right-of-way for a new high-speed rail line, improving or expanding an existing intercity passenger rail line, or developing standards for rail cars that will boost American manufacturing, states are building passenger rail aimed at generating more convenient options for travelers.
5. Bringing modernization and new technologies to our transportation network.
2011 could mark the beginning of the era of smart cars, smart roads and smart construction. More “smart cars” on the road will help increase safety for all of us. And with new “whiz-bang” technologies using specialized materials, updated techniques and innovation, road builders and the transportation construction industry will be able to speed-up construction, reduce costs, and increase safety. AASHTO’s new Green Book – A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, the bible of transportation engineering – will be published in early summer. In addition, the next generation of air traffic controls – based on global-positioning satellite technology (GPS) instead of radar – will smooth air travel.
6. Moving freight to keep our communities more competitive in the global economy.
Grain grown in Nebraska moves by truck to a nearby railhead in Kansas, where it is loaded and sent to a barge floating down the Mississippi. Once at the international Port of New Orleans, it is sent to countries around the globe, part of an integrated system that depends on a well functioning transportation system. Problems such as too-narrow country roads, congested freeways, old, worn-out levees and ports with limited access pose significant challenges to our economic future. With the widening of the Panama Canal by 2014, ports along the eastern seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico are gearing up to serve larger ships, that, in turn,will cut container shipment time from Asia to the Eastern United States, while placing new burdens on the existing and aging transportation system. 2011 could also be the year in which the United States adopts a national multi-modal freight plan.
7. Increasingly assertive environmental regulations.
Under the aegis of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing more stringent rules to control stormwater from transportation sources. Other regulations addressing air quality and other transportation-related issues are also expected in the year ahead, adding new challenges and financial pressures on construction, maintenance, and preservation. State departments of transportation are looking closely at their existing programs and many are instituting promising practices to address these new challenges.
8. Social Media Continues to Rock the Transportation World.
The Nebraska Department of Roads created a YouTube video that features some of its recent transportation construction projects set to original guitar licks. Washington State DOT has more than 12,000 Twitter followers. Fifteen states and 24 metropolitan areas along the I-95 Corridor, participate in www.i95travelinfo.net , and are offering speed and congestion information to travelers. Social media has hit the state departments of transportation, and in a big way. “Know Before You Go,” transparency, and information are the hallmarks of the new outreach, and drivers are clamoring for more. Ahead: more targeted use of social media, with better communication and information being the end result.
9. New support systems to bolster renewable and reliable energy sources.
With the advent of electric vehicles, charging stations will begin to pop up to allow the driver to connect to the grid where vehicles park-street-side, garage or parking lot-and provide the car’s onboard charger with the electricity it needs to refill the battery. AASHTO is working with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change on a project to integrate plug-in electric vehicles with the U.S. electricity grid, nationwide. Elsewhere in the transportation sector, opportunities to support energy and climate goals include vehicle technology, alternative fuels, transportation system operation and driver behavior, and reducing travel demand.
10. Wrapping up Recovery Act projects. What’s next?
The Federal Highway Administration has reimbursed states and local governments almost $16.8 billion for thousands of projects completed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a.k.a. “the stimulus.” As a result, Wyoming has paid out 94 percent of its ARRA highway funds, the most of any state. Oklahoma, South Dakota, Iowa, and Vermont have also spent more than 90% of their ARRA money. Twelve other states have spent 80 percent of their allocations. Which leaves two questions: With no additional funding coming to states for transportation projects, what’s ahead for small (and large) transportation construction businesses and their workers in 2011? And how will state DOTs respond to their backlog of aging road, bridge, and transit projects? Examples of state projects and more data at http://recovery.transportation.org.
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