It is possible to read into this that any long term bill should have the goal of investing primarily in projects that can deliver broad, long terms advantages. No more ARRA, they seem to be saying.
“Investments in transportation must be approached as investments in the nation’s long-term economic health, not primarily as short-term fixes for unemployment or other problems… Congress should show leadership in directing any remaining or additional Stimulus funds to those investments that do most to strengthen the foundation for long term economic growth.”
4) Pass the Power, Please
The report calls for Congress to “clarify decision-making power and enhance the effectiveness of states, localities and metropolitan planning organizations.” This is something both the incoming and outgoing chairmen of the Houses Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (John Mica [R-Fla.] and Jim Oberstar [D-Minn.] respectively) and a number of bureaucratic reports have supported. The fault, says the Miller report (and a number of other stakeholders), is that the current process is muddy, unwieldy, poorly defined, policed and operated, and basically a very confusing conglomeration of money- and opportunity-wasting machinery.
5) Adopt a Capital Budget
The federal government should adopt accounting methods that (a) recognize expenditures on transportation infrastructure as investments (rather than consumption) and (b) take into account future returns on those investments, says the report.
“Specifically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should score the anticipated return on investment when it evaluates transportation spending proposals. This is an incremental step, but it would allow the government to begin evaluating projects based on their long-term benefits and to prioritize those projects that deliver the largest future returns.”
The report is by no means alone here. The idea that our highways are investments we put funds into and manage and monitor to bring us long-term returns is a popular one. It is an attitude adjustment that would not only change accountants’ bookkeeping methods but the way we perceive our highways and bridges, and what we expect of them, especially in elected bodies.
6) Connect the Dots
Adopt an integrated approach to transportation planning that includes freight and goods movement and stresses intermodal connectivity, says the report.
Better freight-transportation facilities and better intermodal connectivity between them and our roads and airports would result in a more efficient supply chain and reduce business costs, and there would be environmental and congestion pluses as well. In this point the commission is echoing ideas that have come from the White House and both houses of Congress, and it seems inevitable a new surface transportation bill will address this need.
7) Getting Americans Home in Time for Dinner
The Miller call for finding more effective ways of reducing urban congestion is another certain focus for the next long-term iteration of SAFETEA-LU. The costs of congestion are well known. They are staggering for business and individuals alike and steadily getting worse.
Says the report: “Congress should set aside funds to support programs specifically targeted to reducing urban congestion. This would include research to develop and implement better traffic management practices as well as other policies — such as zoning practices — that would reduce congestion and promote more efficient use of existing transportation systems. It is worth noting that such incentives could be coordinated with performance measures, such as the performance measures required to be implemented by MPOs larger than one million people under the Oberstar bill.”
One way or another, performance measurement will be in any new bill. How it will be defined is unclear.
8) It’s All About Leverage
The Miller report here must be music to John Mica’s ears. It calls for Washington, and in effect state capitals, to encourage public-private partnerships and other forms of private investment in highways and bridges, while at the same time improving oversight of such joint ventures to protect the public. But, the report goes on, “In this context, it is important to recognize that private investment in transportation infrastructure will not replace the need for public investment and that efforts to expand the private-sector role should not distract from efforts to grapple with immediate funding gaps while developing new public funding mechanisms.”
It is inevitable that more private money will flow into infrastructure and a new bill will invite it, but both sides will treat it so carefully that it will take some time.
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