Brooke Wisdom | February 1, 2011
By John Latta, Tina Grady Barbaccia and Mike Anderson
PIRG Blasts Highway Advocates; ARTBA Blasts PIRG
The report is nothing if not blunt: “Highways do not, and — except for brief periods in our nation’s history — never have paid for themselves through taxes that highway advocates label ‘user fees’.” This comes from U.S. PIRG (see endnote) that says of highway advocates who claim that roads pay for themselves with fuel taxes and other driving charges that cover, or almost cover, the full cost of highway building and maintaining: “They are wrong.”
“Highway advocates use the ‘user fees/highways pay for themselves’ myth in an effort to secure access to scarce government revenue for their desired public policy ends — distorting transportation decision-making,” says the report, titled Do Roads Pay For Themselves? Setting the record straight on transportation funding.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association was even more blunt in response: “I think PIRG is on a planet that is not occupied by anyone else in the transportation universe,” says Jeff Solsby, ARTBA’s director of public affairs. “There are more holes in the assertions of this report than in a brick of Swiss cheese. I get the impression they want to refight decades-old battles, a mode versus mode war if you were. The transportation community has never been more unified in our policy goals than we are today, as demonstrated by the countless other reports making policy recommendations in this area. This report reads more like a fundraising appeal to narrow, fringe audiences than a policy treatise to help move Congress toward the community’s shared goal of passing an overdue highway/transit bill ASAP.”
Gas taxes “are not user fees in any meaningful sense of the term,” says the report. The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by taxes — unlike other true user fees such as admission fees for state parks or turnpike tolls.” The report says of the federal gas tax, begun as a deficit-fighting measure by President Herbert Hoover, that “only during a brief 17-year period beginning in 1956 did Congress temporarily dedicate gas tax revenues to construct the Interstate network, a project completed in the 1990s.” According to the report, not all states dedicate their gas taxes to highways and even among those that do, roughly 20 cents of every dollar collected goes to non-highway projects.
According to U.S. PIRG, “since 1947 the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called ‘user-fees’ by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.” Today, user fees pay only about half the cost of building and maintaining America’s roads and “new or expanded highways are even less likely to pay for themselves in the future,” says the report.
Gasoline taxes should not be dedicated to roads according to the report, because “that dedication of gasoline tax revenue to highway projects inherently prejudices transportation decision-making in favor of highways. In the current atmosphere of massive state budget shortfalls and federal budget deficits, there is simply no way to ensure that other transportation priorities receive adequate investment if highways get first dibs on dedicated funding.”
The report attacks “highway advocates” for arguing that highways come with their own built-in source of revenue but failing to document whether new or expanded roads will actually raise enough funds to cover their costs. In another attack, the report claims that “highway advocates often use funding myths to make public transit and other forms of transportation appear relatively more expensive — diverting attention from the full accounting of costs and benefits that should be the basis of sound transportation decision-making.” U.S. PIRG argues that “when we let the ability of a transportation mode to ‘pay for itself’ shape what types of infrastructure we build, then we miss opportunities to build transportation systems that provide the greatest benefit to society as a whole.”
U.S. PIRG claims the report will help America “get on with the critical debate about what types of transportation infrastructure to build and how to pay for them, free from the false assumptions and the tired slogans of the past.”
U.S. PIRG’s website is www.uspirg.org and you can find the full report there. v
Editor’s Note. This is how U.S. PIRG describes itself: U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety, political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights, where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.
No Such Thing as a Free Park
Like ants to a picnic, drivers will flock to cheap parking spaces. University of California at Berkeley researchers have worked out, sort of, just what energy and emissions arise from building America’s vast parking space and their cost. But first, they wondered, how many parking spaces are there in America?
“The U.S. parking infrastructure is vast, and little is known about its scale and environmental impacts. The few parking space inventories that exist are typically regionalized and no known environmental assessment has been performed to determine the energy and emissions from providing this infrastructure. A better understanding of the scale of U.S. parking is necessary to properly value the total costs of automobile travel. Energy and emissions from constructing and maintaining the parking infrastructure should be considered when assessing the total human health and environmental impacts of vehicle travel.”
And the answer is: “We develop five parking space inventory scenarios and from these estimate the range of infrastructure provided in the United States to be between 105 million and 2 billion spaces.”
Using these estimates, the researchers performed a lifecycle environmental inventory to capture the energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases, CO, SO2, NOX, VOC (volatile organic compounds); the PM10 (PM: particulate matter) from raw material extraction, transport, asphalt and concrete production; and the placement (including direct, indirect and supply chain processes) of space construction and maintenance. “The environmental assessment is then evaluated within the lifecycle performance of sedans, SUVs and pickups.”
And they deliver results so technical their email addresses are cited below, should you need to know.
The study is Parking infrastructure: energy, emissions and automobile lifecycle environmental accounting, by Mikhail Chester, Arpad Horvath and Samer Madanat, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
AASHTO’S Top 10 Topics
Here’s a look at the Top 10 transportation topics that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials think will be part of the national conversation in 2011 – in the media, in government and around the dinner table.
1. Enacting a long-term transportation bill that will keep America moving.
2. Paying for the transportation system we need.
3. Ensuring safer roads.
4. Moving on high-speed rail grants.
5. Bringing modernization and new technologies to our transportation network.
6. Moving freight to keep our communities more competitive in the global economy.
7. Dealing with increasingly assertive environmental regulations.
8. Social media continuing to rock the transportation world.
9. New support systems bolstering renewable and reliable energy sources.
10. Wrapping up Recovery Act projects. What’s next?
No Left Turn Really Works
The so-called “superstreet” traffic design results in significantly faster travel times, and leads to a drastic reduction in automobile collisions and injuries, according to North Carolina State University researchers.
Superstreets are surface roads, not freeways. According to the researchers, a superstreet is defined as “a thoroughfare where the left-hand turns from side streets are re-routed, as is traffic from side streets that needs to cross the thoroughfare. In both instances, drivers are first required to make a right turn and then make a U-turn around a broad median.” While this may seem time-consuming, the study shows that it actually results in a significant time savings since drivers are not stuck waiting to make left-hand turns or for traffic from cross-streets to go across the thoroughfare.
“The study shows a 20-percent overall reduction in travel time, compared to similar intersections that use conventional traffic designs,” says Dr. Joe Hummer, professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State. “We also found that superstreet intersections experience an average of 46-percent fewer reported automobile collisions, and 63-percent fewer collisions that result in personal injury.”
The superstreet concept has been around for more than 20 years, but little research had been done to assess its effectiveness under real-world conditions, according to the researchers.v
“A highway trade union spent a considerable sum, erecting billboards at the front end of several unrepaired spans that said, ‘The bridge you are about to drive on is structurally deficient.’ They wanted to put a companion sign at the other end saying, ‘Glad you made it.’ The lawyers talked them out of it. Another example of the wussification of America.”
- Retiring Pennsylvania Governor
Ed Rendell, on statesman.com
Does this road make my car look fat?
Some Chicago roads will go on a “road diet” in hopes of increasing pedestrian traffic. As Chicago streets have been widened through the years to accommodate more vehicles, often resulting in narrower sidewalks, traffic-related dangers — particularly for pedestrians and rail transit riders — have grown, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune (for the full report, go to http://www.tinyurl.com/ChicagoTribuneRoadDiet).
But the extra lanes have only provided short-term improvements because the number of cars keeps increasing, according to the report.
A road diet is a technique in transportation planning where the numbers of travel lanes of a roadway cross-section and/or effective width are reduced to achieve systemic improvements. It entails converting a four-lane, undivided roadway to a two-lane roadway plus a two-way, left-turn lane by removing a travel lane in each direction. The remaining roadway width can be converted to bike lanes, on-street parking or sidewalks, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ “Road Diet Handbook:
Setting Trends for Livable Streets Web Seminar” (view a PDF at http://lcmpoweb.las-cruces.org/Training/Road%20Diet/Road%20Diet%20Supplement.pdf). Work could begin as early as next year.
It’s Showtime in Vegas!
The trade show the whole of the North American construction industry looks to is almost here . . . and not a moment too soon.
It’s been a lonnnngggggg three years since CONEXPO-CON/AGG absolutely wowed equipment buyers, sellers, users and makers alike. Longtime industry observers termed the 2008 edition the best version ever of this world-renowned industry trade show held every three years. The record-breaking size and traffic at the 2008 show was only matched by the innovation and product range on display. But, within months, a recession hit the industry as never before. Ever since, it’s been a slow old path to recovery.
But with the arrival of 2011, and the excitement surrounding the looming next CONEXPO-CON/AGG, the buzz is back in the construction biz. Equipment manufacturers and suppliers have spent much of the interim since the last show ramping up with new products, services and technologies for an engaged, savvy, smart market champing the bit to get down to work.
Running March 22-26 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011 is the gathering place this year for all construction-related industries. There, you’ll see, for the first time unless you’ve been outside the continent, the Wirtgen W 200 and W 210 cold milling machines. Or, perhaps, you’ll be captivated by the new GOMACO 4400 barrier machine, the improved LeeBoy 8816B asphalt paver or the Terex foray into the skid-steer business.
And then there’s the Caterpillar on-highway vocational truck – a much anticipated and speculated-about new product family launch from the world’s largest equipment manufacturer. The arrival of the new Class 8 vocational truck, officially kept under wraps in North America by Caterpillar specifically for a CONEXPO-CON/AGG unveiling, represents the next stage in a strategy in which Caterpillar withdrew from manufacturing and supplying on-highway engines for other truck OEMs in order to compete directly against those truck makers in the vocational market.
Indeed, the gloves are off. And, as is tradition, Las Vegas is the place to be. To register for CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011, visit www.conexpoconagg.com v
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