Kenneth Orski's blog

Is High-Speed Rail Worth It?

Is it a wise use of taxpayers dollars to spend $13 billion in the next five years ($8 billion in the recovery package and $5 billion in the next five annual appropriations) in a down payment on constructing a high-speed rail network? Or are there better ways to spend this money on transportation? That was the subject of a recent weekly debate on the National Journal's Transportation Blog. The debate revealed a spectrum of opinion among the contributors, with proponents of high-speed rail outnumbering the doubters by a wide margin.

The Transportation Agenda of the Obama Administration

The election is behind us. A Democratic administration headed by President-elect Barack Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress will assume power next January. How will this influence the direction of federal surface transportation policy and programs? To gain some insight, we have solicited the views of a number of people, including some who are familiar with the thinking of President-elect Obama’s transition team. While the views expressed below are our own, they have been influenced by the observations and speculations expressed in these interviews. By common agreement, all conversations were held off the record and not for attribution in order to allow for the freest possible expression of views.

Thinking Beyond the Gas Tax

"We must respond to the reality that the gas tax, the traditional source of revenue for transportation investments at both the state and federal level, is not expected to keep pace with transportation needs in the future." With these words, New York Transportation Commissioner Astrid C. Glynn welcomed participants to a New York State DOT-sponsored symposium, "Beyond the Gas Tax: Funding Future Transportation Needs." The event, organized by Prof. Robert (Buz) Paaswell, Director of the University Transportation Research Center at City College of New York, drew some 200 participants to Syracuse N.Y. on October 7. Emil Frankel, former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation and currently head of the National Transportation Policy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, gave the keynote address. He was followed by a group of national and state speakers who examined the status of state and federal transportation finances and explored the funding options for the future.

Public-Private Partnerships at the Crossroads

This year, the future of public-private partnerships is expected to receive heightened attention amid speculations that Congress may attempt to assert oversight over public-private partnerships and place conditions on private toll road concession agreements as part of next year's transportation program reauthorization. Some interest groups, notably the trucking industry and public employe labor unions, are expected to vigorously support efforts to regulate PPPs at the federal level. Meanwhile, PPP proponents believe that the case for greater private sector involvement in infrastructure funding has never been stronger. They want to see this involvement mature free of congressional oversight or federal regulatory controls.

Reforming the Nation's Transportation Agenda

For over a year now, calls have multiplied to give the surface transportation program a new sense of direction. With near unanimity, the transportation community, along with most congressional lawmakers and state and local officials, have concluded that the current program has lost its focus and lacks a clear mission and a guiding purpose. A bipartisan consensus has developed that perpetuating the status quo is not the answer.