Passenger rail along the Gulf Coast has been absent since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of the infrastructure. But Smart Growth America, through our Transportation for America (T4America) program, has been coordinating a monumental effort to restore service along the Gulf Coast and that work is paying off.
Quitman, MS (population 2,209) is a cozy town in eastern Mississippi that prides itself on its locally owned Main Street businesses, banking and health care industries, commitment to green practices, and fiber optic internet access.
Quitman wants to build on these assets, and leaders are looking for ways to grow the town’s economy and revitalize the town center. To help do that, Quitman leaders applied for an won a Foundations of Smart Growth technical assistance workshop as part of our program in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After talking with the town about their ideas and plans, we also awarded Quitman a Fiscal Impact Analysis at no cost, as part of our Rural Development program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our Fiscal Impact Analysis is a data-intensive model designed to show how different development scenarios could impact future public finances.
Participants at our 2016 workshop in Chattanooga, TN.
Last week we announced the six new communities that will receive one of our free standard technical assistance workshops in 2017. This program, now in its sixth year and funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities’ Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program, has helped more than 70 communities across the country use development strategies to meet their goals.
As we look forward to working with next year’s communities, we wanted to take a moment to look back on the diversity of faces and places we’ve visited this year.
Libby Tyler speaks about place-based economic development in Urbana, IL as part of Policy Forum 2016.
Pelahatchie, MS, Urbana, IL, and Stamford, CT, are three very different communities with different economies and demographics. However, all of them are using a place-based approach to their economic development, and they have lessons to share with other communities interested in doing the same.
Local leaders from across the country came together in July for the Local Leaders Council Policy Forum 2016, a day-long summit in Washington, DC on revitalizing communities, placemaking, and preventing displacement. Place-based Economic Development was one of three tracks discussed at the conference. Revitalization without Displacement and Jumpstarting Revitalization were the other two.
The National Complete Streets Coalition reports on the national epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, offering county-, metro-, and state-level data on traffic fatalities and an interactive map of each loss in the decade 2003 through 2012. This resource specific profiles the state of Mississippi.
A historic photo of the McComb City Hospital Building in McComb, MS. Photo via the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
One building in McComb, MS, could provide health care facilities for area residents and revitalize downtown at the same time. A federal brownfields grant is helping the small town achieve both these goals possible.
The McComb City Hospital building, originally constructed in 1911, was the area’s only hospital until the 1960’s and when the Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center was built in 1969, the McComb hospital closed. Through the late 1980’s the building was reused for a variety of purposes, none of which were able to generate long-term and sustainable use of the property.
Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.
Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.
“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”
“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”
The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.
State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”
A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.
According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.
As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:
Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.
As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:
[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.
A new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.
In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.
In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:
Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.
As July unfolds before us, we look back on the progress of the Complete Streets movement since the year began: We’ve seen incredible progress federally, and we celebrated two new state laws. Eighteen communities have committed to complete streets since January, and we released a Best Practices report on policies and implementation.