Repair Priorities raises concerns about state road spending

Smart Growth America’s most recent report, Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and repair roads, was released last week in partnership with Taxpayers for Common Sense. Since then, questions about why states invested over half of repair and expansion funds in new roads between 2004 and 2008 have led to concerns about spending priorities and the financial liabilities states are creating by continuing to expand roads at the cost of repair.

Report: Deferred road repair poses financial liability [American City & County, 6/6/11]

Some states’ habit of spending on new road construction rather than on regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and costs to repair those roads are rising faster than states can address them… “Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads,” examines road conditions and spending priorities nationwide and recommends changes at both the state and federal levels that the organization says can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Could Focusing on Repairs Please Everyone? [National Journal, 6/6/11]

It’s more cost effective to focus on the repairs, even though they may not win mayoral or city council elections…Is there a grand bargain to be struck here? Could a focus–mandated from Congress–on repair and maintenance, instead of new construction, reduce the cost of a surface-transportation bill such that the legislating process could begin in earnest?

Geoff Anderson: Preservation and repair are critical components of reauthorization of our surface transportation bill, and should serve as the foundation of any new bill…As highways deteriorate they become exponentially more expensive to repair. The fiscally responsible approach is to preserve more of our highways in good condition, and to make the needed repairs early—when it costs taxpayers significantly less.

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SGA news clips, April 15, 2011

City, Others to Work on Transit-Hub Development
Wall Street Journal, 4/15/11
New York City will work with several other local governments to revitalize areas around underdeveloped transit hubs, officials announced Thursday. The plans include adding housing and commercial space along commuter rail lines to encourage more public transportation use and to curtail sprawl. The city will join Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties and four cities in Connecticut in the bi-state collaboration.

Highway Funding Is at Risk

Wall Street Journal, 4/14/11
Congress may have to consider a smaller highway-funding bill than initially planned because of a steep drop in revenue from the federal gasoline tax, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Thursday. The Montana Democrat, speaking at a hearing on highway funding, said lawmakers may have to draft a funding bill covering two years instead of six, which effectively would freeze highway-construction funding at existing levels or lead to a decline.

Decision to move EPA offices from KCK to Lenexa seems flawed
Kansas City Star, 4/11/11
When it comes to thinking green, the federal government may be missing the forest for the trees — at least concerning the relocation of the Environmental Protection Agency from downtown Kansas City, Kan., to suburban Lenexa.

Campaign aims to get Southwest Florida biking, carpooling and using public transportation
The News-Press (Fla.), 4/13/11
In an effort to get more people biking, carpooling and using public transportation, Fort Myers, Lee County and the Florida Department of Transportation are launching a campaign that starts today, and spans through Earth Week, ending April 23. The “Taking it to the Streets” campaign encourages employers, community leaders, students, teams and individuals to participate in activities such as organizing or joining a bike club, carpooling to work, organizing transportation competitions and more.

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SGA News Clips, 4/1/11

Texas road to the future is looking bumpy, Panel predicts $170 billion shortfall by 2030
Houston Chronicle, 3/31/11
AUSTIN — Transportation funding in Texas is “unacceptable” and will increase traffic congestion and highway maintenance costs if not corrected, according to an updated report commissioned to investigate the long-term transportation infrastructure needs of the state.
The report released Thursday by the 2030 Committee projects a $170 billion gap between the amount of money that needs to be invested in transportation to keep commutes from getting worse and the amount of money the state expects to bring in from federal freeway funds, the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees between 2011 and 2035.
“I grew up in Texas, and we always knew that we had an interstate that was beautiful and free,” said David Marcus, vice chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission-created committee. “Now we’ve got a different world. Texas can’t pay for this anymore.”

Urban centers draw more young, educated adults
USA Today, 4/1/11
In more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities, the young, college-educated population in the past decade grew twice as fast within 3 miles of the urban center as in the rest of the metropolitan area — up an average 26% compared with 13% in other parts.
“This is a real glimmer of hope,” says Carol Coletta, head of CEOs for Cities, a non-profit consortium of city leaders that commissioned the research. “Clearly, the next generation of Americans is looking for different kinds of lifestyles — walkable, art, culture, entertainment.”

New transportation bill has public-private option
The Columbus Dispatch, 3/31/11
The state can use private dollars to help pay for public road and other infrastructure projects, thanks to the $6.8 billion transportation bill that Gov. John Kasich signed into law during a public ceremony yesterday.
In turn, private groups that partner with the Department of Transportation on projects can reap profits through interest payments from the state, toll collections or other user fees.

The New American Ghost Towns
The Atlantic, 3/31/11
Data from states and large metropolitan areas do not tell the story of how much the real estate disaster has turned certain areas in the country into ghost towns. Some of the affected regions are tourist destinations, but much of that traffic has disappeared as the recession has caused people to sell or desert vacation homes and delay trips for leisure. This makes these areas particularly desolate when tourists are not around.

Soglin, Cieslewicz offer different priorities to deal promote economic development
Madison.com (Madison, Wisconsin) 3/31/11
Former Mayor Paul Soglin and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz are offering different priorities to promote economic development and preserve the city’s quality of life.
“The biggest challenge is jobs; jobs for everybody” from high school graduates to Ph.D.s Soglin said.
Cieslewicz is pushing for a “modern economy” that combines technology, education and research with a place companies want to be. The latter comes through good basic services, sound infrastructure and a sensible approach to approving developments, he said.
Soon, the city will have a new zoning code and an improved process for reviewing developments, he said, as well as a study for a new Monona Terrace hotel, Government East parking garage, public market and high-speed rail station southeast of Capitol Square. Soglin said the new zoning code puts too many restrictions on building height.

France’s new measure of well-being: Boredom
Marketplace, 4/1/11
Emilie Zola is leading the project for the government statistics office. Emilie Zola: Ennui correlates with a lack of social engagement; a bored worker is not a productive worker. That said, ennui can drive the creative process and, therefore, drive innovation.

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SGA News Clips, 3/31/11

Fredericksburg considers a return to Main
Fredericksburg.com, 3/31/11
Hedelt and Tremblay believe downtown would benefit from the organizational structure that Main Street provides as well as the staff member devoted entirely to creating a thriving central business district–which would likely include the densest downtown commercial development areas including parts of Caroline, Sophia, Princess Anne and William streets as well as side streets in those areas.

Sprawl Invited-Editorial

Miami Herald, 3/30/11
The tired excuse that controlling growth hurts the economy is being rolled out once again. That just won’t hold water — not when the state’s glut of new homes standing empty and unsold is no smaller than when this same ploy was tried during last year’s session.

In Foreclosure Settlement Talks With Banks, Predictions of a Long Process
New York Times, 3/31/11
The nation’s top mortgage servicers met Wednesday in Washington with the attorneys general from five states as well as Obama administration officials, beginning negotiations in earnest over new rules for homeowners who are in default. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that an agreement was going to take time.

Sioux City Saving Money with Demolition at Morrell Site
Sioux City Journal, 3/31/11
A team from the International Economic Development Council will visit Sioux City this summer to evaluate how to attract new jobs downtown…Downtown Partners levies taxes on property in the downtown improvement district and pays for revitalization projects and activities. ‘One of the strategies identified was to seek the funding for and participation in the creation of the first comprehensive master plan for downtown Sioux City,’ she said. ‘This funding is an amazing opportunity for us to continue working with our partners to keep the positive momentum going in downtown.’ The federal grant is tied to the Morrell closure as a way to create more jobs.

Subsidies prove a rich harvest for farmers
Financial Times, 3/30/11
US farmers, reaping record receipts for crops this year, are also harvesting $10.6bn in government payment…Brad Lawrence, who owns 6,000 acres in northern Indiana, says he, his brother and his mother together receive about $120,000 annually in federal subsidies. He concedes that those who would oppose them have a point. “I expect them to be cut, and you won’t get any argument from me,” he says. “I’d rather see the government take that money and put it into infrastructure of the country.”

Google to Build Fiber Network in Kansas City
Wall Street Journal (subscription required), 3/30/11
Google Inc. said it would build an ultra high-speed network in Kansas City, Kansas, after a year-long search for a location to test new uses of the Internet at speeds 100 times faster than existing technologies.

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Response to new report focuses on missed opportunities for fast, effective job creation

Last week, Smart Growth America released a report about how states spent their flexible transportation funds from 2009’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and whether the projects funded with that money created the most jobs possible. The research revealed that most states failed to invest in projects that create the most jobs per dollar: namely, public transportation and road repair and maintenance. Money spent on paving new roads, by contrast, creates fewer jobs per dollar spent, making it a worse value for the government’s money.

The mounting criticism of states’ use of their stimulus funds is coming from people who want to see the U.S. economy recover quickly and effectively. Investing in public projects that create jobs in the short term and economic sustainability in the long term – as public transportation and road repair do – is one of the best ways to do that. As former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening explains in an editorial in The Hill:

Past decisions about transportation spending are detours, not dead ends. While the golden opportunity of ARRA funding has passed, state and federal governments can learn the lessons of ARRA and meet President Obama’s challenge to do what is best for the economy.

Tanya Snyder at Streetsblog highlights the point that states have to make smarter investment decisions if they want to see results:

In just the last month, several reports have quantified…how investing in transportation infrastructure pays off in jobs and economic health. Now Smart Growth America is out with new research showing that it’s not enough to plunk down a bunch of money and expect miracles. You’ve got to do it right.

Megan Owens, spokeswoman for Transportation Riders United explained to The Detroit News that even though Michigan doesn’t spend that much on new roads, the state’s public transportation spending doesn’t even come close:

“We can do a better job of spending on public transportation, especially when you see that SMART and DDOT are looking at cutbacks…We spent as much on widening a few miles of M-59 in Oakland County as we did for all of public transportation in southeastern Michigan.”

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