What’s the first thing you think of when you read that word? If you answered, “jobs,” you’re probably here at the Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, just released Water Works: Rebuilding infrastructure, creating jobs, greening the environment. “No group has the potential to hire more people,” Ms. Ellis-Lamkins told the audience of utility managers, engineers, planners and advocates. Energy efficiency may be the focus of green jobs in Washington, D.C., but green energy “has nothing on job numbers” compared to green water infrastructure. According to the new report, adequate investment in green water infrastructure over the next five years could generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.
After 55 Years, Where Are We on Highways?
National Journal, June 27, 2011
How far have we come since this first highway bill? Is the highway system now true to Eisenhower’s vision of a workable, free, transcontinental roadway? Are there new technological or demographic changes since 1955 that should be incorporated into the surface-transportation goals? If Eisenhower was alive now, what would you tell him about his proudest domestic accomplishment?
If baby boomers stay in suburbia, analysts predict cultural shift
Washington Post, June 28, 2011
The nation’s suburbs are home to a rapidly growing number of older people who are changing the image and priorities of a suburbia formed around the needs of young families with children, an analysis of census data shows. Although the entire United States is graying, the 2010 Census showed how much faster the suburbs are growing older when compared with the cities. Thanks largely to the baby-boom generation, four in 10 suburban residents are 45 or older, up from 34 percent just a decade ago. Thirty-five percent of city residents are in that age group, an increase from 31 percent in the last census.
Green Transportation Research Bill Introduced in the House
AltTransport, June 28, 2011
While a lot of attention is being paid to new surface transportation authorizations from the House and Senate, Representative David Wu (D-Oregon) introduced another transportation-related bill Monday that aims to fund research on alternative transportation.
California: Mission Bay Prepares for Makeover
The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011
San Francisco’s effort to transform an abandoned rail yard on its eastern shore in Mission Bay into an urban center is poised for a serious boost from plans by Salesforce.com Inc. to build a sprawling corporate campus in the area. Urban-planning experts say the arrival of Salesforce will provide a vital stimulus for a once-neglected part of the city. But the bold design for the campus is just beginning a monthslong approval process, and Chief Executive Marc Benioff is leaving open the possibility that the company could simply pick a different location for its new headquarters.
Report: Deferred road repair poses financial liability
American City and County, June 6, 2011
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, according to a new report from Washington-based Smart Growth America (SGA) and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The report, “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.
U.S. Road Expansion Costing Taxpayers
The City Fix blog, June 8, 2011
A smaller initial investment in renewed priorities of road maintenance actively reduces the scale of future costs, found a new report by Smart Growth America. “Rehabilitating a road that has deteriorated is substantially more expensive than keeping that road in good condition,” the report says.
Scrimping on highway repairs leaves states in a bind
GovPro.com, June 8, 2011
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, according to a new report from Washington-based Smart Growth America (SGA) and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Metro Detroit’s bus system fight may risk millions
Detroit Free Press, June 8, 2011
Metro Detroit has its most realistic chance in a generation of creating a rail and bus transit system that could transform how the region commutes and launch economic redevelopment from downtown to the suburbs. But if Detroit and tri-county leaders can’t agree on combining city and suburban bus systems — an ambition that has eluded the region for decades — they risk forfeiting millions in federal money.
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.
Last week the New America Foundation hosted a panel to discuss the rising cost of oil and different strategies for tackling the issue. Panelists touched on a variety of areas, from national security to “green jobs” to the growing need for transit-oriented development around employment centers. Most of the discussion focused on mid- to long-range changes and solutions, but one story in particular illustrated the pressing nature of our immediate oil crisis and the toll it takes on America’s families.
A couple in Maine both drive to their jobs, but the rising cost of gas has squeezed their budget so tightly that the gentleman has taken on a second job just to cover the cost of the gas he and his wife need to get to their primary jobs. The couple’s predicament paints a stark portrait of how long drives can impact families’ budgets. The couple is working more but they’re not getting ahead, at best they’re just treading water. If the husband couldn’t find a second job, would they have been forced to quit one of their jobs because they couldn’t afford the commute?
For Americans who can’t afford $3/gallon gas, public transportation options are becoming an essential way to reduce expenses. While the logical assumption would be that increased need for public transportation would lead to increased revenue and service, the opposite is happening. As many states face financial crises, local governments are cutting transportation services across the country. These service cuts lead to decreased ridership, which reduces revenue even further. Economic recovery in these areas is, in turn, slowed since cuts to public transportation often hamper workers’ ability to connect with employers.
Commuters sitting in gridlock may find it hard to believe, but many smaller and mid-size cities in America have under-used highways. In some of these cities, highways that were built decades ago are now impeding potentially valuable real estate development. And as many highways from the middle of the last century deteriorate past the point of minor repairs to needing to be entirely rebuilt, leaders in these cities are starting to question the cost and efficiency of maintaining certain pieces of their highway systems.
In Seattle, Cleveland, Syracuse and a number of other cities across the country, leaders are debating the merits of removing portions of their underused, crumbling highway systems to allow for economic development instead. As older highway segments meet the end of their useful life, civic leaders are presented with a rare opportunity to reduce expenses on underused infrastructure and create new opportunity for development at the same time. (editors note: according to transportation engineers, a road or bridge’s “useful life” is determined to be over when repairs are so expensive and the conditions are so bad that it would cost several times more to rebuild the road or bridge than to tear it down and build something different.)
Last December (seems like years ago today) thousands of protesters decried then Governor-elect Walker’s decision to reject $810 million in federal dollars to construct a high-speed rail system in Wisconsin that would link Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago.
Protests were held not just in Madison and Milwaukee but in smaller towns like Waterloo that would gain economically from the rail investment. Among the suspect reasons that Mr. Walker gave for rejecting the aid was that the state couldn’t afford the annual operating costs of the federal gift.
The amount that the state “couldn’t afford” came to about $600,000 a year after federal matching subsidies. So the state ended up losing nearly a billion dollars of federal aid, thousands of engineering and construction jobs, a newly located train manufacturer in Milwaukee and countless dollars and jobs that would have occurred as a result of transit oriented development.
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.
Ten years ago, the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was dead land. Today, after many years of clever ideas, careful planning, and hard work, people are fishing in the Menomonee River again — which runs right through the heart of Milwaukee. Commuters and recreational bicyclists are using the new bike paths. There’s a soccer field and even a canoe launch. The land hasn’t merely been cleaned of environmental hazards. It’s been transformed into a place where people want to spend their leisure time.