May 16, 2012

Revisiting the Senate Highway Bill

Ken Orski

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Innovation Briefs are published by Ken Orski. Cascadia Prospectus republishes them with permission. The content of Innovation Briefs does not necessarily represent the view of Cascadia Center or Discovery Institute. 

"I have not been a student of the Senate bill because the Senate bill has been academic to me. But now that it's becoming a potential reality and I'm a potential negotiator, I will become conversant with the Senate bill line by line and then I'll have an opinion," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), answering a reporter's query about details of a provision in the Senate bill (quoted in POLITICO's Morning Transportation, April 19.)

As Rep. DeFazio observed, getting to know the finer details of the Senate highway bill (MAP-21, S. 1813) has taken on new significance now that a House-Senate conference negotiation on the reauthorization measure has become a reality. Understanding the Senate bill is important because the Senate measure is likely to become the basis of any final bill.  The House bill (H.R. 4348) is little more than a 90-day extension of the current program (through September 2012) with the Keystone XL pipeline amendment attached to it.  It is silent on nearly everything addressed by the Senate bill.  And, equally, it is silent on nearly every issue germane to the transportation reauthorization except for a detailed set of environmental streamlining provisions.

Below, we provide a detailed analysis of one aspect of the Senate highway bill ---its finance and revenue provisions. We owe this analysis to Gary Hoitsma, editor of the Washington Letter on Transportation (published by the Carmen Group,, who alone among the Washington reporters had the initiative and curiosity to go behind the rhetoric of "bipartisanship" and document the convoluted financing of the Senate bill.  As Hoitsma's analysis shows, the Senate has made an extensive use of offsets over a period of 10 years to cover spending over just 15 months--- the effective length of the Senate bill at the termination of the current extension. Of the total revenue-increase offsets (to transfers into the HTF) only $3.1 billion would be transferred during the life of the bill while a transfer of $10.9 billion would occur over a period of 10 years.  This practice has been widely condemned as "budgetary gimmickry." A particular egregious example has been a provision inserted via a Managers' Amendment shortly before the final vote, transferring $5 billion in general funds to the Highway Trust Fund  "out of money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated."  (Sec. 40313 of MAP-21).

Continue reading "Revisiting the Senate Highway Bill" »

Posted by Ken Orski at 12:42 PM |
February 9, 2012

Why Washington state should invest in passenger rail

Mike Wussow

Over at Transportation Issues Daily, Cascadia Center director Bruce Agnew has written a guest post arguing in favor of continued investment in passenger rail in the state of Washington. 

[Washington] successfully competed for $750 million in new federal rail funds for projects with BNSF Railway from Vancouver, Washington to Blaine. These projects have multiple benefits from more passenger service to better freight access to ports and safer highway/rail grade crossings. ... The state should encourage public private partnerships for new and expanded train/bus ferry centers linked by more passenger rail. ... [M]ore trains requires more public investments in the BNSF line. Since they carry millions passengers every day, the state should explore new revenue options with them as partners. The highly successful Victoria Clipper derives only 31 percent of its revenues from ferry operations - the rest is through vacation packages with their 80 "Two-Nation Vacation" partners.

Read the full guest post -- and the rest of the blog's great transportation coverage -- here.

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Posted by Mike Wussow at 4:14 PM |
December 20, 2011

Greyhound Lines looking for new Seattle home

cascadia center staff

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The last time Greyhound Lines had to look for a home in Seattle, Calvin Coolidge was still president. But with an eviction notice earlier this fall, the bus line will need to move from its Stewart Street location by April 2013. 

As Crosscut's C.B. Hall writes, the company says if a location can't be found, it'll need to leave Seattle. It's a test, he says, to Seattle's "commitment to mass transportation."

Greyhound officials, according to Hall's reporting, say the company's preference for a new home would be at or near King Street Station in Pioneer Square. According to Hall's Crosscut article, "Greyhound's first choice, says [Greyhound] district manager Mike Timlin, 'would be to go in with King Street Station, with other providers, to turn King Street into a sort of intermodal hub.'"

Once upon a time, according to Hall's reporting, King Street Station as intermodal hub had even more political will behind it than it has today. Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and former city council Transportation Chairwoman Jan Drago were strongly behind the notion several years ago. But, as Hall reports, even though the station is going through a restoration, the political landscape has changed (including more of a regional focus on the deep-bored tunnel to replace the Viaduct). Though Seattle once wanted Greyhound included in the transportation hub, it isn't clear whether that can now work out. (The Crosscut article includes artist J.Craig Thorpe's drawing of what a remade station with bus terminal might look like. Cascadia Center has often relied on Thorpe's talents to help communicate complex policy issues visually.)

Comparing the opportunity for turning King Street Station into a true multimodal terminal, as has been done in Vancouver, British Columbia and Meridian, Miss., among other locations, Hall poses the only question that really matters: "Does Seattle intend to seize the opportunity?"

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Posted by cascadia center staff at 5:16 PM |
December 8, 2011

U.S.-Canada agreement will speed-up train service

Mike Wussow

Barack Obama, President of the United States o...

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An agreement signed between the U.S. and Canada will make traveling between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, Wash., faster and more efficient. 

The "Beyond the Border" accord, signed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, includes provisions for pre-clearance. That means, among other things, that travelers heading south from Vancouver will no longer have to undergo inspections in both Vancouver and Blaine, Wash. The inspection functions will be consolidated in Vancouver.

From the Cascadia Center's official statement in support of the accord:

By eliminating duplicative inspection functions and increasing the speed of travel between Canada and the U.S., the Beyond the Border accord serves as a long-awaited landmark agreement. ... By December 2012, with pre-clearance a reality, the region will benefit from one - instead of two - inspections, meaning a faster and more efficient train travel experience. The decision is also better for the inspection officers who will be able to consolidate their efforts in Blaine, Wash., to one central location in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency's decision in August to permanently waive the inspection fee, the Beyond the Border accord points to a brighter future for the Amtrak Cascades service. 

The official statement supporting the agreement can be found here

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Posted by Mike Wussow at 4:18 PM |
November 28, 2011

The Precarious State of the Highway Trust Fund

Ken Orski

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Ken-Orski-Headshot.pngInnovation Briefs are published by Ken Orski. Cascadia Prospectus reprints them with permission. The content of Innovation Briefs does not necessarily represent the view of Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute.

On November 18, President Obama signed into law a bundle of appropriation bills for FY 2012  including appropriations  for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The measure had been passed earlier in the House by a vote of 298-121 and in  the Senate by a vote of 70-30.

The bill provides $39.14 billion in obligation limitation for the highway program, a reduction of  almost $2 billion from FY 2011; however, an additional $1.66 billion is appropriated for highway-relared "emergency relief." The transit program is funded at $10.31 billion (incl. $1.95 for New Starts), a $400 million increase from FY 2011, and Amtrak at $1.42 (incl. $466 million for operating expenses). The discretionary TIGER program is retained at $500 million, a slight decrease from FY 2011.


Conspicuously absent in the new budget is any funding for high-speed rail and the Intercity Passenger Rail Service program --- a fact cheered  by fiscal conservatives but mourned by boosters of high-speed rail and supporters of the California bullet train. The California High-Speed Rail Authority relies heavily on further federal funds to complete the project. According to its business plan, it expects $33-36 billion to come from the federal government. Failure by Congress to appropriate money for high-speed rail for a second year in a row makes the prospect of future federal support for the California rail project increasingly doubtful.

Also refused any funding in the FY 2012 congressional transportation appropriation are two other Administration priorities:  the Livable Communities Initiative ($10 million requested in the President's budget); and the National Infrastructure Bank ($5 billion requested).  The conference committee action would seem to put an effective end to any further attempts to create the Bank, at least during the remainder of this session of Congress.  

Continue reading "The Precarious State of the Highway Trust Fund" »

Posted by Ken Orski at 3:46 PM |
October 27, 2011

Thousands descend on Orlando, Fla., to talk transportation technology

cascadia center staff

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This guest post was reported and written by Larry Ehl, publisher of the e-newsletter/blog, Transportation Issues Daily, read by people in 43 states. Mr. Ehl recently attended the ITS World Conference on behalf of the Cascadia Center. In this post, and in several forthcoming, he shares his thoughts about how technology is impacting transportation and touches on Cascadia's efforts in this arena. The content of this post does not necessarily represent the view of Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute.

Thousands descend on Orlando, Fla., to talk transportation technology

Experts focus on technology's role in moving people and goods quicker, safer, cleaner

By Larry Ehl


When you travel today -- whether by car, bus, rail, plane or bike -- technology made your trip safer, faster and cleaner than in the past. That technology may have been obvious to you (hybrid vehicles, GPS) or not (traffic light synchronization, interstate weigh-in-motion for trucks).  


Yet our transportation network can be much, much safer, efficient and cleaner. Every year nearly 40,000 people are killed on our highways. Congestion cost about $101 billion and 4.8 billion wasted hours in 2010. Transportation accounts for nearly 30% of our greenhouse gases.


Making transportation safer, more efficient and cleaner was the focus of a recent conference -- the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress, held Oct. 16-20, in Orlando, Fla. --  attended by about 8,000 public- and private-sector transportation specialists from more than 65 countries.

Continue reading "Thousands descend on Orlando, Fla., to talk transportation technology" »

Posted by cascadia center staff at 2:26 PM |
September 15, 2011

Obama's New $50 Billion Infrastructure Stimulus--Old Wine in New Bottles

Ken Orski

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Innovation Briefs are published by Ken Orski. Cascadia Prospectus reprints them with permission. The content of Innovation Briefs does not necessarily represent the view of Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute.

President Obama's new  $50 billion infrastructure initiative--part of his  $447 billion American Jobs Act (AJA)--offered no surprises. It's almost an exact replica of his FY 2012 budget request which included a  sum of $50 billion for transportation to "jump start" a proposed $556 billion six-year surface transportation reauthorization.
The rhetoric may have changed--Obama avoided using the terms "stimulus" and "infrastructure" in presenting his AJA initiative to Congress--but the substance of the two initiatives is remarkably similar. Both proposals would fund an identical mix of programs (highways, transit, Amtrak, high-speed rail, aviation and the TIFIA credit program) and both would establish a  National Infrastructure Bank.
The FY 2012 transportation budget request failed to obtain congressional approval for two reasons: (1) the Administration failed to show how the proposed $50 billion program would be paid for; and (2) there was no convincing evidence that the program would promptly create new jobs. Indeed, all evidence pointed in the opposite direction. The $48 billion in Recovery Act funds for transportation had failed to create the millions of jobs promised by the Administration. The money earmarked for highways had been spent largely on short term roadway maintenance-type contracts and had produced only temporary jobs.  Nor was there much to show for in terms of an improved condition or performance of the nation's transportation system.  As for the Infrastructure Bank, it is widely believed that at least one or two years could pass before the Bank would become operational  and in a position to begin financing  large-scale job-creating infrastructure projects.

The same reasons that led Congress to ignore the Administration's FY 2012 transportation budget request will likely cause the lawmakers to reject the new transportation initiative. They are skeptical that a fresh infusion of funds will succeeed where the first stimulus failed. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results may not be exacly insanity but it does suggest a certain denial to look facts in the face.  
The President said that "everything in this bill will be paid for" and that he will call on the Joint Deficit Committee to come up with additional deficit reductions necessary to pay for the American Jobs Act.  But by proposing to end tax breaks for people making more than $200,000 and for oil and gas companies, the White House is setting itself up again for a fight with the Congress which already once before rejected this approach to "revenue enhancement."   It remains to be seen if the independent congressional committee will do Obama's bidding. With the President's approval ratings at an all time low, they just might be emboldened to ignore his plea.   

Posted by Ken Orski at 11:17 AM |
August 18, 2011

Second train saved by Canadian government

cascadia center staff


The second Amtrak Cascades service to Vancouver, B.C., which could have ended in October if the Canadian government had decided to implement a previously proposed $1,500 inspection fee, received a reprieve when Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced after a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, his decision to permanently waive the proposed fee.

Cascadia had worked closely with the Washington Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) and All Aboard Washington in pointing to the strong ridership and great economic impact to B.C. from both trains. In July, at the PNWER Summit in Portland, we collectively pressed the case with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer. Canadian Consulate General Denis Stevens also deserves great credit for focusing Ottawa on the regional impact of the train.

Now the region can continue to press for "pre-clearance" of southbound passengers at the Pacific Central Station (to eliminate the 15-minute delay from the current double inspection at the station and at Blaine). We are counting on the new Beyond the Border Accord between Prime Minister Harper and President Obama for this reform.

Posted by cascadia center staff at 2:43 PM |

Seattle voters say "yes" to tunnel

Mike Wussow

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Future waterfront visualization. (Photo source: WSDOT)

Though one hesitates to say something in Seattle is ever actually finished, in the land of indecision, it appears that a decision has finally been made. With nearly 60 percent in favor, Seattle voters told their elected officials on Tuesday to move forward with a tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

As The Seattle Times reports, the defeat of the effort to recall the earlier decision to build the tunnel sets into motion the final bureaucratic and regulatory approvals that will move the project forward rapidly and allow "the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to tell its tunnel contractors by Sept. 1 to move into final design and construction."

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Posted by Mike Wussow at 12:51 PM |
August 11, 2011

Infrastructure investment could be "economic driver"

Mike Wussow

Cascadia Center hubs, corridors, gateways.png

In a bi-partisan pitch, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and current Mesa, Ariz., mayor Scott Smith (a Republican), argue in today's Wall Street Journal for a stronger U.S. investment in transportation infrastructure.

Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the long-term creation of quality American jobs.

When it comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.

Investments in transportation infrastructure--especially strategic, long-term investments--are investments in the future of the country. And as Rendell and Smith argue, true transportation investments aren't (or shouldn't be) a partisan issue.

Building America's transportation infrastructure has been a national goal since Thomas Jefferson promoted canals and roads and Abraham Lincoln helped forge the Transcontinental Railroad. And still today, there remains a justifiable federal responsibility to address the country's infrastructure decline. But it must be addressed thoughtfully, and much differently from the past. The sole responsibility can't be left up to the federal government--from a financing or management perspective. (Indeed, given the current economic outlook, we're probably well past the days when this made sense--if it ever did.) Instead, infrastructure investments could benefit tremendously, especially in terms of innovation and financing, from public-private cooperation.

Ultimately, despite the economic chaos we find ourselves in, we need infrastructure improvements that will contribute to the long-term economic growth of the country. Hopefully, Messrs. Rendell and Smith aren't the only ones willing to cross the political aisle to cooperate on this issue.  

Continue reading "Infrastructure investment could be "economic driver"" »

Posted by Mike Wussow at 11:47 AM |
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