The Tom Warne Report
The Tom Warne Report, Volume 4, No. 34 - September 14, 2007        pdf PDF Archives
 

In This Issue

$8B in Earmarks Clog U.S. Infrastructure Plans
Capital Beltway HOT Lanes Closer
Penn. Lawmakers Maintain Turnpike Lease Opposition
Local Leaders Side With ICC Foes
Illinois Tollway Presents $750M Congestion Plan
Advocates Sue over Transit Fund Shift
Oahu Rail Money Receives Senate Approval
Towns Unite Against Trans-Texas Corridor
NH Postpones, Eliminates Road Work

$8B in Earmarks Clog U.S. Infrastructure Plans

TheNewspaper.com, DC - Sep 12, 2007

Washington, DC - Essential road projects are being postponed or canceled every year because billions of dollars are being diverted through congressional earmarks, according to a report released last week by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The independent analysis of the effect of congressional special projects was requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, before Tuesday’s Senate debate on transportation funding priorities.

In last year’s transportation budget, the inspector general found 8,056 earmarks worth $8.54 billion, or nearly 15% of the Transportation Department’s $63 billion budget. Next year’s total spending on transportation earmarks is expected to be about $8 billion, after legislative projects from an earlier, five-year highway bill are added in. The report found that almost all earmarks (project-specific spending orders, typically written into bills by lawmakers) were not assessed on their merits, and many important projects were edged out by “low priority” earmarks.

After the I-35W bridge collapse last month, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pointed out that Congress has failed for years in funding thousands of “structurally deficient” bridges even as legislators earmarked spending for projects like the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

Sen. Coburn criticized Congress for, just six weeks after the Minnesota bridge collapse, approving a transportation and housing bill containing $2 billion for projects such as a North Dakota peace garden, a Las Vegas history museum and a baseball stadium in Montana. “No one in America seriously believes that bike paths, peace gardens and baseball stadiums are more important national priorities than bridge and road repairs,” Coburn said.

The inspector general suggested that more effective ways exist to spend transportation money other than using earmarks. “The American people understand that transportation earmarks often have more to do with a politician’s re-election campaign than the true priorities of each state’s department of transportation,” Coburn wrote. “If Congress had directed the money we spent on pork in the 2005 highway bill to maintenance we could have repaired more than 30,000 structurally deficient bridges.”

The inspector general proposed an amendment Tuesday that would have put a moratorium on all earmarks until all the nation’s structurally deficient bridges were fixed, but it failed, 82-14.

To view the Inspector General’s report in full, visit: http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=85049145-abf0-4af9-83c4-9189944808f7

The unfortunate thing that most people remember about SAFETEA-LU is the prolific use of earmarks. No one talks about increased investment in transportation or the jobs were created with that historic legislation. In taking over Congress, the Democrats said that they would bring more order and transparency to the earmark process. Reports like this from the OIG do nothing to allay the fears and concerns of the public on this topic. TW

Capital Beltway HOT Lanes Closer

Richmond Times Dispatch, VA - Sep 10, 2007

Virginia - The Virginia Department of Transportation may soon sign a $1.7 billion long-term agreement to build 14 miles HOT lanes along the Capital Beltway in Washington, D.C. VDOT Commissioner David S. Ekern announced Monday that state officials have settled on the major points of an agreement with private firms Transurban and Fluor, which are partnering with the state on the project.

This spring, VDOT will begin construction on the six-lane I-495 beltway, to add four HOT lanes to the state’s most congested highway. Up to 200,000 vehicles use the road on a typical weekday.

Transurban and Fluor will pay for about $1.3 billion of the project, and state and federal funding will finance the remainder. VDOT said the average cost to use the lanes without a passenger will be $5 or $6. The agency plans to sign the final agreement with its partners by the end of this year, with the lanes set to open by 2013.

Penn. Lawmakers Maintain Turnpike Lease Opposition

The Patriot News – September 8, 2007

Pennsylvania - Gov. Ed Rendell released a “request for qualifications” last week for potential bidders, to see how much of the money from leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike could possibly yield for funding transportation projects. However several legislative leaders, who must ultimately give approval before the turnpike is leased, showed the governor he still has his work cut out for him in Harrisburg.

“I have no idea what he’s up to,” said Sen. Vince Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat who was key in the transportation funding plan signed by Rendell in three locations in July. Under the plan, current funding levels for bridges, highways and mass transit would be increased by nearly $1 billion annually. The governor is optimistic that if the Legislature will stay open to a policy switch, leasing the turnpike could generate even more transportation dollars.

“What we passed was an excellent compromise,” said Fumo. “It got him very close to where he wanted to get [in funding levels]…and I don’t think the votes are there to pass” anything else. Fumo’s opinion seemed to resonate throughout the Democratic-led House, which has strongly opposed all turnpike lease proposals.

“I think we need to give Act 44 a chance,” said Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny, chair of the House Transportation Committee, referring to an enacted funding plan involving new tolls on I-80 and a 25 percent hike in turnpike tolls. “We’re moving forward with tolling I-80, and until we get other indications on that, it’s way too premature to be talking about alternatives.”

Rendell argues that Act 44 would not come as close to his preferred goal of boosting transportation funding by $1.7 billion a year. The turnpike lease would be the largest of its kind in the nation, with early estimates projecting a long-term lease could generate up-front payments of $12 billion to $18 billion.

Local Leaders Side With ICC Foes

Washington Post – September 8, 2007

Maryland - An environmental group filing suit against the Intercounty Connector Project has the formal support of several state senators, all nine members of the Prince George’s County Council, a majority of the county’s representatives and an array of municipal leaders. The formal backing, announced last Friday, demonstrates a strong opposition to the proposed highway to connect Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. The move by the all-Democratic group also pits its members against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has fully supported the highway.

Less than 2 miles of the 18-mile roadway will lie within Prince George’s County. The group contends the project would benefit Montgomery more than Prince George’s and worsen the economic inequality between the two. They also argue the highway will harm the environment and is inconsistent with local leaders’ transportation priorities.

“We’re in a time when funds are a critical need,” said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George’s), who signed the brief. “We have concerns that this will take funds away from other important transportation projects.”

In the suit, filed against state and federal highway agencies, environmentalists claim the environmental impact study for the road did not meet legal requirements to consider alternative plans. Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson did not sign the brief, because he believes the road will spur economic growth while doing minimal harm to the environment. A federal court will hear the case on October 1.

Illinois Tollway Presents $750M Congestion Plan

Chicago Sun-Times, United States - Sep 8, 2007

Illinois - The Illinois Tollway unveiled a $750 million addition for new road projects to relieve congestion in its long-term capital improvement plan through 2016, the agency announced Friday. The updated 12-year plan will spend about $1 billion more, or $6.3 billion, than the original 10-year plan from 2004.

New projects include a tollway contribution of $46.5 million toward a long-awaited interchange between I-294 and I-57, with additional funding coming from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Another $163 million will be spent by the tollway on bridge improvements. Escalating construction costs in the last few years has increased the original cost of the capital improvement plan by an additional $540 million, aside from the new projects recently added, officials said.

The capital plan has had a good track record over the last three years, staying within its schedule and onbudget. The congestion relief plan is being funded through a combination of debt service and toll revenue. The tollway has also scaled back spending, particularly in the postponement of plans to rebuild and widen the Northwest Tollway (I-90) until 2016, because of the uncertainty over construction of Metra’s STAR Line. Instead, the agency will opt for a temporary fix of resurfacing I-90, saving $715 million.

Advocates Sue over Transit Fund Shift

Sacramento Bee - Sep 7, 2007

California - Public transit advocates seeking to stop the Schwarzenegger administration from transferring funds from the transportation fund to help balance the state budget filed suit on Thursday, threatening to knock the newly enacted spending plan off track. The California Transit Association is seeking an injunction to keep $1.3 billion from being transferred from public transit operations to pay off California’s debt, home-to-school transportation and other programs. The organization, representing public transit suppliers and operators, also hopes to prevent similar transfers in the future.

“We absolutely recognize the huge complexity of any sitting governor to balance California’s gigantic budget, but we think the law, as expressed by California voters, is clear: Transit should be funded,” said public transit lobbyist Josh Shaw, the suit’s named petitioner. He said that the transit advocates do not want other programs to suffer, but if the lawsuit prevails, it will leave a $103 billion hole in the general fund plan. “It’s not our intention to harm any programs,” Shaw said.

State lawmakers and the governor agreed to the $1.3 billion shift following a 52-day budget stalemate. Shaw said the budget “illegally shifts” public transportation funds “for purposes that we believe are clearly protected in state law for mass transportation services.” The Public Transportation Account, which is partially funded by fuel taxes, has recently seen a rush of cash because of higher gas prices.

Oahu Rail Money Receives Senate Approval

Pacific Business News (Honolulu) – September 12, 2007

HONOLULU - A mass transit project in Honolulu was among 21 transportation and housing projects totaling $83 million in Hawaii approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The transit project will receive $20 million to pay for the engineering and design of the system on Oahu.

Now the funding measure will await approval by the House-Senate conference committee. The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project will be an elevated fixed-guideway system running from Ala Moana Center to East Kapolei. Most likely to be a rail system, officials hope to break ground on the project in 2009.

The Senate also approved $31 million for maintenance to Honolulu’s bus system, $7.5 million to maintain a ferry system between downtown Honolulu and West Oahu and $5 million for on-ramp improvements for the H-1 Freeway.

Towns Unite Against Trans-Texas Corridor

Wilson County News, TX - Sep 11, 2007

Texas - Four Texas cities have risen up in opposition of the Trans-Texas Corridor, in an unprecedented move to preserve their “rural way of life.” The cities of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy and Rogers have formed the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, led by Mae Smith, the mayor of Holland. The other three cities’ mayors are members of the board.

“The purpose of this commission is to give us a voice in this process,” said local business owner and board member Ralph Snyder. “It’s our land that the Texas Department of Transportation and our governor want to take and we are not going to let them pave us over and ignore our concerns of community.”

The committee was formed under Texas law which allows municipalities to form regional planning commissions, and TxDOT must now work and coordinate their plans with the commission before any land is acquired or any construction begins.

The Trans-Texas Corridor will take 5,000 to 7,000 acres in Bell County, and an additional 50,000 acres of farmland from San Antonio to the Texas-Oklahoma border. Landowners have been fighting for their property since the Texas Legislature created the TTC in 2003.

You must respect individuals and groups who want to preserve their rural way of life. That said, I am reminded of an incident during my tenure as director of UDOT. Governor Michael O. Leavitt and I were hosting an event where a new corridor north of Salt Lake City was being announced. Attending were groups of farmers who said they never wanted their land to be developed and they were opposed to the roadway. Ironically, their comments were difficult to hear since there were a couple of houses being built adjacent to where we were standing in the new corridor and saws used by the framing crews were drowning us all out. TW

NH Postpones, Eliminates Road Work

Eagle Times, NH - Sep 6, 2007

CLAREMONT, N.H. – Transportation projects are being delayed or cut completely from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s ten-year plan proposed recently due to spending cuts by the agency.

“Over the last four years our budget has been in deficit,” NHDOT Assistant Commissioner Jeff Brillhart said Thursday at the city council, in the first of 12 discussions to be held across the state concerning the new plan. “We’re looking at a number of issues and ideas,” he said.

Brillhart said that after four years with a $30 million deficit in the department, major changes are underway, including a new position of deputy commissioner, the concentration on transportation system preservation and improvement of asset and financial management.

Because of increased construction costs and flat revenues, the DOT’s current $4.1 billion plan would require a 32-cent increase in the gas tax or extending the plan to 28 years to complete the projects, Brillhart stated. The proposed plan lowers expenditures to $2.9 billion, and requires either increasing the gas tax by 19 cents by 2017 or extending the plan to 27 years. An additional 10 to 12 cent gas tax increase is needed to maintain the DOT operating budget.

These are hard decisions but must be made. The public expects and demands more accountability and discipline from agencies. We did it in Utah after my arrival in 1995. VDOT went through it under Phil Shucet’s leadership. Better now than later. TW
 
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