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Transportation Nation

Ed Rendell on The State of U.S. Infrastructure 80 Years After the P.W.A.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Hechinger Report

The Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge in New York City, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, and the Overseas Highway connecting Key West to mainland Florida are all products of the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, which went into effect 80 years ago today. The Takeaway spoke with Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and the founder and co-chair of Building America’s Future

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The Takeaway

The State of U.S. Infrastructure 80 Years After the Public Works Administration

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Public Works Administrations was the driving force of America’s biggest construction effort to that date. 80 years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States a D+ grade on infrastructure and 1 in 9 bridges are structurally deficient. Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and the founder and co-chair of Building America’s Future, which advocates for infrastructure spending. He believes that the United States has delayed investing in infrastructure long enough.

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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure report card says $3.6 trillion needed by 2020

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.

The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade.  That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.

At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.

“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever.  Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.

“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything.  That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending.  There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”

The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-.  Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).

“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand.  We have to do additional ramps.  We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit.  There’s got to be a balance.”

The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre.  The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.

Virginia’s infrastructure graded at D+ and Maryland received a C+.

Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.

"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.

“We’re not going to raise that money.  People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.

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Transportation Nation

Newt Gingrich: Rail Visionary, Lover of Oil

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Former speaker Newt Gingrich. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr.

It’s hard to know for sure how former House Speaker New Gingrich might handle transportation as President. Of his Republican rivals who’ve been governor you can easily paint portraits of the metro-friendly moderate or the big-thinking privatizer. But Gingrich has never overseen a department of transportation, never appointed a transportation commissioner, never signed off on (or killed) a major project.

His Congressional record isn't terribly helpful. In the House, Gingrich didn’t seem focused on mobility issues. An analysis of his track record on Project Votesmart reveals that Gingrich did not cast a vote on many of the key transportation bills in the 1990s, including the 1998 TEA-21 reauthorization bill, which succeeded by a large margin. Newt’s famous Contract with America didn’t deal with bridges or trains or roads (the “Taking Back our Streets Act” dealt with crime) and the summary of legislative proposals that make up his newer-fangled "21st Century Contract with America" never mentions “transportation” or “infrastructure” (aside from military infrastructure).

So all we have is his rhetoric. And in that, Gingrich has had his bold moments, though. In 2007, in the months following the publication of his book A Contract with the Earth, when he was filming public service announcements with Nancy Pelosi, Gingrich was talking up “common sense environmentalism” and a green jobs revolution, dreaming of a “Hydrogen car, or a car that would get 1,000 miles to a gallon of petroleum.” He suggested offering cash prizes of a tax-free billion dollars to attract “lots of inventors other than auto companies in Detroit.” He beamed thinking about a composite materials car made in America, or a hydrogen engine made in America.

“If you look at the amount we spent to maintain military capability in the Persian Gulf,” he said, “if you had spent the same amount to create a revolution in energy, we’d almost certainly be deeply into a hydrogen economy by now.”

Gingrich has consistently been in favor of private companies doing technologically cool things for the health of America (and for profit). In his book, Real Change, he included a chapter endorsing improved rail and more modernized airports. “As the leading economy in the world,” he wrote, “America should have the best air and rail transportation in the world, but we don’t.”

Why not? Because of unions, Gingrich believes. “Unfortunately, the air traffic controller union understands that a twenty-first-century space-based air traffic control system would reduce the importance and number of air traffic controllers.” And the three reasons America hasn’t seen the kind of high-speed rail investment one saw in France, Japan, and China? “Union work rules make it impossible,” for one, Gingrich writes. For another, "regulations and litigation involved in large-scale construction...has become time consuming and expensive.” And third: “pork barrel politicians waste money subsidizing absurdly uneconomic routes.”

Gingrich identified the three corridors he believed were “very conducive to this kind of high-speed train investment,” and they may sound familiar: a system between Boston and Washington, from San Diego to San Francisco, and from Miami to Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville.

“I support—and I’m confident that most Americans support—a twenty-first-century rail system that is privately built, run efficiently, and capable of earning its own way,” Gingrich wrote, allowing that this “might even require an initial program of tax incentives or other help (just as the transcontinental railroad did). But it just makes sense that we the people of the United States should have a railroad system that works for us, and not for the Amtrak bureaucracy and their unions.” For non-high-speed corridors, he suggested turning the rail lines over to the states.

In 2009, Gingrich held forth with his former colleague Dick Gephardt at an event sponsored by Building America's Future and the National Governors Association (video via Streetsblog). He spoke in favor of user fees over taxes, and privatization over government bureaucracies, but agreed with BAF co-founder (and former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania) Ed Rendell that America needed a capital budget. "No American thinks they buy houses on annual appropriations," he said. He asserted that the American public understood capital investment, that we were being held back by an unimaginative government, and that we needed a program of "very large megaprojects that arouse the nation" -- specifically faster rail lines.

But as Matt Yglesias noted in May of this year, within 24 hours of announcing his candidacy, Gingrich went on the radio to defend oil companies, railing against the “anti-energy, anti-American” ideas of the far left, who “don’t understand how the real world works.”

“Liberals don’t like us liking bigger vehicles, so they want to find a way to punish us economically,” Gingrich said, accusing Obama of schadenfreude over higher gas prices. “Hit our pocketbook, make us change, because they’d like all of us to live in big cities in high rises, taking mass transit.”

One might perceive in Newt’s pro-oil posture a bit of political practicality. When selling books and not soliciting votes, he’s shown a greater imagination for an America that lives and works differently. Sometimes his imagination has run rather wild, as when he became enamored with the idea of giant space mirrors that could distribute sunlight to prevent darkness, lower crime, prevent frosts in agricultural areas -- and light the interstate highways.

Those in the transportation business seem to be likewise unsure of where Gingrich’s heart lies. Open Secrets shows that Newt has raised a paltry $19,450 from identifiable transportation-sector contributors this year. That’s just 4% of the $485,000 Romney has raised from the industry, a quarter of the haul won by Ron Paul, and $2,000 less than Rick Santorum received.

More candidate analysis: Mitt Romney: Metro-Friendly Moderate?, Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor Problem.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Rendell: Congress Should "Take a Deep Breath" and Pass Infrastructure Bank Now

Monday, August 08, 2011

That the group Building America's Future thinks the U.S. should be investing more money in infrastructure is about as shocking as 90 degree temps in August, but in a conference call announcing the release of its new report: "Falling Apart and Falling Behind," former PA Governor Ed Rendell, one of BAF's chairs, gave a particularly urgent call to arms on an infrastructure bank, which would leverage federal funds to funnel private investment into roads, bridges, transit, and rail.

"Congress has to take a deep breath and listen," Rendell said, when asked how to clear the increasingly daunting hurdle of asking the federal government to do anything about infrastructure spending .

"Let’s take the infrastructure bank.  If we create the infrastructure bank and hold it for major transportation projects of regional significance, if  we fund it at $5 billion a year, $5 billion in credit subsidy from federal treasury,  that would produce over  $600 billion in private sector investment, and in the end because these would be loans that would be repaid, in the end cost to the federal treasury? Zero.  Zero.   And we get $600 billion that we could invest in infrastructure repair in the next decade."

 

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Transportation Nation

So You're Thinking Of Starting An Infrastructure Bank...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

President Barack Obama speaks about infrastructure in Virginia. (Image:Pete Souza, via Wikimedia Commons)

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation)  The GOP takeover of the House has reshuffled the cards for transportation policy. Already, Republicans are floating the idea of pulling back stimulus funds for infrastructure—particularly high-speed rail—and they’ve proposed a moratorium on earmarks, a practice routinely defended by outgoing House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN). Last week, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed a 15-cent hike in the gas tax. But will a new, more conservative Congress balk? It seems likely.

But there may be one reform on which the Obama Administration and the new House regime can agree: the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, or NIB for short.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Transportation Funding Woes Dog States, and Looking Ahead to Looking Back: Will Rear View Cameras Become Status Quo?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell wants to redirect $45 million in federal funds to stave off huge Port Authority service cuts, but says it's a short-term fix. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

NJ Spotlight writes about "New Jersey's troubled transportation outlook" and says that "a proposed subway to Secaucus and a depleted Transportation Trust Fund are only the beginning."

And PA and NJ aren't alone: Virginia is considering a host of options to help cover a massive shortfall in state transportation funding, including a small sales tax, tolls and the use of toll credits (Washington Post). And: Rhode Island officials are warning that "basic elements of the state’s transportation system are threatened. Officials responsible for both the highways and the transit system said a lack of money is undermining their efforts." (Providence Journal)

Now Ontario's transportation minister is getting into the transit fray, says it would be wasteful to scrap the $8.15 billion Toronto light rail plan because work has already started. (Toronto Star)

Rear view cameras could become more common in cars, as the Transportation Department proposes new safety rules. "There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle," says Secretary Ray LaHood. (AP)

Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott bikes to practice. In Buffalo. In the winter. (Well, not when it's really snowing.) (Sports Illustrated)

Honda is ending production of the Element. (Auto Guide)

Outgoing congressman Jim Oberstar may land at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, where he's in talks about a possible role. (AP via Minnesota Public Radio)  But first, he gave an exit interview to TN's Todd Zwillich, which aired on today's The Takeaway. Listen below!

Tweet of the day, from WNYC's Azi Paybarah: "Think Rev. Billy, the eccentric 2009 candidate for #nyc mayor was just on my F train to #brooklyn. And he wasn't yelling about term limits!"

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Transportation Nation

UPDATED: Video/Audio Remarks on Infrastructure from Obama, LaHood, Minetta, Skinner, Rendell, Villaraigosa

Monday, October 11, 2010

UPDATED here is additional audio from today's White House Infrastructure event:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls for action.

Former Secretary of Transportation for George W. Bush, Norman Minetta calls Obama "the Infrastructure President" and lays out his brief arguments for support.

Former Transportation Secretary and Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush, Sam Skinner on on overcoming partisanship to invest in infrastructure.

Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, makes the case for thinking long term. He says, “this country cannot stop investing.”

Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa says we need to do this because we’re not keeping up, we’re doing 1/3 of what Europe is doing and "we’re not even in the same league as China.”

And here is President Obama's  speech text from Whitehouse.gov.

Remarks by the President on Rebuilding America's Infrastructure. Rose Garden. 11:08 a.m.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I just had a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and governors like Ed Rendell, mayors like Antonio Villaraigosa, and economists and engineers from across the country to discuss one of America’s greatest challenges: our crumbling infrastructure and the urgent need to put Americans back to work upgrading it for the 21st century.

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