By Transportation for America
For Immediate Release
Contact: Stephen Davis
or David Goldberg
Transportation for America issued the following statement following last night’s collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon, Washington.
“The shocking collapse of a busy Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State highlights the issue of our country’s aging bridges and what we’re doing to address them. Thankfully, no one was killed or even seriously injured in this collapse, which could not be said about the last high profile bridge collapse in Minnesota.
Nationwide, more than one in ten bridges is rated structurally deficient, in need of close monitoring, urgent repairs, rehabilitation or replacement. We take more than 260 million trips over deficient bridges each day. In just our 102 largest metro areas alone, there are more deficient bridges than there are McDonald’s restaurants in the entire country, 18,000 versus 14,000.
While this particular bridge was not considered structurally deficient at the time of its collapse, it is one of thousands that are well past their intended lifespan and carrying far more traffic than intended at the time they were built. The typical bridge is 43 years old with a design life of 50 years.
Considering that progress on repairing deficient bridges has slowed in the last ten years, Congress took a major gamble in last summer’s new transportation law (MAP-21) by eliminating dedicated funding for repairing highway bridges. Now bridge repair is forced to compete with other transportation needs for funding.
At the same time, our chief source of repair dollars – the federal gas tax – is declining as Americans drive more fuel-efficient cars and fewer miles. Congress urgently needs to address both our funding priorities and how we will pay for them in the face of an aging system and growing population, before the next preventable bridge collapse strands commuters, cripples a local economy and claims lives.”May 24, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
Shortly after the evening commute last night (around 7 p.m. local time) an entire section of the Interstate 5 bridge — both north and southbound lanes — over the Skagit River an hour north of Seattle, Washington collapsed and fell into the river, sending two cars tumbling down into the river, injuring three yet miraculously killing no one. One of those who plunged into the river along with his wife called it a “miracle” that no one was killed or more severely injured.
From the Seattle Times:
Rescuers pulled three people with minor injuries from the water after the collapse, which authorities say began when a semitruck with an oversized load struck a steel beam at around 7 p.m.
That caused a massive piece of the northern side of the bridge to wobble, and then fall into the water, taking with it a gold pickup, its travel trailer and an orange SUV.
Rescuers did not believe there was anybody else in the water but were planning a morning search to be sure.
Seattle Times photo by Dean Rutz. Link to gallery of images here.
Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is that on a bridge that carries more than 70,000 cars daily and at a time of day when traffic could be expected to be moderate at the least, only two vehicles fell into the yawning gap and into the water. Along with everyone else, we at T4 America are relieved that no one died in this tragic bridge collapse.
Just like several years ago in Minnesota, attention quickly turned to the bridge itself. So what do we know about it today?
The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River actually predates the creation of Interstate 5. It was built to carry old US 99 over the river in 1955. When Interstate 5 was built in 1957, it largely followed the US 99 corridor and just like many other bridges, this bridge was folded into the interstate system, though it certainly wasn’t built to today’s interstate standards.
Because of that (and likely other design considerations), the bridge was considered “functionally obsolete” by state and federal inspectors, which is a designation that could mean any number of things, none of which have anything to do with structural safety. The lanes could be narrower than today’s standards, the weights allowed could be less than an interstate bridge built today, or built using materials that would be considered obsolete today.
However, the bridge was not considered “structurally deficient” at the time of collapse, which means that a bridge requires repair, rehabilitation or replacement, along with much more regular inspections. To be considered structurally deficient, one of the three major components of a bridge (deck, superstructure, substructure) has to score a 4 or below on a scale of 1-10.
The data in our interactive map is not the most recent release of federal data, but the ratings for this specific bridge have not changed in the federal National Bridge Inventory that was reported in early to mid 2012 by Washington State. WSDOT likely inspected the bridge again sometime in 2012 after they reported annual bridge data to the federal government, and WSDOT is saying publicly today that the bridge was not structurally deficient and was still only considered functionally obsolete.
Here’s the snapshot from our interactive map of U.S. bridges, which you can use to look up the condition of the bridges near any U.S. address.
(Amazingly, you can see that Google Maps has already updated their map to show that Interstate 5 no longer crosses the Skagit River.)
On a list of structurally deficient bridges in Washington compiled by WSDOT in September 2011, this bridge is not included, though there is at least one other nearby Interstate 5 bridge in Snohomish County that is included, built in 1933. (It’s scheduled for repair, per WSDOT.)
It’s hard to accurately describe how crucial this interstate connection is. I-5 runs from Canada to Mexico within the U.S. and touches almost every single major city on the west coast. It’s a vital corridor not only commuters but also for freight traffic — 12 percent of the daily traffic on this bridge was truck traffic. And this is the main route from Seattle up to Vancouver, certainly a direction that many Seattle region residents might have been planning to travel for the long holiday weekend starting this afternoon.
Those plans are surely on hold, and the ripple effect for freight and other travel up and down the west coast will be felt for some time to come as Washington authorities decide how to handle this painful gap in their transportation network.
We will be back later this morning with a short statement, and follow us along on twitter at @t4america for other news and developments.
PS, here’s the cover of the Seattle Times this morning.
May 14, 2013
By David Goldberg
Anyone who follows this blog, or transportation discussions in general, is well aware that the miles driven per American has been dropping in recent years and that the millennial generation (16-34) is leading the charge. Indeed, the typical American drives less today than at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term.
But how likely is that trend to hold in the future? And if it does, what does that say about what we should be building, and how we will pay for it, if not with the gas taxes raised from driving? A report out today from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group seeks to answer the first question, and to fuel a conversation about the second.
None of the likely scenarios sees miles of driving returning to the heights of previous trends.
The short answer to Question 1: No plausible scenario sees per capita driving rates continuing their formerly inexorable climb, and all fall well below current government projections. And no, the authors do not assume that we are entering permanent economic recession, because the underlying are likely to trends persist whatever the strength of the economy:
Millennials. Americans under 35 drive nearly one-fourth less now than those who where the same age a decade ago. There are myriad likely reasons: The cost of car ownership, their tendency to live in more urban locales, reduced employment rates during the recession, etc. But the authors site many reasons why their driving rates may remain lower than previous generations, even during child-bearing years.
Baby boomers. The post-war generation drove workforce participation rates to unheard of levels, and now those workers are nearing the end of their commuting years. And while self-driving cars might allow granny to keep motoring, they will not replace those commute trips.
Technology. We already know the Internet allows work-from-anywhere and online shopping, replacing trips for those purposes. But now mobile tech makes riding transit far more accessible, and enables transit use to be complemented by a burgeoning array of options: Zipcar, Car2Go, bike share, Lyft, Scoot, etc.
Vehicle operating costs. The era of dirt cheap motoring really does seem to have come to a close. It’s not just gas prices, which have helped fuel much of the recent shift; they’ll stay high for a while. But more and more tolls are coming into our lives, parking is astronomical, insurance is usurious. As long as options are available and cheap, a lot of households will own one car rather than two, and leave the one they have parked, until they decide they don’t need it.
[See how these trends are playing out in Charlotte in the NY Times' excellent piece on 1A of today's edition.]
Based on these and other factors, authors Phineas Baxandall and Tony Dutzik ran three scenarios for the future. None assumed a wholesale continuation of the depressed driving rates among millennials; all forecast younger folks to drive more in the child-rearing years. Still, none of the scenarios approached a return to the yearly mileage growth of the previous 60 years, and all fall below current government projections.
What does this mean for the future of our transportation programs? A lot less money, for one thing, unless we change our dependence on the gas tax:
Coupled with improvements in fuel efficiency, reduced driving means Americans will use about half as much gasoline and other fuels in 2040 than they use today, making the real value of gas taxes fall as much as 74 percent.
Indeed, we are already seeing the impact of that fall-off. The tightening revenue suggests, first, that we should make sure we are setting aside existing dollars to ensure the good repair of our existing system. Second, we should review projects in the pipeline that assume escalating rates of driving. Third, we should help the metropolitan regions and mid-sized cities – our economic production zones – that are trying to give their citizens more reliable and affordable options. All of this suggests that we need shift to a mix of revenue sources to build a unified transportation fund that can cover all our infrastructure needs. You’ll be seeing a lot more from us on those ideas in the weeks and months to come.April 30, 2013
By Transportation for America
Responding to President Obama’s nomination of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation for America Director James Corless issued this statement:
April 11, 2013
“Transportation for America congratulates Mayor Foxx on his nomination as transportation secretary. We are delighted to see a mayor of one of our up-and-coming economic centers selected to provide national leadership on implementing the provisions of MAP-21 and laying the groundwork for what we hope will be a rejuvenated national program. As a metropolitan region in the booming Sun Belt, Charlotte has become a leader in embracing transportation innovations and high-quality public transportation as key building blocks of a prosperous economy.
The long recession and related budget woes, along with the trend of flattening gas tax receipts, have left states and localities struggling to meet the needs of a growing and diversifying population. As the elected head of a major city, Mayor Foxx is more likely than most to understand the issues facing localities and states. We wish him success during the confirmation process.”
By Transportation for America
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Responding to President Obama FY 2014 budget announcement, including $50 billion in additional investment in key areas, Transportation for America Director James Corless issued this statement:
April 11, 2013
“President Obama has been very consistent in calling for investment in fixing and expanding our overburdened transportation network, and his budget reflects those priorities. His pledge to fully fund the commitments made to states and localities in the MAP-21 law last summer is welcome, particularly in the light of the arbitrary cuts made under so-called sequestration.
The proposed $50 billion investment in near-term repairs and upgrades would give thousands of Americans work that needs doing, as our report on structurally deficient bridges made clear. Transit systems, too, are suffering from decay after a long recession that saw budgets cut to the bone and beyond. Our ports and freight networks need help, too.
In fact, we would like to see the President and Congress agree to more than a one-shot infusion. The transportation trust fund is in long-term trouble as gas tax receipts flatten, and the funds our communities depend on to build and maintain transit and road infrastructure have become less and less reliable. The truth is, our nation needs an ongoing investment in maintenance and repair of our 20th century infrastructure, even as we build a ‘next generation’ infrastructure for the 21st century.”
By Stephen Lee Davis
More than a third of all U.S. states have plans of some sort to raise new money for transportation to help cover yawning budget shortfalls and keep up with maintenance and new construction of their state transportation networks.
NPR picked up the story this week that we’ve been following very closely and spent some time talking to T4 America director James Corless about the growing trend of states stepping out on their own to raise their own money for transportation to augment the federal funding that did not increase with the last transportation bill.
One major reason federal transportation funding did not increase is that “cars are getting more efficient, and people are actually driving less,” James Corless told NPR. “So that has conspired really to put less revenues into these state and federal funds — trust funds out of the gasoline tax. So purchasing power is declining, and so states are getting creative,” he said.
According to figures released by Transportation for America, which advocates for modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, 19 states have approved or are considering legislation to increase transportation funding.
One creative approach was taken by Virginia, which actually eliminated its gas tax while raising sales taxes and imposing a tax on wholesale fuel. The state is also allowing the congested Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas to raise their own tax revenue.
Republican William Howell, the speaker of the Virginia House, helped broker the deal. “It was a true compromise,” he says. “As with most any compromise, no one’s 100 percent happy with every feature of it. There are some things that I’m not crazy about. I’m sure there’s some features that other people don’t relish. But we had to do it.”
Though a third of all states do have some sort of proposal in the works, they’re all certainly not created equal. Ohio is looking to borrow more than a billion dollars against future turnpike revenues to build yet more roads. Gov. Walker in Wisconsin wants to borrow $1.2 billion and repay it with dwindling trust fund dollars and general tax revenue. A bill in Indiana would allow Indianpolis counties to tax themselves and invest that money in transit. Massachusetts has a plan to raise as much as a billion dollars a year for multimodal needs, including budget relief for their amazingly indebted transit agency.
Want to learn more and see what your state is planning, if anything?April 9, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
With MAP-21 signed into law last summer, attention has shifted from Washington out to the states.
In many cases, states have looked at the bottom line in MAP-21 and are deciding that they need more money for transportation and are embarking on ambitious and often groundbreaking plans to raise additional revenues for transportation.
Visit the home for state plans here, where we’re tracking all of the proposed (and enacted) plans in one easy, simple chart. If you see something we’ve gotten wrong or a state we should add, drop us a line and let us know.
And don’t miss our series of posts examining the plans and debates in a few key states.April 3, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
We’ve previously written about how Amtrak passenger rail, new public transit construction and the innovative TIGER program just had their budgets slashed in sequestration at a rate five times higher than traditional highway programs. That was due to the fact that those programs generally get their money from the general fund, and highways are funded through a protected trust fund. (Read that linked post for the details.)
There’s no way to prevent those cuts this year, but the Senate’s new budget for the next ten years — the first they’ve approved in years — lays the groundwork to create dedicated funding for transit, passenger rail and the innovative competitive TIGER projects, as well as generating new revenues for transportation.
The Tucson, Arizona streetcar is being funded both by a TIGER grant and New Starts money
Can you take a minute to thank the Senate for recognizing the importance of 21st century transportation investments and urge Congress to build on this budget and find new revenues for transportation while protecting these important programs?
At a time when transportation funds aren’t keeping pace with what we need to maintain AND build, the Senate’s bold plan could very well become the foundation to raise new money for transportation and create dedicated revenues for programs that help give us new options for how to get around.
Sequestration disproportionately cut the very programs that do the most to provide all of us with more ways to get around — new streetcars or bus rapid transit lines, competitive TIGER grants for innovative projects all over the country, and passenger rail that’s continuing to break ridership records.
The Senate’s plan could be the beginning of a new unified trust fund or a tax reform plan that raises new money for transportation — which could help protect these programs from these kinds of disproportionate cuts they just received.
So let’s make sure that the Senate and the House know that we need to both increase investments in transportation and protect the money that gives us more options for how to get around.March 27, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
When Maryland’s Intercounty Connector (ICC) highway opened in 2011, it did more than create a new east-west toll road between I-270 and I-95 in the northern suburbs of Washington, DC: It also severely hampered Maryland’s ability to build other large-scale transportation projects for years to come. But now there’s significant momentum to raise new state revenues for transportation to ensure that the state won’t have to shelve their plans for a 21st century transportation system.
Update 4/3/12: The Senate passed the House bill (HB515) last Friday, heading to Gov. O’Malley for his signature. The separate “lockbox” bill will require a conference to reconcile the differences in House and Senate versions.
With MAP-21 out the door, attention has shifted from Washington to the states. In many cases, states are deciding that they need more money for transportation and are embarking on ambitious and often groundbreaking plans to raise additional revenues for transportation. This post is part of a longer series we’ll be doing in 2013 examining how states are addressing the need for more transportation dollars, along with key policy changes. Visit the home for state plans here, where we’re tracking all of the news. - Ed.
While half of the ICC’s almost $2.6 billion cost was paid for with future tolls that don’t really impact the state’s transportation budget year to year, the other half ($1.3 billion) was covered by sources that have huge impacts on Maryland’s ability to build any other significant large transit or road projects.
The state spent $265 million in general funds and though the $180 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund represents only about 10 percent of what the state gas tax and vehicle fees bring in each year, Maryland is also devoting $750 million in future federal funds they haven’t yet received to the project — or almost 130 percent of what the state receives from the feds each year for all of their state highway needs. ($580 million in FY12.)
That means that a large share of Maryland’s future federal transportation dollars under MAP-21 — which itself represents a loss in real dollars over previous transportation bills — are already spoken for by this mammoth project.
The ICC under construction in 2011, Creative Commons Flickr photo by Dougtone.
Even without building the ICC, like a lot of states, Maryland would certainly have to make some tough decisions. But with it, it’s easy to understand how state and independent analysts have been saying that by 2018, Maryland will only have enough money to cover maintenance and repair, making it nearly impossible to fund any new highway projects or any of the long-awaited and much needed public transportation projects, including the new Red Line subway in Baltimore, the Purple Line rail link for Metro and the innovative Corridor Cities Transitway rapid bus line in the DC region.
Get Maryland Moving, a new coalition of advocates of all stripes from across the state, coalesced around the urgent need to keep these worthy projects (and many others) from being relegated to a perpetual “wouldn’t that be nice” wish list, providing Marylanders with other options for getting around, and ensuring that Maryland doesn’t have to cease all investment in their transportation network.
Since the (state) gas tax was set at its current level of 23.5¢ in 1992, construction costs have doubled, according to this report from the CA DOT. Simply put, just like the federal gas tax that was last increased in 1993, inflation has far outpaced the value of the gas tax, and with Americans driving fewer and fewer miles each year in more fuel efficient vehicles, they each bring in less revenue.
Urged along by the diverse Get Maryland Moving coalition, the current proposal started from a plan put forward by Governor Martin O’Malley, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, though it has been modified as it has moved through the state legislature. The House passed the bill (HB1515) just last week, and the Senate is due to debate and vote on it soon.
You can view the Governor’s initial plan on our page of state transportation funding plans, but here is the deal as it currently stands in the Maryland legislature. The plan would:
- Index the gas tax to inflation starting immediately (with a ceiling of 5 cents maximum increase in any given year.)
- Add a three percent sales tax at the gasoline pump, phasing that in over a period of three years starting this summer.
- There are other provisions that could change the sales tax rate on gasoline that have to do with internet sales tax. In short, if Congress allows states to tax internet sales, Maryland will devote that revenue to transportation. If not, they’ll raise the sales tax on gas to five percent.-=
- Raise $4.4 billion for transportation over six years (including the ability to borrow against increased future revenues.)
A popular argument against the tax has been the supposed increase that residents will see at the pump — 13-20 cents per gallon as reported by state analysts and trumpeted loudly above the fold by the Washington Post and other outlets. But gas prices fluctuate wildly even within submarkets — many places may see gas prices go up by 20 cents a gallon in just a few weeks at certain times of year.
Along those lines, the Get Maryland Moving coalition visited a bunch of Maryland gas stations on one particular day to show the wild variety in prices, sometimes at locations within sight of one another, and produced this terrific graphic.
The Get Maryland Moving coalition consists of some of T4 America’s core local partners in the region as well as strong representation from local elected officials and business groups that don’t want to see Maryland drop the ball on projects like the Purple Line that would create a vital (and decades overdue, many would argue) east-west transit connection in the region that would also eliminate long rides through the core of the Metro system to reach the opposite end of the Red line.
“This is a big problem, and we need a big solution,” Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) testified at a hearing of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “My view is go big or go home.”
Leggett appeared on the same panel with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D). All three praised a bill introduced by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) but said they remain open to alternative methods to raise more money for transportation.
The moment of truth is coming soon for Maryland’s transportation future. The 90-day legislative session ends in just a few weeks in early April.March 22, 2013
By Stephen Lee Davis
If your head is spinning from trying to figure out what sequestration, the “continuing budget resolution,” and the myriad proposed budgets have on transportation funding, this simple chart is for you.
This helpful chart shows the notable recent spending plans and compares each of them to what was spent on transportation in 2012, for the key programs that we care about.
There’s still a lot there, so let’s break down what’s there and simplify it. The first column shows what was approved for spending in 2012. These appropriations bills were passed before MAP-21 passed last summer, so 2012 mostly represents the levels authorized by SAFETEA-LU. This is the baseline we’re using for comparing to the 2013 spending.
The second column is the 2013 budget proposed by the Senate in the last (112th) Congress.
The third column is the spending levels established by MAP-21. Keep in mind that the standing transportation law just “authorizes” funding levels — the money still has to be “appropriated” each year. But typically, appropriators follow the levels laid out within the current transportation law for the most part.
The fourth column is the important one to pay attention to, because this is where all the cuts that are part of “sequestration” have been made. This is the “continuing budget resolution” that the Senate and then the House passed in just the last few weeks. A CR, as its known, just extends spending authority ahead through a certain amount of time — usually when Congress can’t agree to write a proper new annual budget before the current one expires. It’s a stopgap measure. A CR usually keeps funding at the same level and almost never changes policy, but in this case, there are cuts in the CR, and most of these are due to sequestration, which required cuts to all discretionary funding.
The last column shows the difference between the funding for transportation in 2012 vs 2013, comparing the first column with the fourth. Hopefully this provides some clarity for a confusing issue.
Would you like to download this chart as a sharable PDF? Find that here.
|Program||2012 funding levels||Senate's draft 2013 proposal (112th Congress)||MAP-21 authorized||2013 CR (implements sequestration)||Difference: 2013 v. 2012 funding levels|
|Transit Formula Grants||$8.36B||$8.36B||$8.5B||$8.5B||$10M|
|Transit Capital Grants (New Starts)||$1.955B||$2B||$1.9B||$1.86B||—$95M|
|High Speed Rail/High Performance Passenger Rail||$0 (HSR)||$100M from PRIIA||PRIIA has jurisidction||$0||$0|
|Amtrak Capital*||$952M||$1.05B||PRIIA has jurisidction||$904M||—$48M|
|Amtrak Operating*||$466M||$400M||PRIIA has jurisidction||$442.5M||—$23.5M|
|Partnership for Sustainable Communities Grants||$0||$50M||$0||$0|
|Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS)||Did not exist – created under MAP-21||$500M||$0||$0 (or —$500M from MAP-21)|
|Hurricane Sandy FTA Emergency Transit Funding||$10.9B||$10.35B||—$545M|
|Hurricane Sandy Amtrak Emergency Funds||$118M||$112M||—$6M|
|Hurricane Sandy FHWA Emergency Highway Funds||$2B||$1.9B||—$100M|