The collapse of the I-35 Bridge in St. Paul, Minnesota this past summer is a distressing remainder to state legislators of the fragile condition of most of America's roads and infrastructure. Jim Read, NCSL's Transportation Program Director, joined NCSL's Top 10 Legislative Issues for 2008 podcast series to discuss the challenges legislators will face this year to allocate funds and creatively look for ways to increase revenue in efforts to fix roadways.
Roads and bridges underlie entire state economies, therefore funding sources to fix infrastructure is a critical mission for legislators. Read explains that the decline in state gas taxes and purchasing powers are the two main concerns for states - "less money is available for states to spend and states will be looking at variety of ways to increase revenue including tolling and private-public partnerships". According to Read, 23 states have authorization to partner with vendors. For example, Indiana's toll road initiative totaled $4 billion in a vendor partnership to take care of roads.
In addition, states might be playing a bigger role in this issue if Federal spending for reauthorization of transportation programs remains underfunded. This is where partnerships with vendors come into play. Read says "States will look at basic contracting services to selling or leasing toll roads" However, contracts are negotiated behind close doors questioning the protection of public interest.
In 2008, legislatures are expected to take a number of actions on this issue. For instance, Colorado assigned a study commission to closely examine revenue strategies. The commission concluded that increasing gas taxes remains the number one source of funding for the state. Other states will be empowering local governments to pass increases in tax legislation as well as authority to create and maintain transportation infrastructure.
States are also expected to embark on pilot projects to implement innovative strategies to increase revenue. In the case of Oregon, a vehicle-mile-travel-fee system is being tested. Rather than charge a gas tax at the pomp travelers will be charged a fee for each mile they travel. Read confirms the system will probably be implemented in ten years.
· The trend of State and Local governments to look to tolls and partnerships with vendors as attractive options to generate much needed revenue is also a major driver for investment in information transportation systems (ITS). GovWin's State and Local IT Market Forecast 2007-2012 provides an detailed analysis of this trend and emphasis that investments of ITS deployments such as traffic signal optimization, electronic sign boards and others are expected by the end of 2012.
· State and local governments benefit from the largest federal funds offered for transportation programs within their communities. Among the several programs funded by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for User (SAFETEA-LU), states will closely follow federal-aid aimed at testing tolling, encouraging private sector investment and promoting the innovation of new technologies.