Yesterday, as I was searching for statistics on the websites of NHTSA, BTS, and FHWA for use in a CenterLines story, I came across the Secretary of Transportation's latest press release (<a href="http://tinyurl.com/6m3xsw">http://tinyurl.com/6m3xsw</a>). The news is that Americans drove less in FY2008 and, as a result, the Highway Trust Fund revenue will come up at least $3 billion short in FY2008. For me this was fantastic news because this was irrefutable proof that the non driving public was directly subsidizing the driving public. Or, to put it in terms the Secretary could understand: Bridges don't fall down because bicycle paths are built; bicyclists' taxes are building and maintaining those bridges.
Before I prematurely gave thanks, I read on:
"Our current approach has us encouraging Americans to change their driving habits and burn less fuel while secretly hoping they drive more so we can finance new bridges, repair interstates and expand transit systems," said Secretary Peters. 'We need a new approach that compliments, instead of contradicts, our energy policies and infrastructure needs.'"
To the casual reader this might sound like a sensible statement. However, given the Secretary's previous statements on said 'new approaches' to transportation funding, I blinked a few times, rubbed my eyes, blinked again, and then ultimately ventured into Blogistan to make sure I was interpreting her statement correctly.
I will start with the Practical Cyclist' Blog:
"OK. As long as that doesn't mean privatizing our roads."
Cascadia Prospectus breaks down the argument on federal transportation funding into two positions: the Conservatives versus the Innovators. Secretary Peters is considered an Innovator:
"The Innovators, on the other hand, tend to think that the time has come for a fundamental rethinking of how the nation's surface transportation system should be financed and managed. They question whether the gasoline tax alone can continue to fund the nation's growing transportation needs. They point to the likely trend of rising vehicle fuel efficiency, increasing cost of road construction and eroding value of the tax dollar as reasons why we need to diversify the funding sources.
"They do not suggest doing away with the Highway Trust Fund, for its resources will be vitally needed to help preserve, rehabilitate and upgrade existing highways and bridges. But they think that funding new infrastructure will require a fresh approach. They see tolling, congestion pricing, private capital, private road concessions and public-private partnerships becoming vital elements of highway financing and management.
"With financial responsibility for new infrastructure shifted to the states, Innovators see the federal role in surface transportation diminishing. They think inflation-indexed tolling may become a significant source of revenue to the states and they assume that toll roads will become a sound investment for the private sector. Finally, they believe that the surface transportation program should become more targeted. Federal funding, they contend, should be focused on the most pressing problems such as traffic congestion and freight movement and not dissipated on a large number of unrelated projects of local interest.
"The most prominent spokesmen for this point of view are Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, certain members of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission and several governors, notably Mitch Daniels (IN), Rick Perry (TX) and Charlie Crist (FL)."
Not surprising, it is rumored that Alligator Alley may be on the auction block. See: <a href="http://tinyurl.com/5v9gbj">http://tinyurl.com/5v9gbj</a>
Source: <a href="http://tinyurl.com/5gh489">http://tinyurl.com/5gh489</a>
Lest you think that privatization of government function to be a discredited and thoroughly disproved ideology, take a look at a recent prospectus by A.E. Feldman, paying particular attention to the last few paragraphs:
See: <a href="http://tinyurl.com/666o4d">http://tinyurl.com/666o4d</a>
Maybe some of that bailout money will make it into infrastructure investment after all.
If you are interested in knowing what the party in exile will be working on with respect to federal transportation policy, I suggest you start here:
"Refocus. Reform. Renew."
"Innovation Wave: An Update on the Burgeoning Private Sector Role in U.S. Highway and Transit Infrastructure."
FHWA's Public Private Partnerships office