The Ohio Department of Transportation announcement of plans for the 2016 construction season generated a lot of media coverage in recent weeks. And rightly so! The numbers are impressive. Overall, ODOT will invest $2.1 billion this year in 1,100 infrastructure projects statewide. ODOT’s news release states that, collectively the projects “are designed to improve the condition of roads and bridges, increase safety, and make the transportation of people and goods more efficient.”
ODOT’s 2016 construction agenda is a diligent, well-planned effort. Approximately 90% of the construction budget is dedicated to improving the condition of 1,167 bridges and 6,485 miles of pavement. Also included are 157 additional projects that focus specifically on safety. The remaining 10% of the construction budget will be used to add capacity to the system where it is most needed, primarily expanding roads to ease current levels of traffic congestion.
The 2016 construction plan and budget allocation remain true to ODOT’s aggressive preservation strategy – to get the longest life possible out of our road and bridge surfaces with the best quality possible. They are doing a tremendous job with the financial resources available. To achieve more would require substantially more funding – and that is not expected in the near future.
The federal government’s 2015 “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” – or FAST Act – will keep highway funding flowing to the states for the time being. But with the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents-per-gallon since 1993, the Highway Trust Fund will face insolvency once again in just a few years. Unfortunately, the FAST Act included no plan for a sustainable, long-term funding mechanism. At the state level, Ohio’s gas tax has remained at 28 cents-per-gallon for ten years or more. And since the Ohio gas tax is not adjusted for inflation, the dollars collected simply don’t buy as much as they did a decade ago.
What can we conclude? In the current funding scenario, ODOT will certainly continue its excellent work and preservation strategy for our roads and bridges. We can count on their pledge of – “Taking Care of What We Have.” However, if Ohioans want the level of expansion needed to create an outstanding transportation system that will carry our state well into the future, a meaningful discussion about sustainable, long-term funding must begin right now. Excellent roads and bridges that help keep transportation safe and power Ohio’s economic engine do not come free. They require a commitment from all of us. The investment is worth it!
Each year the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) conducts a review of state bridge data compiled in the Federal Highway Administration’s “National Bridge Inventory” database. ARTBA’s analysis of the 2015 federal data found that nearly 59,000 or 9.5% of the nation’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient.” While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, the purpose of the report is to help educate the public and policymakers that they have structural deficiencies that need repair. Unfortunately, the funding made available to state and local transportation departments for bridge work is not keeping pace with needs.
Let’s take a look at how the numbers stack up for bridges in Ohio. Highlights from ARTBA’s 2016 Annual Bridge Report include:
Overall, Ohio has the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation. Based on the ARTBA data, Ohio ranks #12 based on the number of Structurally Deficient bridges and #33 based on the percentage of Structurally Deficient Bridges. But regardless of how you look at it, we want to do better. After all, Ohio is also one of the most heavily traveled states for both passenger vehicles and commercial freight. Consider these statistics from the Ohio Department of Transportation Annual Fact Book for 2015:
With numbers like that, Ohio must continue to strive for excellence in its transportation infrastructure. A safe, well-maintained and uncongested system of highways and bridges is something that every resident and visitor traveling through Ohio should be able to count on.
The Transportation Investment Advocacy Center (TIAC) recently updated its website with a new look and expanded content. The redesigned website is a handy reference source that helps private citizens, legislators, businesses and organizations advocate for more transportation infrastructure resources at the state and local levels.
The TIAC website features an interactive U.S. map allowing visitors to easily review transportation funding developments state-by-state. The site is loaded with dozens of reports and case studies covering state and local funding initiatives that have occurred over the past several years. Visitors can also sign up for a free e-mail subscription to TranspoAdvocate News, which provides updates on transportation issues and funding initiatives several times a week. Additionally, the site includes a digital library of presentations given at the “National Workshop for State and Local Transportation Advocates” in 2014 and 2015.
The TIAC site was originally launched in 2014 by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). Check it out when you have a few minutes. A brief visit will be time well-spent.
Ohio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan comments on the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act)
On Dec. 3, 2015, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation – the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act) – that reauthorized funding for the federal surface transportation programs through FY 2020. President Obama signed the bill into law the next day. Enactment of this legislation follows years of hard advocacy work by OCA and its members, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and countless other organizations and individuals from across the country who understand that transportation is the backbone of this nation’s economic and social prosperity. Everyone in the transportation construction industry across America is deeply indebted to those that have consistently promoted passage of a long-term transportation bill over many years and many Congressional visits and discussions.
Under the FAST Act, Ohio will receive $7.1 billion in federal funding over the next five years to invest in its highway improvement program. In FY 2015, Ohio received nearly $1.29 billion in federal funds. The federal highway apportionments to Ohio will increase, growing from $1.36 billion in FY 2016 to $1.48 billion in FY 2020.
Disappointingly, the FAST Act fails to address the major challenge facing the federal highway and public transportation program – the Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF’s) permanent structural revenue deficit. Instead of enacting a long-term funding plan to provide states and the private sector with certainty about highway and transit investment post-FY 2020, President Obama and the members of Congress defaulted to the path of least resistance by providing a large, one-time transfer of General Fund resources, produced largely by accounting chicanery, to the HTF.
As a result, certainty provided by the FAST Act will be short-lived. Absent remedial congressional action, another revenue shortfall will impact Ohio’s state construction program as early as 2019 when the federal funding cycle begins to wane and the Ohio Turnpike bonding program has been tapped out. A permanent solution for the trust fund remains the key focus of transportation funding efforts moving forward.
ARTBA President & CEO Pete Ruane’s comments on the 2017 Federal transportation budget are clear, direct and right on point. Here is the full text of his statement:
(WASHINGTON) – American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President & CEO Pete Ruane issued the following statement regarding President Barack Obama’s FY 2017 budget:
“The President’s FY 2017 transportation budget proposal is an explicit admission that he and the Congress did not provide long-term sustainability for Highway Trust Fund programs when they enacted the FAST Act in December.
“The President’s proposal to levy a $10 fee on a barrel of oil to stabilize and grow Highway Trust Fund investments through user funding is exactly the type of solution that is necessary going forward. Unfortunately, the game was played last year and the President was AWOL.
“Speaker Ryan’s knee-jerk, dismissive reaction to the President’s proposal is similarly not helpful. Where is his long-term funding solution for the nation’s highway and transit programs?
“Congress and the White House have an obvious choice: more budget gimmicks that defy common sense and constrain state transportation plans, or a permanent revenue fix like the per barrel fee or some other user-based mechanism.
“Any tax reform package that moves forward this year or next must address the Highway Trust Fund solvency problem head-on.”
Since 1902, ARTBA has been the “consensus voice” of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry before Congress, the White House, federal agencies, news media and the general public.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is responsible for 43,000 miles of Ohio roads and 14,000 of the state’s bridges. In fact, ODOT spends 93% of its time and resources maintaining Ohio’s roadways. But while the cost of road repair increased with inflation over the past ten years, funding did not. Each $1.00 spent on repair in 2006 would require an expenditure of $1.56 today. In comparison, the state gas tax, which provides the primary source of highway funding, has remained flat since 2006. In a bold effort to make each dollar go further, ODOT recently launched “Taking Care of What We Have” an innovative program designed to preserve Ohio’s roadways and stave off the high cost of replacement.
“Taking Care of What We Have” focuses on extending the service life of existing roads and bridges through a powerful combination of Technology, Aggressive Preservation and Collaboration. ODOT now uses state-of-the-art pavement management software technology to analyze road conditions and determine road resurfacing priorities. Their preservation strategy follows an aggressive schedule of cleaning, sealing, painting and resurfacing roads and bridges statewide. And to ensure the preservation strategy works, the program requires ongoing collaboration between ODOT planning engineers, highway technicians and contractors.
“Taking Care of What We Have” is a bold initiative for sure, but what does it mean to the citizens of Ohio? Consider these benefits, taken directly from the FAQ section of ODOT’s Preservation web site:
First, it results in better roadway conditions, improving safety and traffic flow for motorists, truck drivers, motorcyclists, and bicyclists – all road users across the state.
Second, it’s important to our economy because the roads under ODOT’s care move 67% of the state’s freight traffic. Plus, better road conditions help you get to work on time, products to the store when you need them, and your latest online order to your door.
Third, it’s a smarter use of Ohio’s taxpayer dollars – paying smaller amounts on the work we do now so we don’t pay a lot more to fix problems later.
Kudos to ODOT for developing this proactive program! Be sure to check out the Maintaining Roads and Bridges section and the “Taking Care of What We Have” video on the ODOT website. They are chock full of great information that all Ohioans should know.
The “Look Twice Save a Life” campaign has reminded motorists that they are sharing the road with motorcyclists. Recent statistics, however, are showing that the campaign should be expanded so motorists also are on an increased lookout for pedestrians.
Just as distracted driving habits (Figure 1) injure more than 420,000 people annually and kill more than nine people every day, pedestrians are doing more and more distractive things that are putting them at risk. Research is showing that the number of distracted pedestrians is increasing.
In the February 2015 release of the U.S. DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts from 2013:
In 2013, Ohio recorded 85 pedestrian traffic fatalities, which was the 14th-highest of any state in the nation. California led the U.S. with 701 pedestrian fatalities.
The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that distracted walking injuries involving cellphones accounted for an average of 1,000 injuries a year from 2000-2011, notoriously earning a spot for the first time on the NSC’s statistical report, Injury Facts® – which tracks data on the leading causes of unintentional injuries and deaths.
“Whether we are in the car or on foot, it is important to be aware of our surroundings, even if they are familiar,” said NSC President/CEO Deborah Hersman. “… No call, text or update is worth an injury.”
More than six out of 10 pedestrian mishaps are caused by phone use, which result most commonly dislocations or fractures, sprains or strains and concussions. According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of all adult cellphone users have bumped into something or someone – or been on the receiving end of a bump – because of distracted walking. The increased use of cellphones by pedestrians – which are defined as any person on foot that is walking, running, jogging, hiking, sitting or lying down –has created the moniker of “petextrian.” The Urban Dictionary defines a petextrian as “one who texts while walking, usually unaware of their surroundings.”
According to the NSC, “The rise in cellphone distracted walking injuries parallels the eight-fold increase in cellphone use in the last 15 years. It is just as important to walk cell free as it is to drive cell free. Pedestrians and drivers using cellphones are both impaired and mentally distracted to focus on their surroundings. For pedestrians, this distraction can cause them to trip, cross roads unsafely or walk into motionless objects such as street signs, doors or walls.”
A study by Australia’s University of Queensland shows that petextrians reading or writing are physiologically impacted. The study showed that pedestrians walk at a slower rate when handling a cellphone – especially when texting – and are unable to walk in a straight line. Also, a pedestrian who is using a cellphone keeps his head down and neck immobile.
Cellphone use is just one of several activities distracting pedestrians. In a study conducted by the University of Georgia, distracted pedestrians were observed talking to other people, wearing headphones, texting, talking on their phones or engaged in multiple activities such as texting and listening to music. (Figure 2)
According to ABC News, distracted walkers take one to two seconds longer to cross the street and are more likely to ignore traffic lights or neglect to look both ways. Ironically, researchers found that distracted walkers are more likely to use crosswalks – perhaps trying to offset their risky behavior.”
Distracted pedestrians, just another reason motorists need to look twice to save a life.
After years of short-term fixes, Congress passed a new 5-year, $281 billion federal transportation bill which will boost overall highway spending by 15%. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 4. The new law, titled the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act – or the FAST Act – is the first long-term highway funding program since 2005.
The FAST Act will boost Ohio’s annual share of federal funding for highway projects from $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion by 2020. That’s a yearly increase of $200 million. The additional funds with help maintain Ohio highways, repair structurally deficient bridges, and assist the state with long range transportation project planning. Will the new federal program satisfy all of Ohio’s infrastructure needs? Of course not, but having a 5-year highway program in place is a significant step in the right direction.
However, the new federal program is by no means perfect, particularly when it comes to funding methods. The FAST Act failed to create a viable funding mechanism that will serve America well into the future. Traditionally the Federal Motor Fuel tax has been the primary revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund. The FAST Act did indeed re-authorize the federal gas tax at 18.4 cents per gallon, maintaining the same tax rate that was established in 1993. But that merely ensures that gas tax funding levels for road maintenance and improvements will remain flat for the next 5 years.
Since the federal gas tax alone won’t generate enough funds to pay for the new program, The FAST Act makes up the difference with additional revenue streams. Funding strategies include digging into the Federal Reserve Bank’s surplus and reducing the dividend the Fed pays to its member banks. There are also plans for selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and changing delinquent tax collection procedures at the IRS. Unfortunately, none of these funding sources are directly related to transportation. While they will work for this new 5-year program, they are uncertain highway revenue sources for the long haul.
At some point, the federal government – as well as individual states – will need to look seriously at viable sources of highway funding that will carry America forward for 10, 15, 20 years and longer. All reasonable options merit discussion and fair consideration. And with a new 5-year program safely in place, perhaps 2016 is a good time for those discussions to begin.
The “dog days of summer” have been with us for several weeks, coinciding perfectly with Congress’s annual August recess. All is quiet on Capitol Hill – for the moment. But even as lawmakers enjoy some time off, we have to believe that many are keeping an eye on what promises to be a complicated autumn agenda. Especially when they think about a Federal Highway Bill and long term transportation funding!
For anyone who wasn’t following the news a few weeks back, Congress recessed after passing yet another 3-month extension that will keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until the end of October. Not that our legislators didn’t try to do more. As the last extension approached its expiration on July 31, there was a flurry of Congressional activity. The hope was that, maybe this time, the U.S. would gain a solid Federal transportation program with funding for the long term. It was not to be.
In mid-July, the House proposed a 5-month extension to give lawmakers time to iron out a long term program by the end of 2015. But the Senate had a bigger plan. Rather than enduring yet another short term funding extension, the Senate developed a 6-year transportation bill which they hoped the House would embrace. However, the Senate program was only funded for three of the six years. The House wasn’t buying. When the dust settled at the end of July, both chambers agreed on the 3-month extension, the 34th short term funding patch since 2009. The Senate also passed its own 6-year plan, setting the stage for more Congressional debate this fall.
So what’s different this time around? Well, despite differing opinions on funding mechanisms, both House and Senate have been exceptionally vocal about their goal of passing a long-term transportation program sooner rather than later. When the House proposed its 5-month extension in July, Republican leaders indicated that the short-term measure would give them more time to develop a long-term highway bill. “We want to do a multi-year highway bill, and typically a multi-year highway bill means a six-year bill, and that is our aspiration and that is our goal,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the bill’s co-sponsor. “So we’re here to extend the Highway Trust Fund through December 18 to give us the time we need to put together a multi-year solution.”
After passing its own 6-year highway bill, the Senate spoke in a similar vein. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “The multi-year nature of this legislation is one of its most critical components. It’s also something the House and Senate are now united on.” McConnell also noted that passage of the new 3-month funding extension gives the House space to develop its own long term-plan. “We all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in conference later this year,” he said.
It’s clear that Congressional leaders have placed development and passage of a sustainable, long-term highway bill right in the bull’s-eye for late 2015. Can they make it happen? We’ll see. But as summer winds down and lawmakers enjoy the last few days of August recess, it’s a good bet that transportation funding is very much in mind.
TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation research group, has released a new Ohio-focused report titled, Modernizing Ohio’s Transportation System: Progress and Challenges in Providing a Safe, Efficient and Well-Maintained Transportation System. The official announcement included several media events held last week in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton. Representatives from local Chambers of Commerce, Regional Planning Commissions and the AAA joined TRIP officials in each locale.
The TRIP report acknowledges that Ohio has made progress, even without any recent increases in state or federal transportation revenues. Through operational improvements and the use of bonds backed by the Ohio Turnpike, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been able to increase construction investment in the state’s roads, highways and bridges from $1.6 billion in 2011 to $2.4 billion in 2014 and 2015. The increased investment helped keep state-maintained roads and bridges largely in acceptable condition.
But the TRIP study also emphasizes that current investment levels have not been adequate to close a funding shortfall for transportation improvements. In fact, ODOT has an $11.6 billion backlog for necessary road, highway and bridge improvements which are currently unfunded. Granted, the huge backlog cost includes every road and bridge problem throughout the state. All of those improvement projects would never commence at the same time. However, it is important to note that the new transportation budget recently passed in Ohio reduces highway and bridge construction spending to $1.9 billion in 2016 and $1.7 billion in 2017. That may reflect more typical annual budgets than the past two years, but it still means fewer funds for construction.
Equally important is the issue of whether Congress will approve a long term federal transportation plan that will ensure highway funding for years rather than months. The Highway Trust Fund contributes $1.3 billion to Ohio’s transportation budget annually, dollars needed to help fund road and bridge work throughout the state. But short term extensions of a few months make it difficult to plan future construction projects. Hopefully Congress will act this summer as the latest in a long series of short term extensions expires at the end of July.
In addition to transportation funding, the TRIP report is loaded with information on pavement and bridge conditions in Ohio, traffic congestion, highway safety and economic development. We’ll explore those topics further in upcoming posts. If you would like to delve in on your own, you can access the entire report at ocianews.com. Could be time well spent!