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!
Congress voted in late May to extend Federal highway and transit program funding for another two months. Safe through July 2015! As Pete Ruane, President of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), noted: “The good news is that Congress didn’t punt on the program for the rest of the year, putting the 2016 construction season in jeopardy.” Nevertheless, the two-month fix is another in a long series of short term funding extensions. So where do we go from here?
Congress is no doubt sincere about finding a viable revenue solution that will fund America’s transportation infrastructure for the long term. Many alternatives are under consideration. And everyone – business and citizens as well as the legislators themselves – hopes that Congress will succeed before the extension expires. We have much at stake and we’ll see what happens by late July. Between now and then, it is worth remembering that, throughout America’s history, our greatest leaders always took action whenever the country needed to get something important done. Our greatest leaders didn’t punt!
A new television commercial from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) presents some very sensible recommendations for fixing the Highway Trust Fund for the long term. Instead of relying on temporary budget solutions to fund the nation’s highway and transit program, the commercial points out that a $0.15 increase in the highway user fee would permanently relieve the $16 billion dollar annual deficit in the Highway Trust Fund. It would also pay for a 6 year highway and transportation bill and fund investments in our national freight network and essential public transit systems.
What does the proposed increase mean for our wallets? Not much. A 15 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal motor fuel tax – which truly is more of user fee than a tax – would cost the average driver $0.24 per day. That works out to just about $87 per year. Given all the benefits of having a sustainable Highway Trust Fund, this seems like a no-brainer.
Check out the new ARTBA commercial, “Getting Beyond Gridlock”, to learn more!
A 180 to 200 percent return on investment (ROI) would be considered “good business” or a “good investment.”
OK, before you say, “I don’t know anything about ROIs, and I certainly don’t have any extra money to invest.” You – and more than 210 million people in the U.S. – are already making the investment and are a benefactor because of it. That’s according to a report by IHS Global, “Transportation Infrastructure Investment: Macroeconomic and Industry Contribution of the Federal Highway and Mass Transit Program.”
Wait, wait, wait; don’t let the “ROI” and “macroeconomic contribution” confound you. You see, if you drive, you’re driving the economy. Each person who purchases motor fuel for their cars is making a contribution – or investment – into the federal transportation system.
For each gallon of motor fuel the U.S. driver purchases, an investment of 18.4 cents is made to the federal government’s highway, bridge and public transit infrastructure programs. While the average American driving 11,500 miles a year is paying less than $100 a year – that’s less than $2 a week – in federal gasoline tax, it adds up. Remember the last rush-hour traffic jam you were sitting in? There are a lot of drivers, or investors, on the nation’s roads, so the total investment equals around $50 billion a year.
Associated General Contractors of America CEO Stephen Sandherr said the IHS Global report “makes clear is that our entire economy benefits from federal investments in highway and transit projects.”
The ROI for drivers is not only a 46,000-mile, 610,000-bridge federal highway system – which allows us to commute to work, school and other activities that improve the American lifestyle – but much more according to IHS. The research shows that federal government’s investment in the nation’s highway system boosts the country’s job market and tax base – and thus the economy – provides additional pocket money for all, and much more:
Not Investing has its Consequences
A failing transportation system has widespread consequences, as the country’s physical transportation infrastructure is a major driver of manufacturing competitiveness. A failing transportation system also affects the travel industry and the people and businesses involved in that sector. “When our 2-trillion-dollar travel sector isn’t functioning well, it costs us in tax revenue, jobs,” said U.S. Travel Association President/CEO Roger Dow. And when “the hassle of dealing with the highway system” causes travelers to stay home, this affects waiters, hotels and more. “It’s critical to invest in infrastructure,” Down says. “It isn’t just about roads, it’s about how America does business – and we’re all in this together.”
The message resounds from the halls of Congress to the local news desk: “The U.S. needs a long term transportation plan!” Now, as the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency once again, ideas for increasing transportation funding have taken on a new life. Many funding proposals have surfaced in Congress and legislators from around the country have suggested alternative funding methods for their states as well. The discussion is long overdue, and Ohio should be part of it. With the 4th largest interstate system and the 2nd largest bridge inventory in the nation, Ohio needs dependable highway funding for the long term.
Highway Trust Fund insolvency would rapidly quash infrastructure projects across the county. Without federal dollars to supplement state gas tax revenues, the negative impact on state Departments of Transportation, the highway construction industry and local economies would be immense. But another funding extension that keeps the Highway Trust Fund going for an additional six to nine months isn’t the answer. Short-term fixes fail to solve the long term challenge – building a sustainable transportation program that will carry America forward for decades.
Few disagree that the U.S. needs to improve the condition of roads and bridges throughout the country. It makes good economic sense to do so. But there is much more debate about how best to fund the process. So let’s start with the basics. A motor fuel user fee in the form of a gas tax is the primary funding source for highway construction and maintenance in America today. It is also the most reasonable funding alternative currently available. It’s time to revisit!
Check out our newest brochure, Highway Funding Revisited, for a quick look at gas tax history, why its purchasing power has declined in recent years and why increasing the gas tax remains the single best option for boosting revenue.
Talk about geographic advantage! The Buckeye state sits within a single day’s drive from 60% of the U.S. and Canadian population, making it a freight and logistics hub for the entire country. Companies in just about every industry depend on Ohio’s transportation system for reliable and timely shipment of everything from bulk commodities and machinery to thousands of items that line your grocery store shelves. The economic impact of all this activity is enormous.
Commercial trucking carries a major portion of the load with shipments accounting for 68% of the freight flow in Ohio. That translates to more than $438 billion in goods shipped, giving Ohio the 3rd largest freight payload in the nation. And looking ahead, the freight volume moved by truck is expected to increase 67% by 2040!
The other major freight transportation modes make a huge economic impact as well. With 36 railroads in service and 5,300 miles of track, Ohio ranks 4th nationally in total active rail miles and 6th in the number of operating railroads. The rail system accounts for 28% of the freight moving through the state. Ohio also ranks 4th in the nation in the value of shipments moved by water. The Buckeye state’s 26 ports have a $6.5 billion impact on the U.S. economy. Overall, the combined freight volume for transportation modes is projected to increase by 639 million tons annually by 2040!
There’s no question about it. Ohio’s network of highways, bridges, railroads and waterways comprise a powerful economic workhorse that benefits industries and communities throughout the nation. As more demand is placed on our transportation system in the coming years, we need to make sure that it can handle the load – safely and efficiently.
Check out our “Driving the Economy!” brochure to learn more about the impact of transportation in Ohio.