Posts Tagged ‘funding’

The State of Infrastructure

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I found this humorous video about the state of Infrastructure as described by John Oliver’s comments on infrastructure.

The funny thing is that he uses the attack on bridges, roads, etc., in movies as the opening comment in his remarks on transportation infrastructure.  He agrees that everyone says infrastructure is key, but also highlights how the funding for transportation remains a challenge.  This was also discussed in another publication, “The Pew Charitable Trusts” issued a report on Funding Challenges in Highway and Transit.  As mentioned in other places, the level of spending is declining while the needs remain.

Mr. Oliver’s recommendation to have a movie on transportation is appealing, and there are plenty of videos on transportation funding, supply chains, etc., in addition to the good work done by the American Society of Civil Engineers “Failure to Act Series” , although I don’t think anyone will rush out for the sequel!



The Future of American Infastructure

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The April 20-May 6th Economist published an article entitled:  “Life in the Slow Lane”  (I am sure an obvious pun on the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane”, itself a commentary on misspent priorities and self destruction).  This article is referenced the recent Congressional Budget Office’s report on Infrastructure spending, which highlights trends in funding transportation in the U.S.

The Economist article reports (as if this information is something new) on the chronic underfunding of transportation in the U.S., and the demise of a once great transportation network.  When combined with the various reports and studies that have been written over the past ten years, the sum of the articles point to a lack of  will to do something that everyone knows is critical – improve transportation networks.

Generally, spending on infrastructure has tracked general spending at the Federal level (this includes all expenditures (highway, railroads, airports, waterways, etc.)  reported by Since 1960, expenditures on transportation increased as the U.S. built out the interstate transportation system, waterways (such as the Tenn-Tom) and locks and dams, and airports through the U.S.  while transit systems were also being developed. The Age of the Engineer was in full swing.   (Figure 1.)

Figure 1.  %Change in total Federal Spending on Transportation and Total Federal Spending.

While spending increased, the U.S. has continued to spend less in transportation as a share of total budgets for a long time (“a gradual disinvestment in the system?”). The net effect resulted in a decline in spending on transportation as a share of total federal expenditures, despite many authorized projects that have never been completed across the nation (Figure 2.).

Figure 2.  %Change in total Federal Spending on Transportation as a Share of Total Federal Spending

But focusing only on federal expenditures ignores  and under-reports the large volume of state expenditures on state and local transportation needs.  (Roughly When the role of state spending is added to the federal spending levels, we see that the while the percentage of total government expenditures has increased, the overtime, the share of total expenditures has declined across the entire U.S. at the same time that rising project costs, materials, and related fees and time has lead to a net slowing of projects being constructed while the maintenance backlog continues to overwhelm limited resources.

Figure 3.  %Change in total State, local and Federal Spending on Transportation as a Share of Total Spending


Given the rubik of discussions on freight security, livable communities, logistics lead economic development, climate change and energy policy, it is clear that future discussions regarding transportation in the U.S. will remain mired in questions about creating a vision.  The problem is that the potential change dollar’s role as an international currency may change, as well as the price of energy, which may force us to determine if we can continue to live  off the previous investments of our forefathers without developing our generation’s transportation legacy for America.  The question of livable cities, the investment in high speed rail, with the potential corresponding growth in new transportation/city frameworks (such as the   Center for Clean Air Policy’s “Growing Wealthier” suggests)  may be one future, but without the revenue and funding sources identified, I expect there to be more articles in the Economist complaining about America’s Infrastructure.



“New Year Predictions”, Lambert’s Lagniappe, Feb 2010

Monday, February 15th, 2010

As a sign of yet another year’s end, every­one who is an expert, ranging from football, to finances, and to health, are giv­ing their wise counsel. Here in New Orleans everyone is making Superbowl predictions. We know that the future is uncertain, and while we can only guess at where things are going, it is still useful to consider what we believe (or hope) will happen.

For the economy, most agree that we are slowly coming off the bottom, but the halcyon days remain a long way off. Regarding infrastructure funding, the discussions about reauthorization of the SAFETEA-LU, the TIGER grant process, and the need for additional investment in transportation continue. However, I am struck with the notion that we can not agree on what kind of transportation system we want to build and how it will be financed. But it seems that if only we have enough money we could build everything everyone wants.

Recently, I served as a panelist at the first of Secretary LaHood’s listening sessions. In going through the sessions, it was interesting how several panelists wanted a new transportation system based primarily on urban passenger transportation. The irony was also how everyone assumed that a torrent of federal funds will be unleashed to assist in mostly local transportation issues. It appears as if we have ignored the role of the federal and state government when it comes to providing infrastructure. The Federal role traditionally was to ensure the network works, and by extension, access to that network. Such an approach focused on connecting areas, as well as the major networks in the urban area and rural access points. The State was set up to ensure access exists for its citizens to the Federally funded infrastructure, but also to State and local networks.

While everyone sees the reality for reinvestment in transportation, it appears that most want the discussion to largely involve solving the urban transportation problem. This somewhat myopic view, while critical to local urban mobility, is not wise. It ignores both the role of equity amongst projects as well as the greater role of access to global markets. But it is safe to say that the future of transportation is based on many, but conflicting, views that must be reconciled as the Nation commits to a new transportation future. And that need for creating a national vision is about the only thing all the experts agree on.

“Changing Pork into Dinner”, Lambert’s Lagniappe, Dec 2009

Monday, February 15th, 2010

After attending several meetings on freight during the past few weeks, everyone seems to agree that Freight will remain an important part of the future of the Southeast going forward. From the region’s ports, and airports, there seems to be some optimism that we have passed through the worst of the crises. But we still have a long way to go to move our economy forward. The irony is over the past few weeks, I read several editorials in the general press about spending needless money on infrastructure.

Recently, President Obama encouraged more exports to provide jobs for American workers. There is a need to strengthen small businesses in the region. These businesses need access to ports, waterways, airports, as well as roadways, to sustain trade. With an estimated 10,870 jobs created for every $1billion spent on infrastructure, there is a need to look at relinking access to infrastructure. The pent up demand to reinvest in our “needless” infrastructure is evident by the overflow of applications for DOTD TIGER grants earlier this year. People view infrastructure as a critical need for reinvestment. We need to not think of these as “pork”, but the promise made regarding America’s access to markets.

“Everyone’s Ready to Play”, Lambert’s Lagniappe- Nov 2009

Monday, February 15th, 2010

It’s October, and the entire world is crazy. For sports, it’s the middle of football season, or should I say, the middle of the question regarding a playoff series for football or the BCS in general. Here in Louisiana, the Saints possibility going to the Super Bowl is a lead­ing story every day in the paper. For other sports, we are experiencing the hopes of a new season or the failures of the end of one. The World Series is going on. Basketball and hockey are also just starting their seasons.

In transportation, we are discussing what activities happened (or did not happen) during the Christmas shipping season and the timing of the economic recovery. The TIGER Grants have all been submitted, and everyone is hoping for progress on the reauthorization of the SAFETEA-LU or the highway bill. The ARRA funds have all been obligated, with some estimates regarding how it generated jobs related to infrastruc­ture spending.

It seems to be a time when everyone is waiting for something magical to happen, from the sports world to transportation. But despite the uncertainties of the economy and how our “team” is doing, there are some relationships that continue to exist. All of these things mentioned above require several things to happen. You have to have the right team, the right coach, the right objective, but mostly commitment (physi­cally and financially.) The Stimulus program demonstrated that the transportation industry is ready to carry out the necessary investment in our roadways and waterways, if given the chance. In some ways, the teams are ready to play; they are only waiting for the officials to show up with the game ball and a whistle!