Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines: Process and Timing of FERC Permit Application Review (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Growth in U.S. shale gas production involves the expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure to transport natural gas from producing regions to consuming markets, typically in other states. Over 300,000 miles of interstate transmission pipeline already transport natural gas across the United States. However, if the growth in U.S. shale gas continues, the requirement for new pipelines could be substantial. This ongoing expansion has increased congressional interest in the role of the federal government in the certification (permitting) of interstate natural gas pipelines.
Under Section 7(c) of the Natural Gas Act of 1938, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is authorized to issue certificates of “public convenience and necessity” for “the construction or extension of any facilities … for the transportation in interstate commerce of natural gas.” Thus, companies seeking to build interstate natural gas pipelines must first obtain certificates of public convenience and necessity from FERC. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) designates FERC as the lead agency for coordinating “all applicable Federal authorizations” and for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance in reviewing pipeline certificate applications.
There are no statutory time limits within which FERC must complete its certificate review process. However, EPAct authorizes FERC to establish a schedule for all related federal authorizations and provides for judicial petition if an agency fails to comply with that schedule. Congress included these provisions in EPAct to address concerns that some interstate gas pipeline and other energy infrastructure approvals were being unduly delayed by a lack of coordination or insufficient action among agencies involved in the certification process. FERC has promulgated regulations requiring certificate-related final decisions from other agencies no later than 90 days after the commission issues its final environmental document.
Making Safer Streets (PDF)
Source: New York City Department of Transportation
Making streets safer requires more than the traditional “3 Es” of engineering, education, and enforcement. It also requires working closely with local communities to collaboratively plan changes in how streets are designed and operated. And it requires learning from our successes to identify and implement the most effective approaches to street design.
This report focuses on how smart and innovative street design can dramatically improve the safety of our streets. The results reported here are based on “before and after” comparisons of crash data for projects implemented in the last seven years. This analysis is the largest examination of the safety effects of innovative roadway engineering conducted in a major American city, or perhaps any city globally.
Multilateral Development Banks: Overview and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The multilateral development banks (MDBs) include the World Bank and four smaller regional development banks: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB). The United States is a member of, and major donor to, each of the MDBs.
The MDBs provide financial assistance to developing countries in order to promote economic and social development. They primarily fund large infrastructure and other development projects and, increasingly, provide loans tied to policy reforms by the government. The MDBs provide nonconcessional financial assistance to middle-income countries and some creditworthy low-income countries on market-based terms. They also provide concessional assistance, including grants and loans at below-market rate interest rates, to low-income countries.
Critics argue that the MDBs focus on “getting money out the door” (rather than delivering results), are not transparent, and lack a clear division of labor. They also argue that providing aid multilaterally relinquishes U.S. control over where and how the money is spent. Proponents argue that providing assistance to developing countries is the “right” thing to do and has been successful in helping developing countries make strides in health and education over the past four decades. They also argue that MDB assistance is important for leveraging funds from bilateral donors, promoting policy reforms, and enhancing U.S. leadership.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Federal Real Property: Selected Agencies Plan to Use Workforce Mobility to Reduce Space, but Most Efforts Are Too New to Have Realized Savings. GAO-14-41, October 17.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/658455.pdf
2. Critical Infrastructure: Assessment of the Department of Homeland Security’s Report on the Results of Its Critical Infrastructure Partnership Streamlining Efforts. GAO-14-100R, November 18.
Highway Safety Research Agenda: Infrastructure and Operations
Source: Transportation Research Board
TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 756: Highway Safety Research Agenda: Infrastructure and Operations develops a proposed agenda of prioritized safety research needs in the area of highway infrastructure and operations.
The report provides options to the U.S. transportation community on how to direct research to the areas where it can provide the most benefit. The agenda is based on a prioritization methodology developed by the research team which can be applied on a recurring basis to update the agenda over time. Both the agenda and the methodology documented in this report will assist government officials, private sector employees, and academics with managing highway safety research.
In addition to the report, 16 unpublished appendices (Appendices A-O and R) have been made available electronically.
After Sandy: A New ULI Report Looks at Mitigating Climate Change Through Land Use, Offers Recommendations on Strengthening Community Resiliency
The reality of climate change will forever change community building, with planning and development decisions increasingly based on strengthening community resilience through what is built, and where and how it is built, according to a new report released today by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
Leading up to the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, ULI has prepared After Sandy: Advancing Strategies for Long-Term Resilience and Adaptability, which offers guidance on community building in a way that responds to inevitable climate change and sea level rise, and helps preserve the environment, boost economic prosperity, and foster a high quality of life.
ULI, a global research and education institute dedicated to responsible land use, has a long history of advising communities on repositioning after disasters. At the request of three ULI District Councils—ULI New York (city), ULI Northern New Jersey, and ULI Philadelphia, which serve ULI members in those market areas—ULI in July 2013 convened a panel of the nation’s foremost authorities on real estate and urban planning to evaluate local and federal plans for strengthening community resiliency post- Sandy, and offer guidance on rebuilding efforts. Candid insights and observations from these experts formed the basis for After Sandy, a comprehensive, practical set of 23 recommendations focused on four areas—land use and development; infrastructure, technology and capacity; finance, investment and insurance; and leadership and governance.
The report’s overriding message: The increased frequency of severe weather events, as well as rising sea levels, are compelling the real estate industry to address climate change by working with the public sector to implement adaptive measures that better protect both the built and natural environment.
Interstate 2.0: Modernizing the Interstate Highway System Via Toll Finance
Source: Reason Foundation
The Interstate highway system is America’s most important surface transportation system. With just 2.5% of the nation’s lane-miles of highway, it handles some 25% of all vehicle miles of travel. It served to open the country to trade and travel, enabling the just-in-time logistics system at the heart of U.S. goods movement. Yet the first-generation Interstate system is wearing out. Most of the pavement has exceeded or is nearing its 50-year design life, meaning that nearly the entire system will need reconstruction over the next two decades. In addition, more than a hundred interchanges are major bottlenecks, needing redesign and reconstruction, and about 200 corridors need additional lanes to cope with current and projected traffic.
The need for massive investment to transform the first-generation Interstate into what this report calls Interstate 2.0 occurs just as our 20th-century highway funding system—based on fuel taxes and state and federal highway trust funds—is running out of gas. Steady increases in vehicle fuel economy, the lack of inflation indexing of fuel tax rates, and political gridlock over increasing fuel tax rates all make it very difficult even to maintain current pavement and bridge conditions and prevent congestion from getting even worse. The transportation community agrees that we need to phase out fuel taxes and replace them with a more sustainable funding source, generally agreed to be mileage-based user fees of some sort. But no consensus exists on how and when to do this.
This study seeks to address both problems: replacing the aging Interstate system with a 21st-century Interstate 2.0 and taking the first major step toward implementing mileage-based user fees. It proposes that the United States finance the Interstate 2.0 project based on per-mile tolls collected using all-electronic tolling (AET). Over several decades, the transformation of the Interstate system, state by state, would convert at least one-fourth of all travel from per-gallon fuel taxes to per-mile charging.
The study makes quantitative estimates for each state of the cost of reconstructing the existing Interstates, identifies specific corridors in each state that need widening, and estimates the cost of doing so. Reconstruction is estimated at $589 billion in 2010 dollars and lane additions at $394 billion, for a total 2010 cost of $983 billion. To get a handle on the feasibility of toll financing, the study models a tolling system based on 3.5¢/ mile for cars and 14¢/mile for trucks, indexed annually for inflation. Using state-by-state estimates of annual growth in travel by cars and by trucks, over a 35-year period, it calculates the net present value (NPV) of toll revenue and compares that with the net present value of construction and reconstruction costs. Overall, the NPV of revenue equals 99% of the NPV of cost, indicating that the overall system is likely to be toll- financeable.
Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Federal surface transportation programs are currently funded primarily through taxes on motor fuels that are deposited in the highway trust fund. Although there has been some modification to the tax system, the tax rates, which are fixed in terms of cents per gallon, have not been increased at the federal level since 1993. Prior to the recession that began in 2007, annual increases in driving, with a concomitant increase in fuel use, were sufficient to keep revenues rising steadily. This is no longer the case. Future increases in fuel economy standards are expected to suppress motor fuel consumption in the years ahead even if annual increases in vehicle mileage resume.
Congress has yet to address the surface transportation program’s fundamental revenue issues, and has not given serious consideration to raising fuel taxes in recent years. Instead, Congress has financed the federal surface transportation program by supplementing fuel tax revenues with transfers from the U.S. Treasury general fund. The most recent reauthorization act, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112-141), signed by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012, authorized spending on federal highway and public transportation programs through September 30, 2014 and provided for general fund transfers to finance the programs. MAP-21 did not address concerns about funding of surface transportation programs over the longer term.
This report begins with a discussion of the problems associated with the trust fund financing system (which supports both federal highway and public transportation programs) and then explores possible options for financing surface transportation infrastructure. Among the key points:
• Raising motor fuel taxes could provide the highway trust fund with sufficient revenue to fully fund the program in the near term, but it may not be a viable long-term solution due to expected future declines in fuel consumption.
• Replacing current motor fuel taxes with a fuel sales tax or a fee based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) raise a variety of financial and administrative concerns.
• The political difficulty of adequately financing the highway trust fund could lead Congress to consider the desirability of changes to maintain the trust fund system or eliminating it altogether. Such changes might involve a reallocation of responsibilities and obligations among federal, state, and local governments.
• Interest in improving transportation infrastructure with private and non-grant funding sources, such as tolls, public-private partnerships (PPPs), and federal loan programs is increasing, but many projects may not be well suited to alternative financing.
A Federal Gas Tax for the Future
Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
- The gas tax is the single most important source of transportation funding for the federal government. Together, taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel raise over $30 billion per year, or 85 percent of the revenue flowing into the nation’s transportation spending account.
- But gas tax revenues are on an unsustainable course. Over the last five years, Congress has transferred more than $53 billion from the general fund to the transportation fund in order to compensate for lagging gas tax revenues. By 2015, the transportation fund will be insolvent unless an additional $15 billion transfer is made. Larger transfers will be needed in subsequent years.
- Two important, yet completely unrelated developments have combined to greatly reduce the purchasing power of the poorly-designed federal gas tax. Improvements in vehicle fuel-efficiency have cut directly into gas tax revenues by allowing drivers to travel farther distances while buying less gasoline. Meanwhile, inevitable growth in the cost of asphalt, machinery, and other construction materials has put additional strain on the gas tax because its rate has not been adjusted to keep pace. The combined impact of these two factors has reduced the value of the gas tax by 28 percent relative to 1997—the year in which the federal government decided the gas tax should be used exclusively for transportation purposes.
- Comparing the relative importance of these two issues, over three-fourths (78 percent) of the current gasoline tax revenue shortfall is a result of Congress’ failure to plan for inevitable growth in the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure. The remainder (22 percent) is due to improvements in vehicle fuel-efficiency. In other words, construction cost growth has been 3.5 times more important than fuel-efficiency gains in eroding the purchasing power of the gas tax.
- This current gas tax revenue shortfall could have been prevented if the tax was better designed. Currently, the gas tax is levied as a fixed amount per gallon sold: 18.4 cents per gallon. A well-designed “variable-rate” tax structure, however, that rises each year alongside construction cost inflation and fuel-efficiency growth would have brought the nation’s transportation account from frequent deficits to surpluses in every year. This reform would have raised a total of $215 billion in revenue to build and maintain America’s infrastructure—including $19 billion in 2013 alone—if it had been enacted in 1997.
- The cost of this reform for the average driver would have been fairly modest. The gas tax rate today would be 29 cents per gallon—or 10.6 cents higher than where it currently stands. This increase would have been phased-in gradually, with the tax rate increase in most years amounting to less than 1 cent per gallon. That 10.6 cent tax increase would cost the average driver $4.66 per month in 2013.
- Such a reform is not without precedent. Congress has already recognized the importance of planning for inflation in other areas of the tax code—most of the nation’s income tax brackets, exemptions, deductions, and credits currently rise with inflation every year. Moreover, a majority of the country’s population already lives in a state that levies a “variable-rate” state gas tax, where the tax rate automatically rises on a regular basis.
- Despite the merits of raising the gas tax, the disproportionate impact of the gas tax on low-income Americans is a real problem. But holding down the gas tax rate is an ineffective tool for preserving the progressivity of the U.S. tax code. Personal income tax provisions like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are far more helpful to low-income families than a low gas tax rate, and enhancements of such credits can be paired with gas tax reform to offset the regressive impact of the gas tax.
More Development for Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors
Source: Institute for Transportation & Development Policy
Increasingly, cities in the US, finding themselves short of funds, are wondering whether BRT, a lower cost mass transit solution initially developed in Latin America and a relatively new form of mass transit in the US, could also be used here to leverage transit-oriented development investments. This report provides an answer.
In the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, Cleveland, Ohio, along with other former industrial US cites, faced severe financial difficulties. While a tough regional economy and shrinking population forced many of the surrounding cities to cut public services and reduce jobs in the public and private sectors, Cleveland managed to transform a modest $50 million investment in bus rapid transit into $5.8 billion in new transit- oriented development. By putting bus rapid transit (BRT) along a strategic corridor and concentrating government redevelopment efforts there, Cleveland managed to leverage $114.54 dollars of new transit-oriented investment for every dollar it invested into the BRT system, adding jobs and revitalizing the city center.
Pittsburgh’s Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway BRT is quickly becoming a second success. While it has so far leveraged less overall investment than some of the other transit corridors we studied, the development is new and is happening rapidly. This BRT has been operational since 1983 and yet only in the last few years has development really taken off. It is a testament to the need for a strong planning effort but shows that this effort does not have to be initiated by the city. Most of the development that has occurred in the East Liberty neighborhood, adjacent to East Liberty BRT Station, has been the result of a concerted effort by East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI) and the local philanthropic community.
Cities in the US still have a way to go in transforming existing auto-oriented suburbs or blighted inner urban areas into vibrant, high quality transit-oriented communities. This report provides start-to-finish guidance on what it takes to make Transit-oriented Development happen.
Forecasting Highway Construction Staffing Requirements (PDF)
Source: Transportation Research Board
State transportation agencies (STAs) across the country continue to face many challenges to repair and enhance roadway infrastructure. One of these challenges is the selection of agency staff. Data collected in the current work shows that between 2000 and 2010 the total lane-miles in the systems managed by these agencies increased by an average of 4.1%, whereas the in-house STA personnel available to manage these systems decreased by an average of 9.78% over the same time period. By any measure STAs are doing more work with fewer agency employees than they were 10 years ago. Some of these agency employees have been replaced with consultant personnel; however, 86.1% of the respondents to this synthesis survey indicated that they were “doing more with fewer people than [they] were 10 years ago.” Additional information on staffing levels and demographics from the responding states are described in chapter two. These statistics indicate that the allocation of human resources is critical in maintaining and improving the nation’s roadway infrastructure system. This is especially true for agency employees in the area of construction, because construction projects represent a significant portion of a transportation agencies’ total budget
Adequate construction staffing is critical to the cost, schedule, quality, and safety performance of highway construction projects. However, the variable nature of construction project volume, construction project type, and construction project location can make estimating staffing requirements for both the short and long term difficult. The focus of this synthesis is on identifying factors influencing construction staffing levels required for highway con – struction and what systems are currently being used to forecast highway construction project staff. The synthesis was carried out using a combination of an on-line survey distributed to the 50 STAs, a review of existing tools and methods to forecast construction in use at these agencies, and site visits with non-state transportation agency transportation organizations (such as municipal planning authorities) to collect data on construction staffing.
Of the 40 STAs that responded to requests for information, only seven reported having some formal method or tool for estimating construction staffing needs for future projects. These methods and tools were diverse in their approach, ranging from simple construction staffing heuristics based on project type to complex forecasting models developed through multi-variate regression analysis of historic project data, and taking into account seasonal fluctuations in staffing requirements. Validation effort to verify the accuracy of these systems was either nonexistent or not reported.
In addition to the identification of construction staff forecasting methods in current use, the project also identified poor quality plans, specifications, and cost estimates as the most frequently cited factors in increasing the construction staffing requirements of a given project. This is consistent with previous research on the impact of design errors on construction project performance. The work also found that 88% of respondents to the survey reported using consultants to perform construction staffing functions, representing a significant increase over values reported in previous studies of the use of consultant construction labor by STAs. Additional details on the factors identified that affected construction staffing requirements are described in more detail in chapter three.
Harbor Maintenance Finance and Funding
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The federal government has assumed principal responsibility for maintenance of the nation’s harbors and shipping channels. Harbor maintenance activities are overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps or USACE) and largely funded through the harbor maintenance trust fund (HMTF), which receives revenue from taxes on waterborne cargo and on cruise ship passengers. The future of the HMTF is a major issue in consideration of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which is now pending in Congress. Legislation passed in the Senate (S. 601) and under consideration in the House (H.R. 3080), if enacted, would significantly increase, but by differing amounts, annual spending from the HMTF. Each bill would make a variety of other changes in the way federal harbor maintenance funds are allocated and spent, but there are notable differences between the two bills.
The debate over harbor maintenance is occurring in the context of heightened interest in the cost- effectiveness of industrial supply chains. In 2010, the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Commerce launched the Competitive Supply Chain Initiative, which seeks to strategically improve the nation’s marine transportation system and its connecting infrastructure. Most sea- borne imports and exports move through a relatively small number of ports, but a significant proportion of HMTF spending is used to cover the cost of dredging harbors that have relatively little or no cargo. One reason for this is that the Corps still maintains navigation channels and harbors authorized a century or more ago, when maritime commerce was carried by smaller vessels utilizing a larger number of harbors and coastal channels protected from the open ocean. One key issue for Congress is the extent to which the HMTF, which is funded mainly by a tax on cargo, should give priority to improvements that do not benefit commercial shipping.
Other key policy questions for Congress include the following:
- Should the HMTF continue to finance dredging only of channels, which benefits mainly ports with shallow natural harbors, or should the scope of allowable activities be increased to benefit ports with deeper harbors, including some of the nation’s largest cargo ports?
- Should there be a relationship between the amount of revenue collected from a port through harbor maintenance taxes and federal spending on that harbor?
- Does the harbor maintenance tax, as presently levied, pose an obstacle to domestic shipping, and particularly to transshipment of international freight aboard coastal vessels?
- Should the government be required to spend annual harbor maintenance tax collections when received rather than accumulating them in a trust fund, which would result in more spending for harb or maintenance but also increase the federal budget deficit?
- Is the Corps compiling the necessary information to further improve the efficiency of the nation’s maritime supply chain and to ensure the efficient allocation of available resources?
State Transportation Statistics 2012 with Mapping Application
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), a part of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), today released its annual State Transportation Statistics 2012 (STS) – a web-only reference guide to transportation data for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. STS 2012 includes a wide range of state-by-state information. The 10th annual STS consists of 115 tables of state data on infrastructure, safety, freight transportation, passenger travel, registered vehicles and vehicle-miles traveled, economy and finance, and energy and environment, plus a U.S. Fast Facts page. In addition to the STS 2012 tables, state-by-state data can be viewed in a State Transportation Facts and Figures mapping application.
Infrastructure Investments and Mega-Sports Events: Comparing the Experience of Developing and Industrialized Countries
Infrastructure Investments and Mega-Sports Events: Comparing the Experience of Developing and Industrialized Countries (PDF)
Source: College of the Holy Cross
Countries vigorously compete for sports mega-events in hopes of generating an economic impact during the event but also long-term growth induced by the hallmark event. It is well understood that the economic legacy depends on the infrastructure that not only facilitates the games but also has far broader implications for sustainable economic activity in the host city’s economy. Th e purpose of this paper is to analyze the extent to which developing and developed countries adopt differ ent strategies as it related to the composition of infrastructure enhancements that have implications for the generation of an economy legacy from the mega-sports event.
Game changers: Five opportunities for US growth and renewal
The US economy is struggling to find a new formula for vigorous growth. But all growth opportunities are not created equal. New McKinsey research pinpoints five catalysts—in energy, trade, technology, infrastructure, and talent development—that can quickly create jobs and deliver a substantial boost to GDP by 2020. An animated video below also runs the numbers on these game changers and frames the challenge for business and government to make the most of the opportunity.
Cut to Invest: Revive Build America Bonds (BABs) to Support State and Local Investments
Source: Brookings Institution
The Build America Bonds (BABs) program, which expired in 2010, should be reinstated to encourage budget-constrained state and local governments to invest in economically critical infrastructure projects. While authorized at a lower subsidy rate than the original program, a permanent BABs program would provide flexible, low-cost financing for a broad range of infrastructure projects that will create jobs and foster economic growth for years to come.