Thursday, September 9, 2010

Transportation Funding?

Transportation Funding?

Quiz: From last year's $814 BILLION stimulus package, what % went to transportation infrastructure?

If you guessed any more than 3% you guessed too high. That is around $24 billion. Which means the other $790 BILLION evaporated like soap bubbles. Yet the debt for it may be around for generations.

As a developer, when you donate cash for park dedication does it pay for the city employee's pension fund? Of course not. There is a concept with park dedication called “nexus”. The fee is directly tied to the use.

Nexus in transportation funding is what Democratic Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, is proposing. The gasoline tax is not a long term viable means to fund transportation infrastructure. When we all drove gas guzzlers and gas was cheap it worked fine. Now, with more fuel efficient vehicles and electric cars the gas tax won't cut it long term.

Jim Oberstar has talked of phasing in a “miles driven based tax” using technology we have now, like what is employed in the sane lane of I-394 that sits on the windshield. And Bill Richard, Jim Oberstar's chief of staff, was also talking about trucks and buses, how much they damage our roads, that they should pay a higher fee. That the roads can't even feel the weight of a normal car. Jim Oberstar has been working on this bill for nearly 2 years now that will totally revamp the way we select, build and fund transportation projects. He has been working in transportation since around the time President Obama was born. But President Obama won't give Jim Oberstar, the time of day. As Congressman Oberstar said in a speech to the Minnesota Transportation Alliance when I was in DC last June, “dealing with our transportation needs is a hill to high for Mr. Obama to climb.”.

When did transportation infrastructure become about short term job creation and not about safety, commerce and improving quality of life for everyone? Transportation Infrastructure is one of the basic needs that government needs to provide. Like Education and Defense. The President's latest proposal, $50 Billion for transportation, is just a drop in the bucket of our national needs. And only double the amount in the last “stimulus” soap bubble bill. And his “funding mechanism”? Closing tax breaks for oil and gas companies and multinational corporations? If these tax breaks don't serve a purpose consistent with our current goals and policies then get rid of them. But they certainly don't look like a stable long term way to fund our transportation infrastructure.

On the local level for transportation infrastructure, congratulations to James. Grube, director of transportation and county engineer for Hennepin County, who was named among the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year in the nation by the American Public Works Association. Jim is a wonderful, humble man who is fond of saying “I'm just a geek.”

And Virgil Hawkins, assistant county engineer of Wright County, was selected Project/Program Manager of the Year by the National Association of County Engineers.

We have wonderful people here in Minnesota chomping at the bit to improve our transportation, including our congressional delegation. And everything is on hold due to President Obama. Don't settle for a short term political solution to our long term transportation needs!

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