TransOptions Newsletter

New Transportation Law Brings Some New Policy, Not New Funding

OverviewMAP-21, the latest transportation law passed by Congress, is a 27-month reauthorization bill. It authorizes the Highway Trust Fund and surface transportation programs at current funding levels through September 30, 2014.

The $105 billion law consolidates the number of highway programs, streamlines the project review process, implements performance measures for the first time, and redirects half of states’ Transportation Alternatives (formerly Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails Programs) to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).

From a policy perspective, the law does not take effect until October 1, but the revenue pieces are already in place.

Funding Levels

While there are some positives in the bill for New Jersey, such as the MPOs having more discretion in where federal funds are used, the funding amount is still drastically short of where it needs to be to fund the kind of infrastructure improvement that the state needs. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), New Jersey gets a D grade on Roads, a D grade on Bridges, a D grade on Aviation, and a C grade on Ports and Waterways.

Over three quarters of the state’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, 64 percent of our major urban highways are congested and our transportation systems have a deferred maintenance backlog of $13 billion. MAP-21 does provide some stability when compared to the numerous short-term extensions following the previous transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, but as a whole, it does not provide the kind of investment many transportation professionals deem necessary.

According to ASCE, it would cost the nation $2.2 trillion over the next five years just to repair the infrastructure we currently have. With funding set in MAP-21 at just $105 billion over the next two years, many projects will be kept on hold.

Expert Analysis

At a MAP-21 forum at NJTPA in August, experts from the transportation field weighed in on the funding, the policy, and the overall strategy of transportation organizations. Jaime Rall, Senior Policy Specialist for the National Conference on State Legislatures’ Transportation Program, pointed to a $58 billion per year shortfall between total revenues and transportation infrastructure maintenance needs. The gap between revenues and the maintenance and improvement of infrastructure is nearly $120 billion per year.

Fred Abousleman, Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils and Joung Lee, Deputy Director of the Center for Excellence in Project Finance at AASHTO echoed these sentiments, pointing to low and decreasing gas tax revenues and increasing project costs.

Former NJ Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere advocated for a different approach entirely, suggesting that the business-side of the transportation industry is failing. Lettiere argued that transportation organizations should view the public as their customers and focus on improving the value of their product, regardless of the budget picture. His complete presentation and the presentations of the other panelists can be found here.

What Does It Mean For You

Low funding levels for transportation is not just about traffic around cities and structurally deficient bridges. Transportation funding impacts you directly. It means longer rides to work, sitting in more traffic and having less quality time at home with your family. Sitting in traffic is also known to negatively impact the commuter’s health through increased stress, neck and back pain, and an increased risk of heart attack.

Low transportation funding also means your children may not have a safe way to walk to and from school. And it can hit you in the wallet, by forcing you to pay more toward wear and tear on your vehicle due to poor roadway conditions.