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This Week in Washington - August 17

 

Contact Your Member Of Congress This August
Unspent Transportation Funds to be Allocated to States for Infrastructure
US Moving Toward Complete Streets
ASCE Government Relations is Rolling out New Facebook and Blog Look
DOT Works to Define Rules for Congestion
State Legislative Updates
 

 

Contact Your Member Of Congress This August

Our country continues to face huge infrastructure needs. Make sure your lawmakers know what these needs are and how not addressing them will affect their constituents and businesses in their home states and districts. The best way to do this is meeting them face-to-face, either at a Town Hall Meeting or other local appearance, or by scheduling a Back Home Visit in their district office.

Members of Congress left Washington on August 3rd for an extended district work period which will also feature the two national party conventions. Congress will reconvene in Washington the week of September 10.

Take advantage of these opportunities to get to know your elected leaders, or to reinforce relationships you have already established. You can do this in a number of ways:

• Back Home Visits.
• Attend local Town Hall Meetings organized by your Representative.
• Tele-Town Halls.

Check local news outlets and lawmakers’ websites for local Town Hall Meetings and other appearances, or contact your lawmaker’s office directly to set up a Back Home Visit.

Visit ASCE’s Back Home Visits briefing webpage at for tips and to download issue briefs to use in your discussions with lawmakers and their staff.

If you meet with your elected officials or their staff, please let ASCE Government Relations know how the discussion went. Send an email to govwash@asce.org or complete the online feedback form here

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Unspent Transportation Funds to be Allocated to States for Infrastructure

The Obama administration will announce shortly a plan to make $470 billion in transportation funds available to states who promise to use the funds to create jobs and improve transportation. Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to make an address today that the money is to be made available immediately for the repair for roads, bridges, and other surface transportation infrastructure.

The money was originally appropriated as earmarks to the United States Department of Transportation from 2003 to 2006, but had gone unspent. The Department of Transportation has set a deadline of October 1st for states to identify how the funds will be used.

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US Moving Toward Complete Streets

Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition released a report this week showing that 26 states, Puerto Rico, and DC all have some form of a complete streets policy, with 10 states having more than 15 policies a piece as law. The findings show that the US seems to be moving toward embracing a Complete Streets policy of transportation design, a move which ASCE supports.

ASCE supports Complete Streets policies that require that the safety, interests, and convenience of all users – drivers, bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities – be considered in the design, construction, operations, and management of transportation projects. ASCE believes that America’s transportation system should be designed, built, operated, and managed for safe travel by everyone. Changing policy so that our transportation system routinely considers the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles means that walking, riding bikes, and riding buses and trains will be safer and easier.

ASCE Policy Statement 537 – “Complete Streets” http://www.asce.org/Public-Policies-and-Priorities/Public-Policy-Statements/Policy-Statement-537---Complete-Streets/ 

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ASCE Government Relations is Rolling out New Facebook and Blog Look

ASCE’s “Save America’s Infrastructure” Facebook page and blog have a new look! As part of this new design, we would like to hear more from you, our members.

As we continue to add weekly content to our blog, we’d like to feature entries written by our members on issues specific to Government Relations and infrastructure. Don’t know where to start? Check out previous posts and also one http://www.problogger.net/how-to-write-great-blog-content/ of the many articles on how to write a succinct and effective blog post. If you have questions or would like to submit a guest blog post for review, email us at govwash@asce.org

The Save America’s Infrastructure page and blog are our general tools to engage ASCE members as well as the public on the crucial importance of our nation’s infrastructure, its impact on our daily lives, and how we can improve it. You’ll find that we regularly post updates on happenings on the Hill and in states on issues that impact infrastructure and subsequently the civil engineering profession as a whole.

Staying connected through social media is an added advantage for ASCE members who read This Week in Washington. If you have comments or concerns, or have any general thoughts on how we can better communicate to you as a member, send us an email at govwash@asce.org 

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DOT Works to Define Rules for Congestion

Now that MAP-21 has been enacted, the U.S. Department of Transportation must begin to issue rules, definitions, and guidance to accompany the legislation. An area for debate as DOT begins work is how the agency will define both congestion and cost effectiveness, as required by the new performance measures for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program. Some are concerned that in the past cities have increased capacity in order to combat congestion, in essence enabling longer commutes without the traffic. However, this method has proved to have a negative impact on air quality. Therefore, the new argument emerging is that it is actually better for air quality if cars are driving shorter commutes at lower speeds.

ASCE supports an integrated and proactive approach to maintaining and improving the nation’s air quality. Regulations should be revised to maximize the flexibility in transportation planning to meet community needs without compromising improvements in air quality or interfering with the attainment and maintenance of the national ambient air quality standards. ASCE will be watching to see what path DOT chooses to take when defining congestion over the upcoming months and if they are able to achieve the seemingly impossible task of both reducing congestion while improving air quality. 

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State Legislative Updates

Delaware
Delaware fits snugly in Amtrak upgrade plans
Amtrak’s plans for a sleek high-speed rail system along the Northeast Corridor don’t include stops in Delaware by the fleet’s fastest trains. Wilmington would likely serve as a hub for slower, high-speed intercity service and regional commuter rail, according to Amtrak’s revised plans for a $151 billion, high-speed network between Boston and Washington, D.C. Enthusiasts say that shouldn’t discourage support for the high-speed rail projects, considering their capacity improvements and economic and environmental benefits. If trends continue, traffic in the corridor could top 43 million passengers by 2040, quadrupling today’s levels, Amtrak planners say.
Read More: News-Journal 8/16 


Georgia
DOT moving on from sales tax vote
Georgia's transportation department has officially moved on from metro Atlanta's rejection of a $7 billion transportation sales tax referendum, turning instead to three other regions that voted yes to pay for improved local roads and highways. State officials for the first time Wednesday held an industry briefing on the hundreds of projects that will be funded by the sales tax in Augusta, Columbus and a collection of counties in south-central Georgia. Those communities were the only three of 12 regions across the state that passed the one-cent sales tax in the July 31 primary.
Read More: Atlanta Journal-Constitution 8/15


Idaho
State hosts public meetings on water plan changes
State officials will be holding a series of hearings across the state this month to gather public comment on proposed changes to the state's comprehensive water management plan. The hearings are being hosted by the Idaho Water Resource Board, which has been evaluating the state's plan for managing its water resources. It's the fifth revision since the plan was first adopted in 1976.
Read More: Idaho Statesman 8/12


Maine
LePage agrees to slow down east-west highway process
Governor Paul LePage announced Tuesday that the Maine Department of Transportation will slow work on a feasibility study for an east-west highway through rural and central Maine. The move came a day after Senator Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, a longtime supporter of the project, revealed that he had asked the LePage administration for assurances that the state would not use eminent domain to seize private property if the project moves forward toward construction. Thomas said constituent concerns spurred the request.
Read More: Bangor Daily News 8/14


Massachusetts
Patrick signs $1.5B transportation bond bill
Governor Deval Patrick signed a massive transportation funding measure on Friday for infrastructure projects across the Bay State. The measure authorizes an investment of $1.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2013, including $885 million in state funds that leverage federal dollars for state road, bridge, rail and regional transit projects. It continues funding for the final year of the five-year Transportation Bond Bill the governor signed in 2008.
Read More: Boston Business Journal 8/10


New York
Cuomo says cut cost of new Tappan Zee bridge and tolls
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday said that the $5.2 billion cost of a new Tappan Zee bridge and the steep toll increases that were proposed to pay for it should be cut. Cuomo made his recommendations in a letter to the Thruway Authority, which will build the new bridge across the Hudson River, a week after one of his top aides said the current $5 cash toll would be raised to $14 in 2017 when the new span opens. Local residents have said they cannot afford the higher tolls that have been proposed for the new bridge, which will connect Westchester County, which lies to east of the bridge, with Rockland County, which is located on the west.
Read More: Reuters 8/10


North Carolina
N.C. Transportation Secretary doesn't want to overpromise
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. While that might not make Gene Conti the most popular man in Raleigh, the state secretary of transportation said he’d rather be a straight shooter and tell people what the N.C. Department of Transportation can do rather than what people might want to hear. “Rather than promise everyone the world and deliver only 50 percent, we want to deliver 95 percent of what’s in our five-year work program,” he said Monday before a lunchtime meeting with members of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization at city hall.
Read More: Star-News 8/13


Texas
Private firms planning bullet trains in Texas by 2020
The leaders of Texas Central High-Speed Railway sound very confident for a company expecting to succeed where scores of state planners, elected officials and private interests have failed. The firm hopes to have bullet trains moving Texans at 205 miles per hour between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2020. The bit that has raised eyebrows: The company plans to do it without seeking public financing.
Read More: Texas Tribune 8/15


Utah
Lawmakers seek to cover losses from gas tax
State officials say the gasoline tax is failing to adequately fund roads in an era when hybrid cars use less gas, more drivers use alternative fuels that totally escape the tax, newer vehicles have better gas mileage and people are driving less in a tough economy. Legislators said Wednesday the problem is becoming critical, and called for a day-long summit later this year where committees on taxation and transportation would jointly invite experts to explore such alternatives as imposing tolls, raising the gas tax, or using more property, sales or utility taxes for roads.
Read More: Salt Lake Tribune 8/15


Virginia
VDOT, private partner file to move tolls suit to federal court.
If the state gets its way, a federal judge - instead of a Portsmouth one - will settle the battle over tunnel tolls. The Virginia Department of Transportation and its private partner, Elizabeth River Crossings, have filed to have a lawsuit against the Midtown Tunnel deal switched from Portsmouth Circuit Court to the federal docket. That could drag out the case and drive up expenses for the opposition, which hasn't said whether it intends to fight the transfer. The lawsuit asserts that tolls are the same as taxes, and that VDOT and ERC don't have the authority to impose them. If successful, it could derail untold state transportation plans. With road money scarce, tolls and private companies are key components of dozens of projects on the drawing board.
Read More: Virginian-Pilot 8/16


Washington
Don’t starve state parks, board tells lawmakers
The board that oversees Washington State Parks has rejected a timetable and demand by legislators that by 2013 the park system get by without money from the state General Fund. “The commission does not believe that state parks can meet its mission or operate at an acceptable level without General Fund (money),” said Joe Taller, chairman of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission has told the state’s Office of Financial Management that it will seek $18 million in General Fund support for the 2013-15 biennium, in addition to the Discover Pass money it now receives.
The Legislature created the $30-a-year (or $10 a day) Discover Pass to keep parks from closing and give parks money to operate in budget-strapped times. It was, however, adopted with the promise that some General Fund support would be maintained.
Read More: Seattle Post-Intelligencer 8/13


West Virginia
Opinion
West Virginia needs to fund highway work
West Virginia, wrinkled by nature, requires a lot of roads and bridges. The state Division of Highways maintains the sixth largest state highway system in the nation and needs to be able to undertake new projects. But the state's mechanism for funding road work is outmoded and needs to be changed. Vehicles on the road today are more fuel-efficient than ever. Thus, the gasoline taxes that are supposed to fuel highway construction and repair are no longer providing enough revenue to do what needs to be done. Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox pointed out that the state receives roughly $1 billion a year in state taxes and federal revenue today — about the same amount it received in 1999.
Read More: Charleston Daily Mail 8/16 

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