By Eric Kulisch
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently pointed in his blog to
two construction projects as examples of the type of infrastructure
upgrades the United States needs to maintain an efficient and safe
transportation system that can support economic activity.
One is the modernization of the control tower at Oakland
International Airport in California and the other is the Interstate 10
Twin Span Bridge in Louisiana. The I-10 bridge replaces one that was
damaged during Hurricane Katrina. It allows motorists a less congested
ride, a safer evacuation route and better freight access to and from the
Port of New Orleans. It is built better to withstand storm surge.
Both were funded by grants from the DOT, or more specifically its
Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Highway Administration.
They are the types of projects that are in jeopardy if funding
authority expires. The six-week FAA funding extension is scheduled to
expire Sept. 16 and spending authority for highway programs ends at the
end of the month. Congress is expected to pass four-and-six-month
extensions, respectively, to keep the agencies operating at existing
If the spending authority expires, then federal money stops flowing
to states and local governments, contracts are suspended and people are
thrown out of work.
But the bigger point LaHood and others make is that constantly
using short-term extensions is no way to operate large federal
departments that impact every part of the country. Agencies and
contractors can’t properly plan with funding uncertainty every few
months, and are less likely to pursue long-term projects in the regional
or national interest.
The FAA, for example, is running on its 22nd short-term extension
over four years because Congress can’t find the time or consensus to
approve a long-term spending blueprint.
“Parceling out money in these short increments makes it nearly
impossible to plan long-term improvements, and failing to be strategic
in this way ends up costing American taxpayers. It's no way to run the
best aviation system in the world,” LaHood wrote.
The national neglect of infrastructure writ large is beginning to
erode the productivity of U.S. companies and jeopardize the safety of
Americans. Constantly applying Band-Aids to transportation, water
treatment, sewage, electric and other systems is costly and it doesn’t
give us the foundation to leverage other social and economic
improvements. In many cities, the sewer systems date back 80 or 100
years. They weren’t designed for today’s population levels and are
crumbling. When there are heavy rains the pipes and treatment facilities
can’t handle all the water, so to prevent water flowing into homes
officials have to release raw sewage into our waterways.
A week ago, Indiana transportation officials had to shut down a
bridge on I-64 after discovering a large crack in a load bearing beam.
The Sherman Minton Bridge supports the movement of 75,000 cars and
trucks per day over the Ohio River between New Albany, Ind., and
Louisville, Ky. I-64 is a major freight corridor between St. Louis and
points east. All that traffic now must be rerouted to other congested
The Obama administration touts its new American Jobs Act plan as a
way to help close the infrastructure gap. But there is only $27 billion
in the plan for infrastructure projects. It’s a drop in the bucket.
A serious long-term funding plan that relies on new revenue sources to support the inadequate Highway Trust Fund is needed.
Former Eno president jokes about intermodal book
The Eno Transportation Foundation, now headed by Joshua Schank, has published a new textbook, Intermodal Transportation: Moving Freight in a Global Economy.
The book, which took four years to produce, was introduced to
transportation policy followers at an event in Washington on Sept. 7.
Stephen Van Beek, a former Eno president and U.S. Transportation
Department official during the Clinton administration, was among the
presenters who discussed chapters they wrote.
“It took three presidents to get to the moon. It took three
presidents to get this book done,” joked Van Beek, now chief of policy
and strategy for transportation management consulting firm LeighFisher.
“And Tom (Downs), you’re the lucky one. That makes you JFK. It makes me Lyndon Johnson.
“I left the troops in the field for Mr. Schenk.
“And Joshua -- you’re Mr. Nixon. I hope you have a better end than he did.”
Van Beek then prefaced his summary of the two chapters on airports
and aviation he wrote by saying: “As a minister’s son I though the first
thing I would do is actually read some scripture. And that’s read from
the book. And this is paraphrasing Steve 10:1 and Steve 10:2 from the
book.” — Eric Kulisch