Federal Funds Leave Gap on Transport Projects

Federal Funds Leave Gap on Transport Projects

NEWPORT, R.I. — "Stagnant" federal funding for transportation will require increased leveraging of state, local and private investment in freight infrastructure, two longtime Washington-based policy watchers say.

Federal funding of transportation remains important but “is stagnant and in real terms is declining,” said Emil Frankel, director of transportation policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “This means that states and transit agencies and ports are going to have to do more.”

Last year’s two-year transportation reauthorization bill “did not deal wiih the issue of long-term, sustainable funding for federal transportation programs and investment,” Frankel said.

He and John Horsley, who recently retired as executive director of the American Associaiton of State Highway and Transportation Officials, spoke at the annual Newport, R.I., trade and transportation conference of the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade.

No-new-taxes pledges in Congress have made it difficult to secure funding for necessary maintenance and improvements to transportation infrastructure, leaving states, localities and private sources to carry more of the load, Frankel and Horsley said.

They said the Miami harbor tunnel project that President Obama highlighted with a visit last week was an example of the new reality in tranasportation funding. The project is being funded from state and local sources in addition to federal money.

Frankel said the Miami project represents a federal shift “from funding to financing...Federal funds, even as they become scarcer and more constrained, are being used increasingly to leverage greater investment of other public and private resources.”

It’s often said that freight doesn’t vote, and freight transportation frequently takes a back seat to bike paths and other projects in the planning process.

Companies must educate public officials about the importance of freight infrastructure to their communities and the economy, Horsley said.

“I was a county elected official for 20 yrs,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue about how freight was moved in my county and my district. I wasn’t stupid. I was ignorant.”

“It’s your job to educate city officials, county officials, state legislators, governors, etc.,” he said. “They don’t understand your business. They don’t understand how freight comes from abroad into our markets. They don’t understand regional distribution, and they don’t understand how vitally their economies depend on what you do. So your job is to educate them.”

Companies also must be persistent, Horsley said. “You have to be at the table on a sustained basis to influence investment decisions,” he said. “You have to get your project in line and hammer away for 10 years before it will actually be built.”

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/JosephBonney.