It is easy to forget transportation’s role in our economy and way of life; without our highways, airways, waterways, pipelines and rail lines, we wouldn’t be able to get our products to market, heat our homes, get to work, or enjoy a trip to visit family.
Yet, our transportation network is constantly aging, and lost productivity from congestion is constantly growing, making investments and innovation an imperative process to ensure safe mobility.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, failure to properly invest in our infrastructure could cost the U.S. $1 trillion in business sales and 3.5 million jobs every year. With roads, bridges, and other important infrastructure barely receiving passing grades across the U.S., we must reverse these trends to impose new innovative solutions, which maximize both economic returns and infrastructure safety for our roads, bridges, utilities, airlines, and railroads.
By encouraging innovative solutions, we can build a lasting transportation network.
In 2019, approximately 46,154 bridges were classified as structurally deficient by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ mark on its infrastructure report card. The Highway Trust Fund is nearing insolvency, potholes are ubiquitous, and fears of spy trains built by China wrack the public nerve.
Our nation leveraged its resources from local to federal entities to build the Interstate Highway System, then virtually abandoned the completed project without a comprehensive and deliberate maintenance plan. The dedicated fund has routinely been raided for other projects, and the revenue intake supporting it has not kept pace with inflation, or more critically, innovation. The gas tax is ill-equipped for the current reality as fuel efficiency makes enormous strides and the road is increasingly filled with hybrid and electric vehicles. The funds must be shored up and the conditions on the ground must be addressed for the sake of economic vitality and public safety.
Another challenge is the constant battle for progress in lowering accidents, leaks, and derailments in the rail network and hazardous material transport industry. While pipeline enjoys a 99.999% effective rate in petroleum transit, the rare spills can be devastating. We must constantly reevaluate our safety measures and techniques to ensure safer transit of freight and hazardous material by rail, road, waterway, and pipeline.
American infrastructure is the unique product of our innovative people, robust competitive and dynamic market, and system of government. To bring our transportation infrastructure into the future and ensure it works for every person, we must tap into each of these resources.
Where the Highway Trust Fund is concerned, a few solutions are clear – lower spending, increase revenue, or both. The fuel tax is no longer a useful proxy for mileage and road use. For drivers to pay their fair share for the wear and tear they produce, new innovative funding is needed. Tolls, while politically odious, have seen a resurgence as toll tags and passes have made the process more efficient. Tolls may not be the answer, but highlighting the innovation in this revenue technique is important. Other solutions range from legal measures to prevent the HTF from being tapped for other projects, recalculating the formula for state and federal funding of projects, mileage-based taxes, and more.
Other issues find their origin and solution in slightly different areas of policy. A current debate exists over allowing Chinese railcar manufacturers access to federal tax dollars. Here, transportation policy overlaps with national security and economics. In addition to digital and cybersecurity risks, there is legitimate concern that it may result in market disruption and supplanting domestic industry. The proposed solution is not in highway or rail legislation, but a reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act, including language known as the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act.
The manifold challenges America faces extend far beyond its Interstate and urban rail. In most cases, safety and efficiency strides are made by relying on data and technological innovation. In rail, this comes in the form of Positive Train Control or continuous track geometry monitoring. For pipeline, it is constant monitoring and remote shutoff.
The world is constantly changing. We must ensure our regulatory and legal mindset is ready to adapt, welcome innovation, and promote cooperation and public safety.
Featured Works Below
The Impact of Technology and Crew Size: An analysis of accident data, incorporation of technology, and train crew staff levels on rail safety trends (December 2022)
The United States economy is one of the most dynamic in world history, powered by a vast and complex supply chain. At its heart, the freight rail network moves energy resources, raw materials, and finished goods across thousands of miles of infrastructure every day. The rail sector has also added considerably to and greatly benefited from technology, which has helped drive accident numbers to unprecedented low levels. Yet a persistent 35 percent of train accidents every year are caused by human error…
How the U.S. Moves Hazardous Materials: A side-by-side comparison of transportation methods for critically needed materials
The U.S. consumes massive volumes of hazardous material in the form of natural gas and petroleum products, industrial chemicals, various gases, and other raw materials. While much of it is used to generate energy, these resources also go on to serve as cleaners, additives, or the building blocks of medicines, fabrics, plastics, and technological components. In fact, it is virtually impossible not to interact on a daily basis with a product using or derived from petroleum, natural gas, or other hazardous material…
The Revenue Failure of the Highway Trust Fund: Why the Gas Tax is Obsolete
As conceived, the Highway Trust Fund was set to always have its outlays met or exceeded by revenue from the fuel tax and related fees, as actual driving directly correlated to the wear and tear impact. But as time goes on, the fuel used in vehicles is less aligned with the impact of driving…
Back On Track II: How Innovation and Automation Improve Rail Safety
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) published a report in 2015 – “Back on Track: Bringing Rail Safety to the 21st Century” – documenting the rise in crude oil rail traffic and recommending government, the rail industry, shippers, first responders, and other stakeholders revisit rail safety standards and best practices…
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund: Broken or Misused?
Waterborne commerce generated an estimated $4.6 trillion of economic activity in 2014, accounting for 26 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in that year. Additionally, seaport activities accounted for $41 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue in the same year. These statistics are not surprising considering “more than 95 percent (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the U.S. moves through our ports.” Numerous U.S. industries rely on ports to find markets, both domestically and internationally, including…
China’s Infrastructure Ambitions and the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act (TIVSA)
Congress is currently preparing a reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), a critical piece of America’s national security framework. Contained within the larger NDAA are a number of more specific provisions and narrowly tailored policies. Among these stands one, which utilizes language drawn from a bill entitled the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act (“TIVSA” or “the Act”) introduced earlier in the year, and purports to protect domestic cities, infrastructure, markets, and national security…
The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicle Act
In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) unveiled joint proposed rule-making to revise tailpipe emission standards and average fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks manufactured for model years 2021-2026…
Challenges to Increasing Non-Federal Investment in Private Infrastructure: How Can the U.S. Turn $200B into $1.5T?
President Trump’s Infrastructure Initiative proposes bold changes to how we should think about national infrastructure and how to attract more non-federal dollars to assist in funding a wide range of infrastructure projects. By defining infrastructure broadly, including roads, bridges, ports, harbors, water systems, telecommunications assets, utility assets, pipelines, and more, the President’s vision creates the foundation for a more dynamic economic future…
Are P3’s a Practical Tool to Tackle the Growing Infrastructure Debt?
A public-private partnership is an agreement between a federal, state, or local agency (public agency) and the private sector. The arrangement provides for the sharing of resources – both skill and assets – in order to deliver a service or facility to the general public. Consequently, each party to the agreement also shares in the risks and profits derived therefrom…