DOT looking at ways to ease highway congestion
May 16, 2006 11:11 AM
As a growing economy continues to produce highway congestion, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is preparing an initiative in an effort to ease some of the pain.
That information is according to a DOT news release quoting Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, speaking at a Bear Stearns Global Transportation Conference in New York NY May 10.
Trucking companies face $14 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs attributable to congestion, according to the information. "And the total cost of congestion to our economy may approach $200 billion a year," Mineta said at the conference.
Congestion is pushed by the nation's economic growth, and Mineta pointed out that sustained prosperity will require rethinking about the way the transportation systems are built, financed, managed, and maintained.
"America’s truckers, airlines, shippers, and railroads are the workhorses of our economy," Mineta said. "During the past year or so, I have had the occasion to visit a number of transportation manufacturers. And over and over, the story that I hear is the same. They are hiring new workers and expanding to keep up with all the orders pouring in for jet engines, for truck cabs, and for locomotives."
He added that relieving congestion is an "all-hands, high-level priority for the President and me. And you will be hearing a lot more about the Department’s work in this area in the coming months.
"We are looking at our transportation network the same way that a good analyst examines a business. We are asking how to increase the return on our investment and looking for opportunities to apply technology and the potential to reform processes to increase productivity and to get more mileage out of existing capacity. At the same time, we are exploring new options for generating the resources to finance investments for expansion."
DOT is re-examining the highway trust funds, but also looking for ways to involve the private sector more fully, not only as a contractor or vender and financier, but as a partner in the funding, management, and expansion of the transportation infrastructure.
Mineta said that major institutional investors, construction companies, and Wall Street – as well as state departments of transportation – "are waking up to the exciting prospects for pairing private investment with public infrastructure. Aside from the enormous pool of capital that is available to invest in medium-risk, medium-return assets, the other benefits are equally important. Those include increased responsiveness to customers who use the system, lower costs of repairing and maintaining infrastructure over time, accelerated deployment of technologies such as automated tolling facilities, and, perhaps most important of all, guiding resources to the investments that generate the largest returns."
Last year's Surface Transportation Bill adopts ideas proposed by the Bush Administration and include new flexibilities for states that want to implement direct user-fee mechanisms, like tolling, to expand capacity as well as new and improved financing tools. One of those tools includes giving private businesses the ability to receive the same tax-exempt benefits that the public sector receives when constructing a public highway.
The law also expands existing federal credit programs that will allow for more efficient financing of large-scale projects, including intermodal freight projects.
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