Most Americans say climate change affects their local community, including two-thirds living near coast

A road in Flagler Beach, Florida, washed out by ocean waters stirred up by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A road in Flagler Beach, Florida, washed out by ocean waters stirred up by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Roughly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say climate change is currently affecting their local community either a great deal or some, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Some 31% of Americans say the effects of climate change are affecting them personally, while 28% say climate change is affecting their local community but its effects are not impacting them in a personal way.

As is the case on many climate change questions, perceptions of whether and how much climate change is affecting local communities are closely tied with political party affiliation. About three-quarters of Democrats (76%) say climate change is affecting their local community at least some, while roughly a third of Republicans say this (35%).

But politics is not the only factor related to these views. Americans who live near a coastline are more likely than those who live further away to say climate change is affecting their local community. Two-thirds of Americans who live within 25 miles of a coastline (67%) say climate change is affecting their local community at least some. In contrast, half of those who live 300 miles or more from the coast say climate change is affecting their community.

This difference exists among both Republicans and Democrats. For example, 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who live within 25 miles of a coastline say climate change is affecting their local community, compared with 28% of Republicans who live 300 miles or more from the coast. And about eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (81%) living within 25 miles of a coastline see a local impact from climate change, compared with 69% of Democrats living at least 300 miles inland.

Scientists say sea levels are rising, and a recent study found this is happening at an increasing rate. Sea level rise could endanger coastal communities, which are especially vulnerable to floods and storm surges.

Americans who live near the coast are also somewhat more likely than those in interior areas to say the effects of climate change are affecting them personally: 37% of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline say this, compared with 25% of those who live 300 or more miles inland.

In the new survey, the Center also asked people who said climate change is affecting their local community to describe those effects in an open-ended format. People who live close to a coastline and people who live further away tend to point to similar effects. For example, 44% of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline and 46% of those who live more than 300 miles away say climate change is currently affecting their community through weather and temperature changes.

Americans in coastal areas differ from those further inland in at least one other way: Those living within 25 miles of a coastline are less likely than those living 300 or more miles away to favor expanding offshore drilling for oil and gas (33% vs 42%). This modest difference reflects the fact that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to live within 25 miles of a coastline, since neither Democrats’ nor Republicans’ views of offshore drilling differ by distance from the coast.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in January found somewhat lower levels of support for more offshore drilling among those living within 25 miles of a coastline.

Note: To calculate the distance to the nearest point on the U.S. coastline, respondents with valid ZIP codes were located at the ZIP code centroid (from the 2016 definition of the ZIP code tabulation areas provided by the Census Bureau). The minimum distance between each respondent’s ZIP code and the nearest point on the coastline was calculated using the spherical law of cosines approximation.

TOPICS: SCIENCE AND INNOVATION, ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT, POLITICAL ISSUE PRIORITIES

  1. Photo of Brian Kennedy

    is a research associate focusing on science and society at Pew Research Center.

Sea-level rise: the defining issue of the century | Editorial

May 4, 2018, 8:00 AM

 

No graver threat faces the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. In the past century, the sea has risen 9 inches. In the past 23 years, it’s risen 3 inches. By 2060, it’s predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.

Think about that. Water levels could easily be 2 feet higher in 40 years. And scientists say that’s a conservative estimate. Because of melting ice sheets and how oceans circulate, there’s a chance South Florida’s sea level could be 3 feet higher by 2060 and as much as 8 feet by 2100, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s not just a matter of how much land we’re going to lose, though the barrier islands and low-lying communities will be largely uninhabitable once the ocean rises by 3 feet. It’s a matter of what can be saved. And elsewhere, how we’re going to manage the retreat.

You see the evidence several times a year in Miami Beach, the finger isles of Fort Lauderdale and along the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach. During king tides on sunny days, seawater bubbles up through storm drains and over seawalls into lawns, streets and storefronts. That didn’t happen 20 years ago, but it’s going to happen more and more.

JIM MORIN CARTOON 5/6/18 (Climate Change Sea Level Rise)
JIM MORIN CARTOON – Original Credit: Jim Morin – Original Source: Handout (Courtesy)

 

Of the 25 American cities most vulnerable to sea-level rise, 22 are in Florida, according to the nonprofit research group Climate Central. They’re not all along the coast, either. Along with New York City and Miami, the inland cities of Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs and Miramar round out the top five.

Flooding also is increasing in South Florida’s western communities — like Miami-Dade’s Sweetwater and The Acreage in Palm Beach County — because seawater is pushing inward through our porous limestone foundation and upward into our aged flood control systems, diminishing capacity. Sawgrass Mills in western Broward closed for three days last year because the region’s stormwater system couldn’t handle a heavy afternoon thunderstorm. You’ve never seen that before.

The encroaching sea is bringing sea critters, too. Catfish were spotted swimming through floodwater at a Pompano Beach apartment complex west of I-95 last year. And don’t forget the octopus that bubbled up through a stormwater drain in a Miami Beach parking garage.

Not a distant threat

More than the rest of the country, South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.

The problem is, we’re not convinced sea-level rise will harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mindset because it already is. Like most of us, Doris Edelman of Hollywood hadn’t heard of king tides five years ago. Now she can’t leave her house those autumn days when king tides lift the Intracoastal Waterway over its banks, over her street and halfway up her driveway. Hers is not an isolated case.

One of the reasons sea-level rise feels like a distant threat is because construction cranes still dot our skylines, the population keeps growing and politicians keep approving new developments.

Yet government officials see the danger ahead. South Florida’s four counties have created a climate compact that, among many things, requires new construction to anticipate that minimal 2-foot rise in water levels by 2060.

However, sea-level rise is not yet on the short-term horizons of the mortgage and insurance industries. Perhaps that’s because lenders generally recoup their money within 10 years and insurers can cancel your policy year to year.

But government officials well know their successors will be stuck with abandoned properties when the water rises. And part of their responsibility will be to clean the debris to ensure pristine ocean water for future generations.

Perhaps you think you’re safe because the flood map shows your home is on high ground. But you still need infrastructure — things like roads, power plants, water treatment facilities, airports and drinking-water wellfields. So while your house may be high and dry, good luck getting to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or out of town.

It’s tricky to trumpet the threat headed our way. Scientists like Harold Wanless, a noted University of Miami coastal geologist, have the freedom to be blunt. He says says the local projection understates the accelerating rate of rise. “By the end of the century and just after,” Wanless says, “South Florida will be a greatly diminished place and sea level will be rising at a foot or more per decade.”

But local leaders fear scaring people and damaging our economy. Though our region is certain to be reshaped, they express confidence that we can adapt if we start planning now to raise roads, elevate buildings, update the region’s 70-year-old flood control system, buy out flood-prone properties and make smart choices about what to save and where to invest.

Leadership lacking elsewhere

At the federal level, little leadership is being shown on the threat of sea-level rise. President Trump recently rolled back the Obama-era order that requires infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, be designed to survive rising sea levels. And though membership is growing in Congress’ Climate Solutions Caucus, too many Republican members still deny the reality of climate change and sea-level rise, perhaps fearing political retribution by right-wing deniers. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio resides in that camp.

In Tallahassee, after years of silence on sea-level rise, Gov. Rick Scott this year finally requested $3.6 million — a pittance, really — to help local governments plan. But despite the efforts of some South Florida lawmakers, the issue wasn’t on the Legislature’s agenda, partly because of the politics of climate change and partly because term limits create a revolving door of lawmakers who focus on today’s hot buttons, not tomorrow’s existential threats.

“It’s not something we’ve taken a position on,” Cragin Mosteller, communications director for the Florida Association of Counties, said in December when asked about sea-level rise. “We represent 67 counties who have differing opinions … So for us, we’re trying to focus on the things counties need to manage water.”

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says that to get Tallahassee’s attention, we must first raise public awareness. Then, people need to make their voices heard.

“I travel the state more than anybody but the governor. I promise you that people are not demanding that their local House member and their local senator drop what they’re doing and do something about sea-level rise,” Wilson said. “The solution is to raise awareness to it.”

Raising our region’s voice

To that end, the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post — with reporting help from WLRN radio — are joining hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. In drumbeat fashion, we plan to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.

Sea-level rise is the defining issue of the 21st Century for South Florida. Some of us might not live long enough to see its full effects, but our children and grandchildren will. To prepare for a future that will look far different, we’ve got to start planning and adapting today.

“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, with reporting and community engagement assistance from WLRN Public Media. For more information, go to InvadingSea.com

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

State gives first look at possible Coastal Connector highway routes

All five of the proposed routes meet again at U.S. 27 near Fellowship and west of Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club.

State road planners on Thursday revealed a spaghetti map of possible routes for the proposed “Coastal Connector” highway project — including one that could bring a new interchange at Interstate 75 in north Marion County.

The plan is in its earliest stages and the current study is only gathering public input. The highway would connect north Central Florida with the Tampa area and run through Citrus and Marion County. The new road, likely a toll road, would reduce the strain on Interstate 75 with the goal of keeping up with growth and improving transportation and future emergency evacuations.

The project is decades from fruition with no construction expected before 2045, according to Harry Pinzon, an environmental engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation.

The five routes unveiled on Thursday all start at the end of State Road 589 (Suncoast Parkway) which is now set to end at State Road 44 in Citrus County but could go as far north as County Road 486 in Citrus. From there, the routes split off and would cross over the Withlacoochee River at one of four points between Lake Rousseau to the west and near State Road 200 to the east

All five of the proposed routes meet again at U.S. 27 near Fellowship and west of Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club. The road would continue north and would either follow the current path of State Road 326 east to U.S. Highway 441 or would continue north and exit just south of the U.S. 441/U.S. 301 split. The more northerly route would not mirror an existing road and would need a new interchange at I-75.

While still in the very preliminary stages, Randy and Sally Keller came out to a public meeting held in Crystal River on Thursday evening to see where their property sat in relation to the routes. A similar meeting is set for Ocala on May 1 at the Hilton Ocala, 3600 SW 36th Avenue at 4 p.m.

Turns out their 5-acre lot is only a few hundred feet away from one of the proposed routes.

“It’s kind of scary,” said Sally Keller. “Now I know why we’ve gotten six letters from people wanting to know if we wanted to sell. I knew something was up.”

The Kellers live in Brooksville and their property near Dunnellon is raw land.

But dozens more attended the meeting and many huddled around several big screen monitors to try and pinpoint their homes. Some routes do overlap existing home sites.

For Sandra Marraffino, who lives in Dunnellon, none of the proposed routes crossing the Withlacoochee are ideal.

“That is all very sensitive land from an ecological standpoint,” Marraffino said.

Tens of thousands of birds nest on islands on Lake Rousseau and the route closest to State Road 200 would cut through Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, home to a population of Florida Scrub Jays. The dwindling species is only found in Central Florida. In between, there are other bird habitats including burrowing owl, said Marraffino, a member of the Marion Audubon Society.

Her suggestion for a route crosses the Withlacoochee further west and takes the road through Levy County and into Alachua County.

Despite some misgivings, all those approached at Thursday’s meeting agreed that a new road is necessary given the state’s growing population and the bottlenecks formed during Hurricane Irma evacuations last year.

“We are really open to what’s going on,” said Nancy Huff, who also lives near one of the routes. “But it’s going to take so long, who knows what it will really look like.”

Learn more

• Watch the state presentation about this possible new road at http://www.coastalconnector.com/onlinemeeting2/. The site also has links to a map of the proposed corridors.

• See documents about the study at http://www.floridasturnpike.com/coastalconnector.html#resources

 

Trump’s highly touted infrastructure dream nixed for this year

Infrastructure is an early casualty of Washington’s fixation on the November mid-term elections. Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others are signaling that Trump’s $200 billion federal infrastructure plan is all but dead for this year.

By John D. Schulz · April 18, 2018

 

Wait ‘til next year. Maybe.

If promises were concrete and asphalt, this country would have the world class infrastructure that President Donald Trump keeps talking about. Unfortunately, it takes careful planning, political will and, most importantly, billions of dollars. All those characteristics are in short supply in the Trump administration.

Infrastructure is an early casualty of Washington’s fixation on the November mid-term elections. Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others are signaling that Trump’s $200 billion federal infrastructure plan is all but dead for this year.

Even Trump admits infrastructure is dead until 2019—or maybe forever. He has been talking about infrastructure improvements for at least three years since the early days of his candidacy, often calling U.S. roads and bridges akin to “a Third World country.”

“I don’t think you’re going to get Democrat support very much,” Trump said in Ohio recently, before adding: “And you’ll probably have to wait until after the election, which isn’t so long down the road. But we’re going to get this infrastructure going.”

Maybe yes, but maybe no. There is the not-so-small area of how to pay for these improvements without resorting to usual Washington bookkeeping and scorekeeping trickery. Truckers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce briefly floated a nickel-a-year increase in the fuel tax—18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline, 24.4 cents on diesel, unchanged since 1993—but that trial balloon crashed and burned by the no-tax pledge signed by most Republicans in Congress.

In more bad news, a planned infrastructure fund by the private equity firm Blackstone that was said to be creating up to $40 billion in private money has been slow to get off the ground. Saudi Arabia was supposed to be the fund’s largest backer, but they have backed off. Saudi money was supposed to be half of the $40 billion.

According to a New York Times report, Blackstone’s goal is now $15 billion, but even that figure is suspect because of lukewarm returns on infrastructure investments.

So that leaves truckers and other motorists absorbing billions of dollars in delays and repairs due to outdated infrastructure at highways, bridges and intermodal facilities around the country.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear has estimated the trucking industry currently loses nearly $50 billion annually to congestion. “That is unacceptable,” he said recently. “We must unclog our arteries and highways and make our infrastructure safer and more efficient by investing in our roads and bridges.”

Jim Burnley IV, who was Transportation Secretary under Ronald Reagan, said working on an infrastructure program in an election year is a neat political trick—and one just not possible in the current political climate.

“Sadly, that’s probably true,” Burnley, now a partner with the Venable Inc. law firm in Washington, told LM. “We’re just not in a political environment where big, bold infrastructure programs are available.”

With the Highway Trust Fund collapsing, Burnley said, the time is ripe for bold, new thinking. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), from 2021 to 2026 trust fund revenue is projected to total $243 billion. But outlays will amount to $364 billion, resulting in an imbalance of $121 billion. Each year during this period, the trust fund faces shortfalls of between $19 billion to $23 billion, the CBO says.

“Was it this hard when I was there? Yes,” Burnley said. “I hope Congress will have the political will to really come to grips with that fundamental resource. That doesn’t mean dramatic increases in the fuel tax. There are almost an infinite other ways to do it. But the political will has to be there—and right now it isn’t.”

Even if funding is coming from Washington, a majority of it appears heading to rural states that supported Trump. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently said DOT awarded more than 64% of this round of TIGER funding was for rural projects, as opposed to bottlenecks in and around urban areas.

The only thing the White House has been able to produce on infrastructure this year is a vow to expedite review and permitting for major U.S. infrastructure projects. It establishes a lead federal agency with a commitment to oversee any major projects, but few details how this will streamline complex deals. Under the current process, agencies may conduct their own environmental review and permitting processes sequentially resulting in unnecessary delay, redundant analysis, and revisiting of decisions.  Now federal agencies conduct their processes at the same time.

But at least that was welcome news in some quarters of the business community looking for any action on infrastructure.

“(That) is a welcome change that will not only expedite review and approval of important infrastructure projects, but also help increase American competitiveness and economic growth,” said Mike Burke, Chairman and CEO of AECOM and Chair of the Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee. “While much work remains to revitalize our nation’s aging infrastructure, this is a vital step forward in accelerating long-overdue infrastructure improvements throughout the country.”

Illinois Roads and Transportation Builders Association President and CEO Michael Sturino said while the plan helps cut through red tape, it probably won’t help Illinois because it favors rural (Republican-leaning) states at the expense of blue states.

“This is really going to go to more of the Wyomings, and the Oklahomas, and the Dakotas, those very sparsely populated states,” Sturino told the Illinois News Network.

About the Author

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

We Need Bigger Cities, But We Also Need Unique Cities

“If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” asks architect Vishaan Chakrabarti.

BY EILLIE ANZILOTTI  3 MINUTE READ

 

Think of the pedestrian bridges of Venice, or the steep, tiled streets of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Or the winding back alleys of Hong Kong, and the intricate apartment buildings of Paris.

And then, think about a modern downtown. Charlotte, North Carolina, the planned business district of Konza Techno City in Kenya, Shanghai. They all look the same.

That, says architect and Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti at TED 2018 in Vancouver, is a major problem. “There’s a creeping sameness besieging our planet,” he says. And this matters, he adds, because more and more people around the world–hundreds of thousands every day–are moving into urban areas every day. By 2050, around 70% of the world’s residents will live in cities.

This, he says, is a necessary development against climate change–dense dwellings well-served by mass transit are the most sustainable ways to live, and must be done well to continue to convince people away from sprawling suburban developments. But our homogenous cities are beginning to fail their residents. “Are they condemned to live in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better?” Chakrabarti asks.

His answer is yes, but first, we have to understand how are our cities homogenized over the last century. Mass-production of materials like concrete, steel, asphalt, and drywall, he says, equipped architects with building features that “we deploy in mind-numbing quantities across the planet,” he says. Developers, armed with this materials, “want to build bigger and bigger” to house as many people as possible to recuperate the cost of building, and that has brought about “the dull thud of the same apartment building being built in every city across the world,” Chakrabarti says. Not only is this trend homogenizing design, but it’s homogenizing societies, and fostering the affordability crises gripping our cities.

Chakrabarti is all for housing as many people as possible, and creating safe and accessible environments for urban residents. His issue is with the lack of creativity and local sensitivity with which we have gone about providing for these things.

We need, he says, to go back to building “cities of difference.” And that starts with injecting into the global, the local. While in the past, designers, architects, and planners have leaned on mass production and homogeneity to do their jobs, Chakrabarti suggests they look to food as inspiration to free themselves from this way of thinking. “Look at the way that craft beer has taken on corporate beer,” he says. He then asks the audience how many of them still eat Wonder Bread. Very few do. “If you don’t want processed food, why do you want processed cities?” he asks.

Instead, Chakrabarti suggests that designers and architects build cities “that respond to local communities, climates, cultures, and construction methods.” Some are already doing so: Balkrishna Doshi, who won the Pritzker Prize this year for his work on affordable housing in India, creates beautiful, culturally specific dwellings that invoke a sense of place while effectively housing thousands.

And Chakrabarti’s team at PAU is developing a 21st-century urban center for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Instead of leaning on generic buildings, Chakrabarti’s team is creating a catalog of colorful edifices–homes, shops, theaters–designed with local material, that work together in concert and create a diverse, culturally sensitive and unique city center.

“We’re searching for a new model for growing cities that could shape-shift in response to local needs and building materials,” Chakrabarti says.

By going back to designing urban areas with cultural sensitivity and difference in mind, “we can disincentive sprawl and protect nature, and build cities that are high-tech but respond to the cultural needs of its peoples,” he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company’s Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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Trump’s Infrastructure Strategist Is Leaving The White House

April 4, 2018, 4:51 PM ET

Another top adviser to President Trump is leaving the White House. An administration official tells NPR that DJ Gribbin, architect of the president’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, “will be moving on to new opportunities.”

This latest staff departure comes as the infrastructure plan hits a roadblock in Congress.

A little over a year ago, Gribbin left his job at Macquarie Capital, a finance and asset management firm where he focused on public-private partnerships, to take the lead on crafting a infrastructure plan for the president. The proposal relies heavily on using incentives to attract private investments.

Trump initially promised he’d deliver a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan in his first 100 days, but it took more than a year until Gribbin and the White House would unveil and deliver the plan to Congress in February. And the president upped the ante, calling it “the biggest and boldest infrastructure plan in the last half-century,” promising it would generate a $1.5 trillion investment in rebuilding the nation’s highway, railways, bridges, tunnels, airports, seaports and water systems.

But the Gribbin-drafted proposal calls for federal spending of just a fraction of that, $200 billion over 10 years, with the rest coming from state and local governments and private investors.

Gribbin told NPR’s All Things Considered that America is up to the task. “It’s apparent that cities and states and counties are eager to invest more in infrastructure,” he said.

And he pushed back on the notion that the administration can’t ask state and local taxpayers for such funding, when a much a bigger federal investment in infrastructure is long overdue.

“All of these funds come from taxpayers — right?” said Gribbin. “And if you go out and you ask the public, you know, where do they want to invest? They have much more confidence if they write a check locally that that money will be spent in a way that they can be held accountable for than if they send a check to Washington.”

He also added in a briefing for reporters that “this is in no way, shape or form … a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. This is the start of a negotiation.” And White House officials added that “the president has said he is open to new sources of [federal] funding,” including an increase in the gas tax. “We want it to be bipartisan.”

Nonetheless, the plan has received a cool reception in Congress. It calls for the $200 billion in federal funding coming from unspecified cuts elsewhere to the federal budget, which Democrats vehemently oppose. Democrats also want a much bigger portion of the infrastructure spending to come from federal sources, such as the gas tax, while many Republicans refuse to consider a gas tax hike to fund it.

At an event to promote the infrastructure plan in Ohio last week, Trump went off script and acknowledged his plan to rebuild and repair the nation’s roads and bridges isn’t going anywhere fast, telling the crowd, “you’ll probably have to wait until after the election” in November.

 

COMMENTARY: Replacing Per-Gallon Taxes With Per-Mile Charges Is the Best Path Forward

The transition from per-gallon to per-mile will be a major shift in transportation funding.

By ,

 

Regular readers of this column for Public Works Financing know that I’m a big fan of tolls as a better highway funding source than fuel taxes. But even those who aren’t big fans of tolling should be concerned about the coming demise of fuel taxes as the primary source for funding America’s highways.

Back in 2005, I served on a special committee appointed by the Transportation Research Board (TRB). Our challenge was to examine likely future changes in vehicle propulsion and the demand for highway travel. Even then, it became clear to all 14 members that fuel taxes were not sustainable, long-term. Our report, The Fuel Tax and Alternatives for Transportation Funding, explained why we’d reached this conclusion and suggested steps toward finding a replacement. They included:

  • Retain and strengthen the users-pay principle;
  • Expand the use of tolls;
  • Test what we now call mileage-based user fees; and,
  • Find a stable source of tax funding for transit.

Our findings were reinforced several years later when the congressionally-appointed National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission assessed a wide array of replacements and concluded that replacing per-gallon taxes with per-mile charges (mileage-based user fees—MBUFs) was the best way forward.

For the last five years or so, a growing number of state DOTs have operated pilot programs to test various ways of implementing MBUFs to replace per-gallon fuel taxes. They have learned that it’s wise to offer people several alternative ways of having their mileage reported and that it might make sense to have private firms provide the interface with vehicle operators to alleviate concerns over government monitoring people’s travel. They’ve also found that actual experience with a per-mile charging system alleviates most of the concerns people have based only on what they’ve read about the idea.

The transition from per-gallon to per-mile will be a major shift in transportation funding. So it is critically important that we think hard about the scope of this change. As I see it, there are four serious flaws with the 20th century model of paying for highways via per-gallon tax in addition to dependence on one particular mode of vehicle propulsion. The others are:

  1. Most fuel taxes are not indexed for inflation;
  2. The original users-pay/users-benefit principle has been seriously breached;
  3. Fuel taxes are viewed by people as taxes, not payments for highway use; and,
  4. Fuel tax revenues are sent to politicians, not directly to highway providers.

Ideally, we should fix these four flaws as part of the transition from per-gallon to per-mile.

Problem one is the smallest change. A growing number of US toll roads now index their toll rates to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or some other inflation index; this has been made a lot easier thanks to all-electronic tolling. Eight states have recently indexed their fuel taxes to inflation, too, so inflation-indexing state MBUFs should not be a big deal.

Problems two and three are related, I believe. Highway users readily accepted gas taxes when they began at the state level in 1919, because they were sure that although it was called a tax, it actually operated as a pure user fee: all the revenues were deposited into a dedicated state highway fund, so the users-pay/users-benefit principle was visible and widely understood. But in the second half of the 20th century, that principle was eroded, bit by bit, as state highway departments became state transportation departments. In a large number of states, the dedicated highway fund morphed into a state transportation fund, supporting a whole array of transportation modes. Congress did the same thing with federal fuel taxes, starting in the 1970s. But the large majority (and in some cases all) of the revenue still comes from “highway user taxes.” Thus, while users-pay has been retailed, the users-benefit part of the deal has been seriously undercut.

And that, I believe, has contributed to the public perception of a “gas tax increase” as simply a tax increase, and therefore something to be resisted. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) objected vociferously to recent calls for a federal gas tax increase, right after Congress had given most Americans a tax cut. A whole array of taxpayer groups seconded that motion, and the odds of Congress enacting a federal fuel tax increase look very small.

That kind of battle does not, for the most part, occur when your cell phone company increases rates in order to add more cell towers to give you better reception. Nor does it occur when your electric company replaces an aging coal-fired power plant with a state-of-the-art gas-fired plant. A well-supported rate increase for such a project is likely to be approved by the state regulatory commission without much fuss. In these and other cases, what you pay is clearly a user fee—one that meets the users-pay/users-benefit principle. And this is true even when the supplier in question is a municipal electric, gas, or water utility. You pay utility bills, not tax bills.

Those utility cases are also different from highways in that you pay the user fees directly to the provider of the service. Here again, the same is true whether the utility is run by the local or state government or is an investor-owned company. You are charged based on how much or what category of service you use, and you pay the provider, not the government. The only case where this is true in the highway sector is toll roads (whether private or public).

My point here is that the emergence of viable methods of charging per mile also makes it feasible to de-politicize highways and re-organize them along the same lines as the other public utilities on which our economy depends. If we are going to go through the great effort it will take to change the method of paying for highways, let’s at least attempt to fix all the flaws that are now evident with today’s fuel tax model.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.

This column first appeared in Public Works Financing.

ICYMI: This new Florida city will produce its own power and run self-driving buses

BY DANIEL SHOER ROTH

 

Posted January 09, 2018 07:29 AM, Updated January 10, 2018 08:25 PM

Mayors Are Demanding a Better Infrastructure Deal

Members of the National League of Cities are meeting in D.C. this week to make their case for more federal funding.
It’s no secret that America’s crumbling roads and bridges and chronically struggling transit systems need help: The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it would take $2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure into an “adequate” state of repair. That dire situation has been a recurring theme of President Donald Trump’s never-ending infrastructure week.
But the proposal the White House finally released last month to address the problem has drawn criticism from city leaders for shifting the funding burden onto the backs of state and local governments. At the National League of Cities’ annual conference this week, mayors and city council members declared rebuilding infrastructure as their number-one priority in the year to come. And they’re determined to negotiate better terms on Trump’s infrastructure deal.“
A good plan is not a good plan unless there’s money connected with it,” said NLC executive director Clarence Anthony at a press conference Monday morning. While the White House proposal, “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America,” is often billed as a “$1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan,” many critics have noted that this figure is misleading at best. Instead of direct federal funding, Trump’s proposal requires cities to prove they can shoulder up to 80 percent of the bills for federally funded infrastructure projects themselves. That sum would then be matched by a federally sourced 20 percent. In all, only about $200 billion of that $1.5 trillion would come from the feds.
City leaders are now in D.C. to lobby lawmakers for a better deal. “We are asking our partners—because we do recognize you as partners—in the federal government to rebuild with us as we rebuild our cities,” said NLC vice-president Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana.
On Monday, delegates met with DJ Gribbin, the special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy; on Wednesday, they’ll talk with House and Senate leaders, particularly key members of the infrastructure committees. And on Thursday, they’ll go straight to the White House to make their case. “At minimum, we’re asking for an equal partnership of 50 percent funding from the federal level to local governments,” said Anthony.“
The 80-20 split is off the table,” added Los Angeles city council member Joe Buscaino. “An equal partner is an equal partner.”
Mark Stodola, mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the president of the NLC, outlined four critical infrastructure areas: water, transportation, broadband internet, and workforce development. “We’ve got to make sure we provide a sustainable investment,” said Stodola. “We’ve got to address not only the existing infrastructure backlog, but also long-term funding streams that are necessary to maintain this infrastructure.”
The statistics are daunting: More than 6,000 bridges are structurally deficient, and 41 percent are over 40 years old; access to broadband internet, meanwhile, is lacking for 78 million people, due to connectivity issues or prohibitive cost. Cleveland city council member Matt Zone also emphasized the importance of climate resiliency in rebuilding: 2017 was already the most expensive year for natural disasters in history, due to extreme events like hurricanes Maria and Harvey, costing $306 billion in damages. “We’ve got to invest in durable infrastructure, not just infrastructure—infrastructure that doesn’t need to be continuously rebuilt when every storm happens,” Zone said.
Instead, the White House is going in the opposite direction, proposing $275 billion in cuts to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key player in post-storm emergency response, and $30 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which funds affordable housing and allows cities to use discretionary funds for infrastructure resilience projects.
And it’s not just that local budgets don’t feel like inflating their infrastructure contributions. A lot of them can’t: In 47 states, preemption measures curb cities’ ability to raise their own revenue to meet infrastructure needs; in 22 states, cities can’t use sales tax hikes to fund infrastructure.
The NLC presser also touted some of the creative funding fixes cities have employed recently, such as L.A.’s Measure M, which raises transit funding via a sales tax increase (and which was recently cited approvingly by an unnamed Trump staffer). Other cities have turned to public-private partnerships: Virginia’s high occupancy toll lanes on the Beltway got a funding boost from a private firm; and New York and New Jersey are reconstructing the Goethals Bridge with the help of an Australian bank.
Smaller communities—the ones that need a federal assist the most—have also raised cash by selling off public utilities like water systems, but studies show that residents often end up getting charged more for the same product. “Our ability to pay doesn’t change the need for that infrastructure,” said Gary’s Freeman-Wilson, “but it certainly determines our ability as local elected officials to deliver.”
Bipartisan aspirations on immigration and health care reform have been dashed before, and leveling funding to 50/50 is an ambitious target. But at Monday’s press conference, Stodola expressed confidence that the NLC’s negotiations in the coming days will bring results.
“It seems like Congress has got their feet in concrete, and they need to take them out,” said Little Rock Mayor Stodola. “So we’re going to break that rock. We’re going to knock them out of that concrete, and by golly we’re going to take it to them on the Hill.”
About the Author
Sarah Holder
Sarah Holder

Sarah Holder is an editorial fellow at CityLab.

 

Senate Kicks Off Series of Infrastructure Hearings With Focus on Broadband

Sen. Wicker says better data about high-speed availability is crucial

Posted 3/13/2018 3:10 PM Eastern

By: John Eggerton

The Senate Commerce Committee kicked off a series of infrastructure hearings Tuesday with one focused on broadband, including a big focus on collecting accurate date about where broadband is, and more importantly, isn’t.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) presided, saying he was greatly encouraged by the President’s support for programs to increase broadband infrastructure in rural areas. While the President said getting broadband to farmers was a priority, he didn’t actually earmark any funds for broadband in his infrastructure plan, though he did say that $50 million would be going to rural infrastructure, with states free to use all or part of that for broadband.

Congress is currently weighing the best way to deploy that service. Democrats like to factor cost and underserved communities in the equation, while Republicans — and ISPs — want the money targeted to the unserved, rather than overbuilding existing private investment with public money.

Wicker said the process of identifying those unserved areas starts with collecting accurate date, something the FCC has been charged with since the Obama-era stimulus funding for a National Telecommunications & Information Administration broadband mapping program ran out in 2015, though some in Congress are trying to return that function to the NTIA with new money.

The FCC recently released a new map to help identify where broadband subsidies related to the Phase II Mobility fund should be going, but critics, including Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, have pointed to some errors.

Wicker said it was critical to have good information so that communities that “truly lacked service” could be identified.

“Inaccurate information would only exacerbate the digital divide, he said, adding, “We don’t have accurate data yet.”

Related: White House Defends Lack of Direct Rural Broadband Investment (Or Any Direct Broadband Investment for That Matter)

Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) pointed out that he and his colleagues had wanted direct investments in broadband to be part of any infrastructure plan and called the Trump proposal — $200 billion in federal funds for all infrastructure, with $50 billion for rural, but no direct earmarks for broadband and the hope that the private sector leverages that $200 billion into a $1.5 trillion rebuild/buildout — “simply inadequate on broadband expansion.”

He signaled it was up to the Senate Commerce Committee to step up and fill that void with “critical” direct investment in broadband, something Democrats have done in their own infrastructure proposal to the tune of $40 billion.

Nelson used the hearing to put in a plug for a “reasoned discussion” about sensitive regulatory issues related to the build-out of small-cell 5G wireless broadband, including historic preservation and environmental concerns. The FCC next week is planning to vote on an order that would exempt some small-cell deployments from historic preservation and environmental reviews, something CTIA: The Wireless Association says could save $1.6 billion over the next eight years.

Nelson noted that the FCC seemed eager to, in his words, “wipe away key laws and regulations meant to protect our fellow citizens and important federal, state, local and tribal interests.”

Sen Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the subcommittee, warned that Democrats were unlikely to support shifting the broadband infrastructure responsibility to states and localities, or undermining labor or environmental protections.

Gary Resnick, mayor of Wilton Manors, Fla., who testified at the hearing, said that while he agreed with removing impediments to deployment of broadband, like encouraging “dig once” policies for combining road revamps with laying broadband conduit, he said that preempting state and local reviews for small cell deployment was bad policy and that such deployments would not close the digital divide. “Small cell technology is not called small because the technology is small,” he said, “but because the signal covers a small area.”

Steve Berry, CEO, Competitive Carriers Association, was one of those not high on the FCC’s new broadband map. He said the FCC should have measured signal strength, rather than the map the FCC produced that identified the areas it thought were eligible for the USF Phase II mobility fund.

“I am very concerned that the map is so disfigured in terms of its reality on the ground that it is almost impossible to successfully challenge [it],” Berry said.

Bob DeBroux of TDS Telecom said he thought the FCC had made a good start using the data it had, and would be building the map as time goes on. He conceded that there were definitely flaws in the map, but that they could be refined and that the underlying data “is there.”