Babcock Ranch In Florida Is To Sustainable Living What Tesla Is To Sustainable Transportation

July 15th, 2018 by

Tucked into a corner of Southwest Florida about a half-hour from Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch is what developer Syd Kitson calls the most sustainable new community in America. It started when Kitson, a former NFL player, purchased the 91,000 acre ranch in 2006. He immediately struck a deal to sell 73,000 acres of the property to the state of Florida for a wildlife preserve. He then donated 440 acres to Florida Power & Light with the stipulation that it construct a solar power plant on the land. Today, that parcel is covered by 350,000 solar panels that feed electricity into the electrical grid.

Then Kitson went to work with local partners to design and build a new community on the remaining 17,000 acres. “We want to be the most sustainable new town in the United States,” Kitson tells CBS News. “We had the advantage of a green field, a blank sheet of paper. When you have a blank sheet of paper like this, you really can do it right from the beginning.”

The town gets most of its electricity from the nearby solar power plant during the day. Although the community has 10 small battery stations, Kitson says large-scale battery storage is still too expensive (Elon Musk would disagree), so at night or on cloudy days, the community draws power from the utility grid. “The people here pay the exact same amount that everybody else pays in the Florida Power and Light network,” he says. “Clearly, if you have a number of cloudy days in a row, it will impact the efficiency and the available electricity that comes from the solar field, but this is Florida, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.” Last year, when Hurricane Irma swept across that part of the state, not one solar panel was damaged.

The first residents began moving in at the beginning of this year. 500 homes are expected to be completed by December. 19,500 dwelling units are planned over the next two decades. All of the structures in Babcock Ranch will feature the latest energy efficiency technology and offer 1 gigabit internet access. Alexa will handle all smart home functions. Outside, there are 50 miles of nature trails through the wildlife preserve next door. A farm-to-table organic gardening project is underway and a K-8 charter school is planned. Residents will be encouraged to leave their cars at home as they walk, bike, or take advantage of the electric autonomous shuttle bus fleet that will service the community.

“This community is a unique opportunity to really implement sustainable technology in a practical way,” Haris Alibašić, a professor at the University of West Florida, tells Good.com. “Cities around the world have started adopting 100% renewable energy targets, but it’s both intriguing and encouraging to see this happening from a developer.” He adds he would like to see more affordable housing included in the plans for the community. A three bedroom home in Babcock Ranch sells for $195,000 and a four bedroom town house lists for $795,000. “I think the ultimate key to long term sustainability is attracting people from diverse incomes and backgrounds,” he says.

Last January, Richard and Robin Kinley became the first family to move to Babcock Ranch. They chose a house near a lake, which has now been named Lake Kinley in their honor. “The air is nice and clean here and I think these types of communities are the future,” Robin says. “I felt very much like when I bought a Tesla back in 2013 and I said, this is definitely is going to make it,” Richard adds. “I felt the same way about Babcock Ranch.”

Their first neighbors were Donna and James Aveck, who moved in a few weeks later. “We love the innovation here,” Donna says. “We think it’s a very small planet and we want to do our part to conserve it.” Babcock Ranch has thought of every detail when it comes to sustainability. Jim says, “When I go to the gym, which is huge, and I get on the treadmill, the energy I generate by running actually feeds back into the electric grid.”

Communities that have already transitioned to 100% renewable energy include Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; Rockport, Missouri; and Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to the Sierra Club. But Babcock Ranch has designed sustainability into the entire fabric of the community from the beginning. Just as Tesla has driven change in the transportation industry, Babcock Ranch will encourage other cities and towns to make sustainability part of their community DNA.

New I-95 sound walls rising from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach

Marci Shatzman, Contact Reporter, South Florida Sun Sentinel

If you live near a stretch of Interstate 95 under construction, you may be getting some quiet: Seven noise-blocking walls are planned from Boca Raton, south of Glades Road, to Deerfield Beach, south of Southwest 10th Street.

One of the sound walls, near the Fairfield Gardens community in Boca Raton, is already complete, rising 22 feet.

The I-95 noise had carried into parts of Fairfield Gardens, but the new wall resolved that, said David Abramson, with the homeowners association board. “I’ve been back there,” he said, “and it’s night and day now.”

The sound walls from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach coincide with an I-95 plan to widen and convert carpool lanes into two toll express lanes in each direction.

The toll express lanes are expected to open by spring 2022, weather permitting, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

It can take months to build any of the sound walls, which are made from precast concrete and rise anywhere from 8 feet to 22 feet. Panels in the middle get tropical designs, usually birds, with plain walls on either side.

The other communities receiving sound walls:

— Mizner Forest in Boca Raton will receive a 20-foot wall. Construction is expected to start Tuesday.

— Palm Beach Farms, Boca Square, Raintree and Palmetto Park West in Boca Raton will each get an 8-foot replacement wall.

— County Club Village in Boca Raton will receive either an 8-foot retaining wall or a 14-foot wall, depending on the location.

— Tivoli Park and Natura in Deerfield Beach each will have 22-foot walls.

Meantime, noise barriers already in southern Broward could be expanded or modified for an I-95 and I-595 express-lane project. One project, at Hollywood Boulevard and Sheridan Street, is the design phase. They still are being considered along I-95, between Hollywood and Hallandale boulevards and at the Broward Boulevard interchange.

Officers decide whether the walls are needed after they use devices to measure the noise. Officials consider building sound walls when the noise level meets a federal standard of at least 67 decibels. By contrast, a rock concert could reach as high as 100 or more decibels.

mshatzman@sun-sentinel.com,

Visit our Boca Raton community page at facebook.com/SunSentinelBocaRaton.

Researchers Seek to Improve Hurricane Evacuations and Fuel Supply

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University News

By DEBORAH CIRCELLI / JUN 11, 2018, 12:28 PM

 

As Hurricane season begins this month, a team of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professors and graduate students have been charged with studying Hurricane Irma’s mass evacuation and provide recommendations for a smoother exodus in the future.

With a state of emergency declared and mandatory evacuations issued throughout the state as Hurricane Irma approached Florida last September, millions heeded the warnings. Highways, interstates and the Florida Turnpike quickly turned into parking lots as about 7 million people were ordered to evacuate before the powerful Category 4 storm made landfall. Vehicles and gas stations ran out of fuel causing gridlocks.

The Embry-Riddle study, which will continue through February 2019, will provide an analysis to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Irma’s evacuation and fuel shortages that occurred. The team on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus will identify opportunities and vulnerabilities that currently exist; make policy recommendations for more efficient future evacuations; and suggest how to improve allocation of resources and better equip areas to avoid fuel shortages.

“If you know in advance which areas will be hardest hit, priority treatment can be given to refueling those gas stations,” said Sirish Namilae, Ph.D., assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering and principal investigator on the project along with co-principal investigator Dahai Liu, Ph.D., professor with the School of Graduate Studies, and their graduate students Sabique Islam and Dimitrios Garis.

The research is part of a sub-grant from the Center for Advanced Transportation Mobility, a consortium led by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University through the DOT’s University Transportation Centers Program.

With use of Embry-Riddle’s Cray® CS™ cluster supercomputer, various scenarios and simulations will be conducted, including calculating factors such as fuel levels of individual cars, evacuation routes, number of lanes on various roads, gas station locations, and incidents of emergencies and traffic jams due to random accidents and gas shortages.

“By conducting simulation runs within specified parameters, we hope to get a better picture of what occurs when the masses are forced to move along a particular path and how it affects them,” said Garis, an Aeronautics master’s student working with professor Liu. “We hope this research will provide emergency evacuation planners with an idea of what can be done to help speed up traffic flow and ensure evacuees make it out of the danger areas faster.”

Namilae is adapting a particle dynamics mathematical model he and a previous team developed to study pedestrian movement and ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases on commercial airlines and at airports. Algorithms will be derived that will help provide real-time data during future evacuations.  The team will perform a detailed case study of evacuation out of Florida from Miami-Dade County on Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75.

Public data from the Florida Department of Transportation is also being reviewed and data from tech company GasBuddy, whose app and website database of more than 140,000 gas station convenience stores, includes real-time fuel price information, station locations, offerings and reviews.

“This research uses a combination of theories and ideas borrowed from different avenues of science such as disease transmission modeling, sensor fusion algorithms from aerospace engineering and probability of random numbers from computational mathematics,” said Islam, a graduate teaching assistant studying Aerospace Engineering. “The outcome will help teach future researchers to employ different methods to their research and have an open mind when it comes to attacking scientific problems from different aspects.”

Government policies in place with respect to refueling will be studied along with processes for phased closing and opening of gas stations.

“We are looking at whether fuel restrictions placed on cars could help to get more cars out, since during a hurricane there are limited supplies for each gas station and gasoline cannot be delivered to gas stations promptly due to traffic constraints,” Liu said. “This type of situation is hard to investigate as it involves many factors that are complex and studies are extremely limited.”

FTA Sending Almost $23 Million to Transit Systems Across Florida

June 2, 2018 – 6:00am

 

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week that it is sending almost $23 million to public transit systems across the Sunshine State that were damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is sending  $22.8 million to 15 public transit systems based in Florida. This is part of $330 million that Congress approved for the  FTA’s Emergency Relief Program back in February. The bulk of those funds–$223.5 million–are headed to Puerto Rico while Texas is getting $23.3 million and $6.7 million is for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who advocated for those funds on Capitol Hill, applauded the news.

“This is welcome news for a number of transit systems in Florida,” said Nelson this week.  “For months they’ve had to struggle to find ways to pay for damages caused by last year’s devastating hurricanes. Thankfully, they’re finally getting some relief.”

Most of the FTA money headed to the Sunshine State is penciled in for South Florida. The Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works is getting $11.4 million while the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is getting $1.14 million. Broward County is getting $857,000, Collier County is penciled in for $226,000, the city of Key West claiming $209,000 and Lee County receiving $515,000.

Other systems across the state are also getting FTA money with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority getting $734,000, Lynx/Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority receiving $432,000, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority getting $80,000 while $111,000 is headed for Sarasota County, $153,000 to Brevard County, $57,000 to Charlotte County, another $110,000 to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, $70,000 to the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners and Tallahassee’s StarMetro getting $41,000.

Electric Vehicles Begin To Bite Into Oil Demand

 

Projections have suggested that the advent of electric vehicles will have a dramatic impact on oil demand and now its starting to show. With China adding the equivalent of London’s bus fleet every 5 weeks, that’s 279,000 barrels of oil a day removed from demand.

The latest report from Bloomberg New Energy shows that economics are driving the change, with the total cost of ownership of electric buses far outperforming the alternatives. The report says a 110kWh battery e-bus coupled with the most expensive wireless charging reaches parity with a diesel bus on total cost of ownership at around 60,000 km traveled per year (37,000 miles). This means that a bus with the smallest battery, even when coupled with the most expensive charging option, would be cheaper to run in a medium-sized city, where buses travel on average 170km/day (106 miles).

Today large cities with high annual bus mileages therefore choose from a number of electric options, all cheaper than diesel and CNG buses. The BNEF report says, ‘Even the most expensive electric bus at 80,000km per year has a TCO of $0.92/km, just at par with diesel buses. Compared to a CNG bus, it is around $0.11/km cheaper in terms of the TCO. This indicates that in a megacity, where buses travel at least 220km/day, using even the most expensive 350kWh e-bus instead of a CNG bus could bring around $130,000 in operational cost savings over the 15-year lifetime of a bus.

For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. In 2018, the volume of oil-based fuel demand that buses remove from the market may rise 37 % to 279,000 barrels a day, or approximately the equivalent of the oil consumption of Greece. By 2040, this number could rise as high as 8 million barrels per day (bpd).

This will make a significant dent in oil demand but overall the market appears confident that petrochemicals will make up the difference in demand. That question remains open however, as the plastics market particularly continues to evolve.

Stephen George, chief economist at KBC, agrees with the International Energy Agency predictions that petrochemicals will grow to replace transport fuel demand. His projections don’t show a peak in oil demand, rather a plateau around 2040 ranging between 110 and 110 million bpd, with no signs of a peak and drop by 2050.

He does accept that everybody uses different scenarios and that the strategies need to be resilient in facing market change and says, “I see the majors embracing renewables more than previously.” Oil demand however will continue to increase due predominantly to plastics growth.

Today the U.S. is the biggest per capita consumer of plastics at 150 kg per person per year. That includes bottles, packaging, durable goods (many cars now built out of plastic); 3-d printing and a myriad number of uses. Europe and Japan are not far behind and George predicts that demographics and the growth of the middle class will drive up the global average which is currently 45 kgs per person per year.

China alone has gone from 5kgs to the global average in 5 years and is expected to drag the global average up as it grows. India is bound to follow and while its consumption is roughly around 8-10kgs per capita this is likely to develop rapidly.

So it’s the downstream derivatives of oil that are going to drive demand with George saying, “150kgs per capita is the non combustible oil demand that replaces the transport fuel demand.”

The real question it seems is whether this will be new plastics, or recycled and reused. New methods are arising constantly, driven by new regulation and breakthroughs in technology. In April 2018, it was announced that scientists had accidently discovered an enzyme that eats plastic, which when scaled up could have a significant impact on the way in which plastic is treated within the economy.

At the moment it ends up predominantly as a waste product, clogging up pipes, water sources, beaches and in dumps. If we find a plastics breakthrough, from recycling, to bioplastics to new forms of processing, the future line of oil demand could look very different.

The intersection of innovation and global challenges such as climate change and sustainable development are driving change in the economy. A founder of The Net Imperative Ltd and New Energy Finance (later bought by Bloomberg), author of Conquering Carbon: Carbon Emissions, Carbon Markets and the Consumer and a journalist for many years, I teach on the MSc Global Energy and Climate Policy and Finance, Sustainability and Climate Change at School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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.

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