An issue that is essential to our economic growth is investing in the nation’s infrastructure, namely our roads, bridges, public transit, airports and other transportation assets.
It is critical that the nation restore or upgrade its crumbling infrastructure coast to coast. We are seeing promising developments at the federal, state and local level, as many states and municipalities commit to major transportation investments. In the November 2016 election alone, voters in 22 states approved ballot measures that will provide $203 billion in funding extensions and new revenue for state and local transportation projects.
With a combined power of state/local dollars in the near term, America may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reposition its transportation infrastructure for the future. And, yet, there is one major challenge: spending the money in the right ways.
We first must repair hard-working transportation assets that are seriously deficient or dangerous. More broadly, however, we must make our infrastructure investments very strategically to achieve the gains — in jobs, economic growth, global competitiveness and quality of life — that Americans deserve.
Here are a few ideas for ensuring that America achieves the greatest benefit from its transportation spending in the coming years:
- Prioritize Projects Transparently — We must preserve taxpayers’ trust by removing politics from the equation. One approach is to use data-driven scoring models to standardize and rationalize the decision-making process and determine how well they ease congestion, improve economic development, provide access to jobs, enhance safety and environmental sustainability, and efficiently use land.
- Deliver Projects More Efficiently — Many states now allow the use of the design-build method for delivering large, complex transportation projects. By adopting design-build for more projects, even smaller projects, America can get more transportation improvements for the dollars invested.
- Innovate Before We Construct — Before we widen highways to reduce congestion, we should consider more cost-efficient techniques, including the use of ramp metering, which uses traffic lights to adjust the flow of vehicles entering the highway, or breakdown lanes for travel, which use signage to notify drivers when these lanes are open for traffic. These techniques can increase capacity during times of greatest demand, without building new lanes.
- Advance User-Centered Mobility — Technology is revolutionizing virtually every aspect of travel, from digital maps for planning trips, GPS guidance and digital tickets for trains and subways to ride-sharing. We need to invest in strategies and technologies that erase the seams between modes, so travelers can assess and activate their mobility options easily.
We can expect significant debate as our national, state and local leaders seek agreement on a range of transportation-related policy issues. Hopefully, these debates will lead to more predictable and sustainable funding for our transportation infrastructure, not just for the next 10 years, but for the next 40.
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