CTS Scholars in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs are testing their ideas for how we can make infrastructure work better to support healthier and happier cities.
This post highlights a few of their projects that are exploring bike sharing, public transit, and transportation funding.
University of Minnesota researchers recently completed a traffic data and performance analysis of the I-405 tolled corridor in Washington State.
Lawmakers in Washington authorized the creation of express toll lanes (ETLs), including the conversion of some existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, in 2011. The lanes opened to traffic in September 2015.
Last year, U of M researchers analyzed traffic data from 2014–2017 to determine where the I-405 ETL facility is working and where it is underperforming. In addition, the team was asked to compare its findings against relevant performance measures contained in state statute.
Members of the public often hear news about the deteriorating state of the nation’s infrastructure, but in general they are unaware of the efforts and costs required to maintain and operate the transportation systems they rely on every day.
In a recent study, U of M researchers sought to better understand stakeholder attitudes, knowledge, and engagement about financing for local road system management. “It’s important for people to be informed and to be listened to, and to have their opinions taken into consideration in decision making,” says Guillermo Narváez, a former research associate with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the project’s principal investigator. “This approach very often leads to better outcomes than non-participative decisions.”
Narváez collaborated with Professor Kathryn Quick, also with the Humphrey School, for the project. The research team collected and analyzed data about the general climate of stakeholder knowledge and attitudes toward road financing. Data were collected through media analysis, case studies, interviews, and surveys of county government leaders.
While people generally support investing in transportation infrastructure, they fiercely oppose increases in user fees or taxes to support this investment. This funding problem is further compounded by the opaqueness of transportation revenue mechanisms such as the gas tax, which makes it difficult for the traveling public to easily discern how much they pay for infrastructure and what value they derive from it.
In the opening session of CTS’s annual Research Conference last month, Joung Lee, policy director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), examined the latest direction in infrastructure funding at the federal level, offered examples of innovation happening at the state level, and discussed policy and political considerations when it comes to transportation revenue and financing tools.
Transportation funding comes from all levels of government—federal, state, and local. Funding that is directly generated by local taxes and fees stays in corresponding local jurisdictions (counties, cities, and townships, for example). Federal and state transportation funding, however, is allocated through certain budgetary procedures and may not be used in the original point of collection. How are these transportation funds redistributed in Minnesota? An analysis from U of M researchers offers new perspectives.
For the study, which looked at the six-year period between 2009 and 2014, the researchers analyzed funding revenues and expenditures at the district level (see map of Minnesota’s eight districts) for both roadways and transit.
Transportation funding continues to be a contentious issue in Minnesota: Are we spending enough, too little, too much? One way to help answer that question is to compare spending with other states.
“A simple comparison, however, may not accurately reflect the real level of transportation funding across the states,” says Jerry Zhao, an associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “States face different levels of demand and costs due to different geographic, demographic, or labor market conditions.”
To better understand the factors that influence the transportation funding level, Zhao and Professor Wen Wang at Rutgers University developed a cost-adjusted approach to systematically compare highway expenses among states. They found that while Minnesota spends more than average on highways, its spending level actually ranks low in cost-adjusted measures.
Finding the funding needed to meet documented highway, bridge, and transit needs continues to be hotly debated in Washington, DC, and in state capitals around the country. The level of investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure has declined. Federal figures compiled by The Associated Press show the total amount of money available to all states from the Federal Highway Trust Fund has declined by 3.5 percent during the five-year period ending in 2013. In Minnesota, the drop is even more severe: 33 percent.
At the same time, demand on the system and construction costs continue to increase. Population growth, increased freight shipments, and heavier vehicles have all contributed to a situation in which the transportation system is carrying much more of a load than it was ever designed to carry. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, highway construction costs have increased more than 70 percent since 2004.
In this guest post, Margaret Donahoe from the Minnesota Transportation Alliance shares her thoughts on how we might deal with trends that are producing less revenue for transportation while maintaining the user fee principal.