Transportation investment touted for post-coronavirus recovery

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road work
road work

As President Trump and members of Congress tout the possibility of pulling together a national infrastructure investment package, several states are already gearing up to continue — and in some cases speed up — a variety of transportation projects.

An article recently published in The Journal, the official publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), stated that the president supported a $2 trillion infrastructure-investment stimulus bill in a March 31 tweet; support echoed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, chair of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during an April 1 conference call with Democratic congressional leaders.

Jim Tymon, executive director of AASHTO, pointed out in a video interview that as the temperatures turn warmer across the country, the highway construction season is “really starting in most states” and that most state departments of transportation are moving forward with planned transportation projects.

The concern for state departments of transportation (DOTs), however, is that falling traffic volumes will reduce the motor-fuel-tax revenues they rely upon to fund such infrastructure projects.

For example, most recent traffic-flow data compiled by INRIX shows that personal travel dropped between 38% and 44% nationally through the week ending March 27. As a result, preliminary projections from state DOTs show at least a 30% decline on average in fuel-tax revenues for the next 18 months, AASHTO’s Tymon noted.

“This is why Congress should provide immediate revenue support to state DOTs as a critical backstop in order to prevent major cuts in near-term transportation funding to prevent canceling or delaying projects and to help stave off potential job losses both in the private sector and at state DOTs as well,” Tymon said.

Yet states continue their work to keep the nation’s transportation network open and operational, some for the time being forging ahead with infrastructure projects.

Connecticut, for example, is planning to move forward with more than $700 million in infrastructure projects aimed primarily at fixing the state’s aging highways, bridges and rail lines.

“Even during this unprecedented pandemic, state government and its operations must continue to operate, and the state has an obligation to ensure proper investments are being made, and the timing could not be more crucial,” explained Chris McClure, spokesman for the budget office of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), in a news story on April 1.

Meanwhile, the Florida DOT is accelerating work on $2.1 billion worth of critical transportation-infrastructure projects, in part due to a reduction in traffic throughout the state as a result of COVID-19, while also providing much-needed jobs to the construction industry, according to Kevin Thibault, the agency’s secretary.

“The governor understands that Florida’s transportation system is the backbone of our economy, and FDOT is proud to accelerate projects, which will help expedite goods to market and provide much needed jobs throughout the state,” he noted in a statement.

“Safety is our top priority, so we will continue to ensure that employees have the sanitation supplies needed to follow the guidance from the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] and work with our industry partners to implement these same precautions to keep workers safe and healthy,” Thibault added.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is making a similar move where the $35 million New Dixie Highway Project is concerned, as reductions in daytime traffic volume due to the COVID-19 pandemic are allowing work crews to move their work into daylight hours — a shift that will improve the quality of work, allowing crews to better see all indents and imperfections in the roadway surface.

“We are so appreciative of all the work the crews are doing during this time, maintaining as much social distance as possible while also working to complete the project,” John Callihan, the project’s manager, explained in a news story.

In the north, the Minnesota DOT noted on April 2 that it will undertake 188 road and bridge projects statewide during the 2020 construction season, while working on another 66 projects to make improvements to airports, ports, transit and railroads that are outside of the state’s road-construction program.

“It is critical that MnDOT continue its work to maintain and improve our state’s transportation infrastructure,” said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the agency’s commissioner, in a statement.

“A safe, reliable and multimodal transportation system is essential to keeping our state running in times of crisis,” she added. “MnDOT construction projects will continue as scheduled and within the guidance set by state and federal health officials to prevent further spread of COVID-19. We are especially grateful to our employees and partners in labor and the private sector for working together and prioritizing safety for workers on project sites.”

To read the full article published in The Journal, click here.

 

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