Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Anti-Tolling Coalition Thanks Senate EPW for Maintaining Status Quo on Interstate Tolling

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Americans for a Strong National Highway Network (ASNHN) recently thanked the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee for moving a highway transportation funding bill forward without expanding tolling on existing interstate highway infrastructure.

In a letter to Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ASNHN said the United States has greatly benefited from a toll-free interstate system that has made jobs more accessible to workers and enabled economic growth. Tolling highways would impede commerce and send traffic onto less-safe streets, the group said.

The letter also was sent to the EPW Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and its ranking member David Vitter (R-La.).

Commercialized Rest Areas Not An Answer to State Budget Woes

Monday, December 13th, 2010

 

Commercializing rest areas may appear to be a solution to state budget woes, but will devastate interstate businesses and drain cities and counties of needed tax revenues that fund local services, NATSO said last week at the meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

 

NATSO Vice President of Government Affairs participated in a panel discussion on rest area commercialization at the NCSL Fall Forum in Phoenix, Ariz.  Alfano told the group that Congress created the ban on rest area commercialization in 1956 to encourage commercial development along the newly created Interstate Highway System.  That strategy has been a success, and today more than 95,000 businesses thrive at interstate exits across the United States.  By contrast, interstates with commercialized rest areas have 50 percent fewer businesses at the exits.  

 

She noted that truck parking is also impacted by commercialization.  Commercialized rest areas deter truckstops from locating along the interstates where they are found, and typically interstates dominated by commercialized rest areas have one-third fewer truck parking places.

 

“The business model of the commercialized rest area is one that relies on a constant turnover of customers,” Alfano told the conference. “It’s not one that caters to professional drivers, and the facilities offer few truck parking spaces and no driver amenities such as lounges and showers.”  She noted that the recent multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Delaware House, a commercialized rest area on I-95, only added a few truck parking spaces, for a total of 50.  Many truckstops offer 200 or more spaces for drivers.

 

She acknowledged the budget challenges faced by many states, and supported the suggestion made by panelist Kevin Biesty of the Arizona Department of Transportation, who said that states need to be allowed to use some of their federal dollars for rest area maintenance.

Virginia Plays Politics with Rest Area Closures

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Early this morning, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) went through on its plans and began boarding up rest areas across the state. No one thought that this political game of “chicken” would ever go this far.

VDOT first announced its plans to close rest areas in March, a proposal that was met with almost universal opposition from state residents and motorists. Shortly after announcing the closures, both the Governor and Secretary of Transportation said that they could keep the rest areas open…if Congress would allow them to run businesses there. Because the well-reasoned prohibition against rest area commercialization is a federal law, Virginia was able to shift the blame from Richmond to Washington.

Closing the rest areas in Virginia will save the commonwealth $9 million, or 0.25% of Virginia’s entire transportation budget. In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which approves VDOT’s annual budget, tried to save the rest areas by transferring the $9 million from an increase in the paving budget. According to Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, the amendment failed, with VDOT Secretary Pierce Homer casting the deciding vote.

While VDOT has discussed the rest area issue for several months, no one bothered to formally contact the Virginia congressional delegation to request help in their commercialization efforts until last Wednesday - two days before the House Appropriations Committee met to debate the 2010 transportation appropriations bill. Thankfully, the amendment to allow Virginia to commercialize their rest areas failed, but it will undoubtedly resurface in the coming days.

VDOT has had several opportunities to keep the rest areas open, but ultimately decided closing them was worth it in order to bring them closer to their long-time goal of commercializing their rest areas. Commercialization is not the only way to save Virginia’s rest areas – in fact, it will only result in job losses and a downturn in county and municipal taxes. Rest area commercialization will do far more harm than good to the small cities and towns that rely on interstate highway traffic to sustain their communities.

Great Start, Long Fight in Commercialization Battle

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Last week, the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee approved a draft of the House version of the highway bill and the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to consider the bill sometime in July. The initial draft does not address the issue of rest area commercialization, leaving the ban completely intact, marking a great start in framing the issue during the reauthorization process.

However, it’s much too early to celebrate. The states of California, Washington and Oregon are still pushing their agenda to commercialize their rest areas and offer alternative fuels in addition to food and other services. Some in the Senate view this as a way to quickly develop an infrastructure for alternative fuels and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. With virtually no demand for these forms of energy, the costs would be offset by other offerings at the newly commercialized rest areas.

While we’re generally pleased with House version of the highway bill, its chances of passage are far from clear at this point. Instead of a long-term full highway bill reauthorization, the Department of Transportation is advocating for a short-term, 18-month extension to current law with “critical reforms” to keep the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency. DOT hasn’t indicated what those reforms are at this point, but given comments by Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate seems to be leaning towards an extension of the current law. The Obama Administration repeatedly has suggested that some form of privatization should be explored as a revenue source and it isn’t clear what the official Administration position is regarding rest area commercialization.

Budget shortfalls in many states are worsening. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of closing 19 of its 41 rest areas due to funding issues. In a number of public meetings, members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board suggested that commercialization could save the rest areas, and suggested that Virginians should support overturning the ban. Similar funding scenarios are playing out in states across the country, setting the stage for more state agencies to suggest that commercialization is the answer to some of their funding needs.

So as you can see, the battle on this issue has just begun.

House Takes First Step in Highway Debate

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

The House of Representatives took the first step in moving a massive $500 billion highway bill, with the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit approving the measure earlier today. The legislation, introduced earlier this week, preserves the ban on commercialization of rest areas. While this is an initial victory for highway communities, you can expect attempts to weaken the ban at other stages in the legislative process. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, the Partnership to Save Highway Communities sent a letter to all members of the House Transportation Committee requesting to leave the ban on commercialization intact.

The House version of the highway bill, however, faces an uphill battle towards completion. First, the draft of the legislation doesn’t specify how to pay for extra funding for highway programs. With the President on record against an increase in fuel taxes, there are limited options for finding the additional funding for the Highway Trust Fund. Other options include a tax based on the actual number of miles driven, but that would require technological innovations that aren’t quite ready for mass distribution. The other popular option, tolling, won’t raise near enough money to fund the highway system and doesn’t work in more rural areas with long stretches of highway.

Second, the White House has already given up on a reauthorization bill this year, instead suggesting an 18th month extension of the current reauthorization, with some “critical changes” to the law. Given the rapidly approaching deadline of September 30 to complete the bill, it will be difficult to get both the House and Senate to take sufficient action to get a long-term bill to the President’s desk.

Following today’s markup in the Highways Subcommittee, the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will take up the bill, most likely in July. With everyone having extended time to digest and analyze the bill, you can expect a flurry of amendments, which could include attempts to commercialize highway rest areas.

Newest Coalition Member Shares Capitol Hill Experiences

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Catriona Macdonald, Blind Entrepreneurs Alliance

On May 21st and 22nd, more than 100 blind business owners took to Capitol Hill to meet with Members and their staff to talk about the opportunities that the Randolph-Sheppard Act creates for blind entrepreneurs with food service businesses to serve customers on federal and state properties, including roadside vending on federal and state highways.

Participants attended meetings in groups with others from their state. In total we had 125 meetings with Members and staff in Senate and House personal offices, and Senate and House Committee offices. We met with House Transportation Committee staff, as well as the associate committee staff in the offices of dozens of Transportation Committee members, to talk about the potential impact of rest stop commercialization on blind business owners. Most Members and staff were unaware that, under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, businesses owned and operated by the blind have a priority for permits to manage roadside vending in rest stops along federal and state highways.

Across the country, hundreds of blind entrepreneurs support themselves and their families servicing vending locations under permits that could be lost if rest stops were commercialized. We were warmly received and will continue to provide Congressional offices updates on any pending legislation that would commercialize rest stops and deny business opportunities to blind entrepreneurs.