Get the latest news and insight about improving our nation's transportation infrastructure. The ATM Podcast is produced by Maury Tobin for the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition.
The Ride of Their Lives — FTA Gives Transit Authority in Central Ohio $26.7 Million for Electric Buses
Some people might wake up every day thinking of how long it will take them to get to work. Andy Biesterveld wakes up thinking about 3,100 transit stops (equaling more than 560 square miles) serving Central Ohio, and the ways in which moving people are addressing sustainability and environmental benchmarks.
Federal monies created through the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) are giving a huge boost in this vein.
Biesterveld is Chief Engineering and Mechanical Officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). COTA recently received from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) a $26.7 million “low and no-emission” grant for 28 electric buses in an area that encompasses the Greater Columbus/Central Ohio region, with over 1.2 million residents taking more than 19 million trips annually.
He talks about the win in this new “ATM Podcast.”
Two electric coaches — which can run 140 miles on one charge — are already operating because of that grant. Eight more will soon be coming to Central Ohio, with more added in 2023 and 2024.
In 2021, COTA’s fleet changes included adding 18 eco-friendly hybrids or compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles; 27 fewer traditional fuel buses; adding electric buses and three more COTA/PLUS vehicles. (COTA bus customers can request microtransit service through a mobile phone app or call COTA Customer Service to book trips.)
Ultimately, Biesterveld notes that engineers, new technology, training technicians toward optimal safety, and building electric-vehicle infrastructure are crucial now. (Public transit took a hit because of COVID; however, improved and cleaner fleets can also serve changing and less sprawling communities.)
“If you think about a traditional diesel coach, if you’re sitting probably anywhere in the back half of the vehicle, you’re kind of overwhelmed by engine noise. In the electric coach, there is no engine noise,” says Biesterveld. “You definitely know that you’re not [in] a traditional fossil fuel powered vehicle.”
Federal Infrastructure Dollars Coming -- But Job’s Not Done as Concerns Grow About Economy, Weather Events & Global Competition
Whenever a narrative begins with the words federal money flowing, the obvious questions are to whom and why.
In this case, the why is critically important. Months after the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed by Congress, states and counties are receiving groundbreaking funding for infrastructure projects to support the United States’ economy, future and mobility. This means transit, airports, roads, bridges and next-generation energy solutions and resiliency initiatives to deal with weather impacts, says National, Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) President & CEO Michael Johnson in a new ATM Podcast.
With both a broad and niche understanding of all that is aggregates, Johnson is a keen observer of the state of the nation’s infrastructure, and following how IIJA is making an impact, especially given today’s global influences.
He has a worldview on why infrastructure projects are critical to the nation: “When you think about the fact that the Chinese are investing $2.3 trillion in 2022 alone and this is in addition to their ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ — where they’re using infrastructure investment in developing countries to bring countries under their sphere of influence … it’s crucial that we at least spend the $1.2 trillion that we’re doing to keep pace and make sure our infrastructure is ready for the next set of, not just local, state and national, but international challenges.”
Johnson points to a few nuances that are important in the national conversation regarding all the physical fixes America needs: Money is flowing from federal coffers to state departments of transportation (DOTs) and the administration set up discretionary grant programs and those awards are coming into the timeline; however, on the formula side, the money has not yet made it into the project funding stream.
Johnson also noted that in the current economic environment (inflationary pressures, talk of a recession and market uncertainties), at least DOTs now have more certainty. “They know what’s coming to them for the next five years from the federal government, and it allows them to begin these historic projects here to make such a difference in our economic circulatory system and the quality of life for our residents,” he says.
NSSGA is a member of ATM.
ATM Podcast: IIJA Equals Big Infrastructure Boost for Missouri
Missouri has an aging highway network, overburdened bridges, strained ports and waterways, climate impacts, and supply chain and transit challenges. But federal infrastructure investment is helping the “Show Me State” embrace a strong future.
Recently, the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition interviewed American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2023 President-Elect Marsia “Marsie” Geldert-Murphey (also a Missouri resident) to discuss Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) money flowing to Missouri.
The list encompasses $278 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair flood damage along the Missouri River and several lakes, and $48 million to support public transportation. $26.3 million has also been provided for the Fort Leonard Wood Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport, the Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River in Perry County, and the I-70\U.S. 63 Interchange in Boone County.
Geldert-Murphey shapes the big picture of what America is facing by talking about individual projects, and provides insight that supports a macro perspective.
The work of civil engineers, which includes environmental mitigation, fostering economic growth and ensuring resiliency, centers on benefitting society but also advancing technologies. Unlike decades ago, spatial orientation is an industry focus, and 3D drawings can be incorporated into the capabilities of construction gear and equipment.
Changes for MissouriAirport expansion increases business opportunities; replacing the Chester Bridge will grow the agricultural industry; and interchange projects improve functionality for the traveling public. But in Missouri, addressing climate and storm impacts are also taking center stage.Geldert-Murphey says Missouri has been hit hard by several consecutive years of extremely high flows in the rivers and damage to structures has been significant. Making repairs along the stretch of the river, from Nebraska to St. Louis, is critically important.
“When you’re talking about the Missouri River, and the Mississippi River, and the flow of goods and supply chain that we’ve been suffering from even recently, all of this commercial navigation that we support through/in this system also provides indirect benefits to all the other industrial, agricultural and economic interests not only within Missouri but outside of Missouri.”
Pointing to federal funding for transit, Geldert-Murphey says it’s crucial to look at public transportation’s benefits and impacts. This entails health equity and reducing traffic accidents and pollution, and connecting people to jobs, food and family, along with access for the elderly. But underfunding, she adds, has led to labor shortages in the transit arena.She says transit spending per capita in Missouri was low, but is increasing. She explains that to transport 156,000 daily riders in Missouri (requiring 2,000 vehicles to be operated by 4,500 workers) the indirect and direct impact of transit in Missouri is $3.6 billion. That’s a seven to one return-on-investment (ROI) for transit spending.
Whether it’s prioritizing transit or better ports or modern bridges, Geldert-Murphey is looking for infrastructure to spur real change.“You know, we’ve been in a react mode when it comes to transportation for a very, very long time. What this bill is going to allow us to do is not only meet the needs that have been overlooked for so very long — not only in Missouri — but throughout the country,” she emphasizes.
ASCE is a member of ATM.
Podcast: Gas Tax Holiday Is A Mirage for Consumers & Will Weaken American Infrastructure
Widespread credit was given to President Biden and Congress for getting a historic bipartisan infrastructure bill passed. However, there is now widespread criticism regarding his push and other lawmakers’ calls to suspend the federal gas tax in hopes of appeasing inflation-weary consumers.“
[Suspending the gas tax] is going to offer no help at the pump for drivers, but it will create a lot of pain for motorists and anyone else who depends on infrastructure because we’re going to blow a big hole in the way we pay to fix our roads and bridges over the long term,” says Brian Turmail, Vice President of Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) in the latest Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition podcast.
Critics and experts note that a gas tax suspension will sideswipe the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and limit federal dollars ensuring faster, better and safer transportation and infrastructure in the United States — which saves lives, time and money.
Passing legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was not something other recent presidents were able to achieve. Turmail notes that instead of pushing for a gas tax suspension, the Biden Administration should focus on getting project approvals through and more IIJA money out the door.
Fuel prices rose because they have been affected by the war in Ukraine, embargoes on Russian oil, going from an economy that was “asleep” (during COVID) to one that is “fully awake,” and oil refineries being shut down by companies, Turmail adds. Furthermore, the gas tax rate, 18.4 cents, has remained the same even when fuel prices are lower, so it clearly is not the cost influencer. Americans are being impacted by global and separate external factors. Constituents respond to infrastructure projects being completed and policymakers know this. America needs to upgrade roads and bridges, put in new public transit lines, and build resilient and more efficient infrastructure to address aging systems.
Recently, as part of IIJA (which includes multiple infrastructure improvement initiatives), the Biden Administration announced airports that will be receiving funding. Regions and officials touted the news.
AGC is a member of ATM.
ATM Exec. Dir. Says IIJA Implementation & Getting Project Funding ‘Out the Door’ Must Be Priorities
John Drake, the new Executive Director of the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition and Vice President for Transportation, Infrastructure and Supply Chain Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is thinking about tomorrow.“
We had a historic bill [the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act/IIJA] that was passed into law just six months ago. The successful implementation of that law is absolutely critical,” he says in ATM’s latest podcast. “It’s absolutely critical that we get the dollars out the door as quick as we can because there is so much unmet demand for refurbished infrastructure, for improving our transportation network, and also, frankly, catching up with the needs of our larger economy … and making sure those dollars are going towards the right projects, towards the right programs.”
Still, he emphasizes the victory of the IIJA, calling the voices of the Chamber and the ATM invaluable to any infrastructure investment policy debate. This includes moving forward in bipartisan ways.Prior to his new roles, Drake’s Chamber position was focusing on the supply chain. How the latter functions has certainly become a national and pressing hot-button topic. Before the Chamber, Drake worked on key committees on Capitol Hill for 10 years, for the Department of Transportation (DOT) for five years, and in top positions at Amazon and the American Trucking Associations (ATA).Impacting policymaking today can be both a reactive and proactive process. Anticipating how to map out advocacy strategies, building relationships, identifying global influencers, and tracking and molding national policy issues are paramount to how Drake works. He says it’s crucial “we don’t have another delay in passing the next infrastructure law [and] making sure the investment dollars are there to put us on sound footing so we continue to be competitive going into the 21st century.”
Drake also discusses intelligent transportation, freight-specific programs, funding availability announcements and efficient programs, distribution of grants, innovation and advocating sensible timeframes for permitting transformative transportation projects. Improved bridges, increasing highway capacity and updating ports are fundamental to America’s future.
Delays at ports and getting goods to buyers have magnified how crucial infrastructure modernization is, and how the supply chain and transportation system are inextricably linked. This has spurred a dialogue about competitiveness and global trade.“I think what has become really clear in the last 15 [to] 20 years is that there are a number of competitors to the United States that are rising and they are rising really quickly,” Drake says. He adds that the time for “complacency” is over because competitors, such as China, are nipping at the U.S.’s heels.Ecommerce has completely transformed the trade world and policies for today’s trade environment need to be reexamined, Drake says.
For the Chamber, in the areas of transportation and infrastructure, he says “IIJA is priority No. 1 and 2 and 3 for our membership.”
The ATM is managed by the Chamber.
Coming Soon: Big Boost in Federal Investment for West Virginia Infrastructure, Bridges
Communities across the United States are gearing up for the historic push and newly unprecedented investments their regions will see with the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
One of those is West Virginia, which will receive $506 million in Federal-aid over five years to tackle 1,500 structurally deficient bridges. The state ranks No. 2 in the nation for the percentage of its bridges in poor condition.David Meadows, who helped prepare the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) West Virginia 2020 Report Card, spoke with the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition for its latest podcast to discuss the vast transportation and infrastructure needs in that region.
Engineers are at the center of issues that have exposed America’s crumbling infrastructure, and understand what is at stake. For instance, Republican Congressman David McKinley, an engineer, provided a much-lauded West Virginia vote for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Key votes also came from Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
The good news is that advocates like Meadows are helping explain the positives headed to states like his and anticipating these milestone advancements. West Virginia is also positioned to receive $3 billion for roads, of which $200 million is for the Appalachian Development Highway System Corridor H — an ask identified in the report card; over $475 million for sewer and water; $100 to $600 million for broadband access; and $46 million for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations. There are other funding areas identified in the podcast. They include federal monies for oil and gas wells that need to be capped, abandoned land mines, and public transit and airports.
But Meadows points out “these are drops in the bucket … these amounts.” Lack of funding and maintenance backlogs create problems fixing the area’s bridges, and he sees the recent call to stop gas taxes as endemic of how shortsighted some policies can be when highway departments are struggling for funding, like in West Virginia where there are $1.6 billion in annual needs for which the IIJA can help support critical investments, but not cover everything. He also believes Americans likely won’t see savings passed on to them, by oil companies, at the gas pumps.
ASCE is a member of ATM. Meadows is ASCE Region 4 Governor and Chief Technical Officer for Triad Engineering, Inc.