Emil Frankel is Director of Transportation Policy at the BPC.
(1) The BPC’s National Transportation Policy Project recently released a report, Performance Driven: Achieving Wiser Investment in Transportation, that calls for a more efficient funding system. Can you outline the plan to shrink the over 100 existing transportation programs into 10 core programs?
The June 2009 report of the National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) recommended five goals for national surface transportation policy: economic growth, national connectivity, metropolitan accessibility, energy security and environmental sustainability, and safety. Our more recent report recommends a framework for federal transportation programs built around these goals, and it used criteria, related to those goals, in assessing current programs. Those criteria became the basis for recommending the consolidation of some existing programs into ten core initiatives and the elimination of others.
(2) A crucial aspect of the report is the adoption of accountability standards and tools to measure the wisdom of each transportation dollar spent. How can Washington help cash-strapped local governments obtain and deploy such tools to collect accurate data?
The transportation planning system at the state and metropolitan levels needs to be substantially reformed, so that institutions at these levels are motivated to develop, and capable of implementing, plans and capital programs that are comprehensive, strategic, and performance-driven. To that end, the recent NTPP report called for substantial increases in funds for planning, data, and research, and recommended bonuses for improved planning processes. Until planning tools and the data on which investment decisions are based are improved, we cannot expect that the decisions by state and local governments on the use of federal transportation funds will be performance-based, nor can the recipients of federal transportation funds be held accountable for outcomes.
(3) There is a growing movement behind the idea of sustainable communities built around the principals of accessibility, connectivity, energy efficiency, and environmental protection. How does transportation fit into the broader theme of sustainability?
Sustainability comprises many elements — economic, financial, social, and environmental. The national goals that NTPP proposed in its June 2009 report are fundamental to the programmatic reforms that were proposed by NTPP both in that report and in the more recent report. If transportation plans and programs, supported by federal transportation funds and shaped at the state and local levels, address these goals, and if state and local agencies are held accountable for making progress toward achieving them, the result will be more sustainable communities. That principle is at the core of NTPP’s recommendations.
(4) The report targets congestion pricing as a needed addition to any national transportation plan going forward. Can you explain how such a pricing plan would work?
In developing both the June 2009 report and the more recent one, the Members of NTPP became convinced that the use of pricing can be a critically important element in the development and implementation of strategic state and local transportation investment programs that demonstrate progress toward the achievement of the entire suite of national goals that NTPP has recommended. As the recent NTPP report notes, “There is almost universal agreement among transportation planners and economists . . . that without appropriate pricing of our urban roadways, it is unlikely that we will be able to solve our metropolitan transportation problems.” This includes congestion or cordon pricing (as recommended by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg), tolls on individual transportation facilities, and more general – and variable – highway user fees. These user charges are not only potential sources of essential capital for a system that requires increased investment for its restoration and maintenance, but also key elements, in influencing how transportation systems are most efficiently used.
(5) You are an avid baseball follower and diehard Red Sox fan. Who was your favorite player growing up and why?
I actually didn’t become a Red Sox fan, until I was in law school in the Boston area, so I didn’t really have a favorite Red Sox’ player “growing up.” Obviously, like any New Englander, I treasure the memory of Ted Williams, but my favorite players over the last forty or so years were Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans, two great – and graceful – outfielders. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it must have some psychological meaning