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Nation's Transportation Policies Have Miles to Go and Not Much Time

(Roger K. Lewis)
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-- Improving road, rail and transit safety needs more attention. Reportedly, treatment of injuries from car accidents costs $200 billion annually.

-- Intermodality -- one travel mode linking conveniently and efficiently to other modes -- is below par. Smooth, direct connections among airports, transit systems, road networks, railway terminals and ports is often lacking.

-- The gap between funding that's needed for essential transportation infrastructure and funding that's available is wide and growing wider. But, too often, taxpayers are unwilling to finance necessary transportation investments.

-- Not charging for roadway use -- "mispricing" -- guarantees traffic congestion. Most Americans feel that "freeways" and public streets are entitlements and oppose paying for the miles they drive. They also are unaware of how much each mile of roadway and driving costs.

Conference participants proposed several strategies.

Most of the nation's economic activity and population is concentrated in urban regions and will be more so in the future. Therefore, a new transportation agenda must focus on metropolitan, multi-modal initiatives.

Federal, state and local transportation planners must collaborate continually with planners concerned with land use, zoning, housing, health, energy and the environment to achieve smart-growth goals as well as improved mobility.

Vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fees seemed to be the preferred method for providing future transportation funding. The rationale is compelling.

With smaller cars powered by new technologies, gasoline consumption is destined to plummet, as is gasoline tax revenue, a primary funding source for building and maintaining roads.

Meanwhile, transponder technology, akin to E-ZPass, could record and charge for miles driven. Like the Intercounty Connector plan, charges could vary with time of day, vehicle type and location. Such systems are operational in some countries.

Conference participants believe that implementing VMT charges is unavoidable. They spoke about risks -- to the U.S. economy, global competitiveness, travel efficacy and safety, the environment and quality of life -- if a new, multi-modal transportation agenda, with new approaches to planning and pricing, is not adopted with urgency.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.

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