The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

James P. RePass - President & CEO
Phone:  617-269-5478

The Hon. John Robert Smith - Chairman

MA Office: 59 Gates Street, Boston, MA. 02127
CT Office, 8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT, 06355
RI Office, 35 Terminal Road, Suite 210, Providence, RI. 02905

Fax (CT): 860-536-5482

January 28-29, 2008
St. Louis, Mo

The First Carmichael Conference
on Transportation

Keynote Address:
By the Hon. Frank Busalacchi

 

The Carmichael Conference on the
Future of American Transportation:

Delivered at the Carmichael Conference, January 28-29, 2008

First Appearing In NCI’s Destination:Freedom Weekly Newsletter
Vol. 9 No. 11 - March 17, 2008

 

Keynote Address, Monday January 28, 2008
By the Hon. Frank Busalacchi
Secretary of Transportation, Wisconsin

 

[ Publisher’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of addresses--- last week’s was by ARTBA’s Larry Russell --- from the Carmichael Conference on the Future of American Transportation held January 28-29 at the Hyatt Regency, St. Louis, MO.

This Keynote Address was delivered Monday January 28, 2008, by the Hon Frank Busalacchi, Secretary of Transportation, Wisconsin, who also serves as Chairman of States for Passenger Rail, and was a member of the just-completed Surface Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, is a clarion call to all of those who believe that if America is to have an economic future at all, it must have a transportation system that works.

Destination:Freedom will publish addresses from this important American conference each week, so that those who could not attend can also participate in the debate, and also benefit from the thoughts of the impressive list of American transportation leaders who did attend, and spoke to us. It is also our intention to collect the speeches, and presentations, into a single CD-ROM so that the proceedings can be more widely distributed. ]

 

Introduction

  • Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and my thanks to everyone who helped organize this conference as a way to bring transportation to the forefront of national debate.

  • In my roles as Secretary of the Wisconsin DOT, Chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, and national transportation advocate, I frequently voice these common frustrations:

    • How do we engage the American public in a thoughtful debate about transportation? How do we make it relevant to citizens and policymakers?

    • How can we neglect the needs of a transportation system that supports economic growth, protects public safety, and provides the mobility that makes our country the United States of America?

    • How can we possibly take for granted a transportation system that brought all of us here today and will get all of us home?

    • And in a culture of Blackberries, lap-tops and high-def TV, why is it so difficult for some to accept that improving our transportation system will cost money?

    • I struggle with these issues each and every day.

  • But that’s what makes this day and this conference so important.

  • A national debate focused on transportation is long overdue. As we enter an election year important on so many fronts, now is the time to put transportation “front and center” before our national leaders.

  • I want to thank Gilbert Carmichael, James RePass and the National Corridors Initiative for pulling together this important and timely conference.

National Commission

  • As many of you know, I served on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

  • It was an honor to be selected, and I was proud to serve.

  • I am equally proud of the bold, multi-modal and bi-partisan report that the Commission recently submitted to Congress.

  • The Commission faced an extremely important and pressing task: develop a 50-year plan that will provide America the “preeminent transportation system in the world.”

  • The 12 Commission members, appointed by the Bush Administration and Congressional leaders represented federal, state and local transportation officials; metro planning groups; transportation industries; and public interest groups.

  • Over a 20-month period, we held 10 field hearings across the country - from Portland to Atlanta, New York to Dallas.

  • We got a first-hand look at transportation facilities: highways, railways, waterways, public transportation.

  • We heard directly from hundreds of transportation stakeholders. We reviewed hundreds of transportation briefs.

  • What we learned reinforced what many of us already know:

    • the nation’s transportation infrastructure is getting older and becoming more congested;

    • our growing and aging population is generating significant transportation needs that are outpacing available fiscal resources;

    • states alone are unable to address this enormous issue and are looking to federal leaders for guidance;

    • for too long, we’ve delayed major strategic decisions about our national transportation policy. We simply can’t wait any longer;

Goals, assumptions and guidelines

  • Throughout the study period, we kept several key ideas and assumptions in mind:

    • First, we set ambitious goals. Our country, founded on individual and economic freedoms, deserves a transportation system that accommodates both.

    • We know that over the next 50 years, the nation’s population will increase by 120 million people – creating additional demands for goods, services and mobility.

    • Freight volumes are expected to increase dramatically – 70 percent between 1998 and the year 2020.

    • Finally, meeting our mobility needs will require a cultural shift away from today’s auto-centric mindset. Public transit and passenger rail must be a major part of our transportation future.

  • The Commission’s recommendations follow several main themes:

    • We envision a multi-modal system that provides mobility to all users: urban commuters, rural residents and freight haulers;

    • A system that is environmentally responsible and utilizes the latest in technology;

    • Currently, it takes about 13 years for major highway projects to move from concept to completion. That is simply too long.

    • We propose a system that retains environmental safeguards, but streamlines the current review process to avoid costly, unnecessary delays;

    • We envision a program that is user-financed, outcome-based, mode-neutral, and focused on national priorities;

    • We believe that implementing this vision will require significant new investments;

    • We must have tough accountability standards to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely;

    • And we need a strong federal partnership to help states carry out this vision

Reforming federal programs

  • The Commission recommendations represent a bold departure from current practice.

  • For example, under the current federal transportation bill, there are 108 highway and transit categories.

  • We propose consolidating this into 10 new federal focus areas.

  • These would include:

    • Preservation and maintenance of the existing system using an asset management process;

    • Enhancing freight movement by addressing current “chokepoints;”

    • Improving metro mobility and access to rural areas;

    • Dramatically reducing the number of traffic crashes and fatalities on U.S. roadways;

    • Encouraging transportation research and technology.

    • And finally, providing passenger rail the same level of support we afford to other modes.

Passenger rail

  • In my role as a Commissioner, I was especially pleased to lead a working group on intercity passenger rail.

  • The Commission agreed that passenger rail must be part of the nation’s multi-modal transportation strategy.

  • It won’t replace other modes, but it will provide greater mobility to our growing and aging population, especially in high-travel corridors.

  • It will help alleviate highway and airway congestion, and the impacts of global warming.

  • The working group created a map into the year 2050 and developed cost estimates for passenger rail improvements. The focus is on city-to-city connections along corridors of 500 miles or less.

  • The map provides one perspective on the future of passenger rail and is entirely illustrative. States would be responsible for their own rail plans.

  • With Congressional support, they will be empowered to implement them.

  • We’re proposing a federal/state funding partnership for intercity passenger rail similar to the partnerships that exist for highways, transit and aviation.

  • Under this model, federal funds would cover 80 percent of project costs, just like other modes.

  • Public interest in quality rail service is increasing along with the price of gasoline.

  • More and more travelers and policymakers are coming to understand the economic, environmental and mobility advantages passenger rail has to offer.

Hiawatha

  • And when it comes to quality passenger rail services, Wisconsin and Illinois have a pretty good “track” record.

  • Our two states jointly support Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

  • The Hiawatha provides seven daily round trips along the 90-mile corridor with unparalleled on-time performance.

  • Wisconsin has undertaken three major station development projects for Hiawatha customers: a new station at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, another in Sturtevant, south of Milwaukee; and most recently, we completed a 17-million-dollar renovation of the downtown Milwaukee intermodal facility.

  • These investments are paying dividends. The Hiawatha has been smashing ridership records month after month, accommodating over 617-thousand riders last year and setting a new annual ridership record.

  • Many states are ready to build upon their passenger rail successes. Wisconsin stands ready to extend service between Milwaukee and Madison. All we ask is a strong federal partnership.

  • The Commission’s recommendations, if approved by Congress, would set the stage for such partnerships.

NASTRAC

  • To help implement all of the Commission’s sweeping transportation reforms, we’re proposing creation of an independent National Surface Transportation Commission.

  • NASTRAC – as we call it - would oversee the nation’s strategic plan for transportation investments and make recommendations to Congress.

  • It would function similar to the federal Postal Regulatory Commission, and Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

  • The goal is to de-politicize major policy decisions and ensure that public resources are wisely invested.

  • The 10-member group would provide oversight and guidance to the U.S. DOT to keep federal attention focused on national goals.

  • NASTRAC’s recommendations to Congress would become law within 60 days unless vetoed by a two-thirds majority in both federal houses.

Paying the bill

  • We’ve laid out an ambitious vision. But one could easily argue that for decades, our nation’s strategic transportation vision has been “rudderless.”

  • The time has arrived to grab the wheel and steer the country in a bold, new direction.

  • By far the most difficult and controversial issue the Commission dealt with was funding surface transportation needs in both the short and long term.

  • Here are the stark realities we face:

    • our nation’s transportation infrastructure is aging and increasingly congested. Costs exceed revenues.

    • without corrective action, the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will be $5 billion dollars in the red by the end of the 2009 federal fiscal year.

  • For too long, the country has ignored these difficult issues. We simply can’t wait any longer.

  • Upgrading, and where necessary, expanding transportation facilities to make America competitive in a global market will require at least 225 billion dollars per year for 50 years.

  • We’re spending less than 40 percent of that today.

  • As the Commission traveled the country listening to the public, most favored a continued reliance on motor fuel taxes - at least for the short term.

  • Maintaining the federal government’s traditional 40 percent share of surface transportation costs requires an increase in the federal fuel tax of at least five cents per gallon, per year, over the next five years.

  • The federal motor fuel tax has remained unchanged over the last 15 years. Over that same period, needs have increased along with costs to complete transportation improvements.

  • But fuel taxes are not the only revenue option.

  • The Commission also suggests we consider:

    • “congestion pricing” that would charge higher fees to those using high-travel corridors during peak travel periods;

    • freight fees that would help address major “chokepoints.”

    • and Public-Private Partnerships that have brought private investment into the transportation system. This can be perceived as a “good” or “bad” thing.

  • I’ve made no secret about my concerns over P3’s. But the Commission recognized that to address all the needs out there, we would need “all the tools in the toolbox.”

  • P3’s will provide only a small portion of what’s needed to get the job done. As long as the public sector protections are part of the deal, which the Commission supports, P3’s could provide revenue options for some projects.

  • Whatever the revenue mix, the Commission report is very clear that all transportation investments must pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis and be subject to performance-based outcomes.

Other finance options

  • The motor fuel tax will be a viable revenue source for about 15 more years.

  • One of the most promising future alternatives is a vehicle-miles-traveled, fee-based system, but there are still technological, collection and privacy hurdles that need to be cleared.

  • Those are issues that need to be addressed in the near future.

  • Most urgent is making the needed investments in our multi-modal transportation system. That simply can’t be delayed any longer.

  • Yes, it’s going to cost money. But there are equally large costs if we do nothing: urban gridlock; freight delays that bleed our economy; and the human toll associated with traffic crashes.

Conclusion

  • So where do we go from here?

  • Remember the Commission report represents a beginning, not an end.

  • Over the next several months, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold hearings on the Commission report.

  • I ask all of you to stay informed and engaged in the process. Don’t underestimate the power of a letter, e-mail or phone call to your Congressional representative. It can make a tremendous difference.

  • The next federal transportation reauthorization bill will be considered in 2009. Through that bill, Congress will determine the direction of national transportation policy for at least six years.

  • Let me leave you with this. 50 years ago, another group of transportation advocates, the Clay Commission, presented a vision and a funding plan to create an Interstate Highway System.

  • The nation embraced that vision as a necessary investment in our economy, national security and public safety.

  • It’s my hope you’ll join me in urging Congress to enact a similarly bold plan that will carry our country into a new century.

  • I appreciate this opportunity to speak today, and look forward to working with all of you in the future. Thank you.

 

Biography of the Hon. Frank Busalacchi

Commissioner, Passenger Rail Working Group, US Congress’ National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission
Chair, States for Passenger Rail
Secretary, Wisconsin Dept of Transportation and Development

In January of 2003, Frank Busalacchi accepted Governor Jim Doyle’s appointment to be Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Busalacchi was formerly the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 200 based in Milwaukee, one of the largest Teamster locals in the state. He began with the Teamsters as a business agent in 1979 and was elected president in 1991 and secretary-treasurer in 1994.

Secretary Busalacchi leads the state’s efforts to rebuild the Marquette Interchange Project in downtown Milwaukee. The $810 million project is the largest highway construction job ever in Wisconsin, and the Secretary has set key goals to build the project safely, on-time, on-budget and by involving the entire community.

The Secretary also plays a leading role in national passenger rail issues. In 2005, he accepted the post as chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, an alliance of 23 state DOT’s calling for expanded federal support of intercity passenger rail. Secretary Busalacchi has testified to Congress about the importance of passenger rail and is working to improve existing Amtrak service and plan for new high-speed rail service in Wisconsin.

Secretary Busalacchi serves as a member of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. He founded the Passenger Rail Working Group of this commission and serves as its chair.

Secretary Busalacchi has a long-time commitment to improving Wisconsin. He was president of the Summerfest Board of Directors and chair of the negotiating committee responsible for the lease between Milwaukee World Festivals and the city of Milwaukee. He also served as the construction committee chairman for the Miller Park Baseball Stadium construction project. He was a member of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission advisory committee to the southeast freeway study and a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Secretary Busalacchi, his wife and their family reside in Brookfield.


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