Minnesota raises gas tax

From Strib: House overrides governor’s veto on transportation bill
From PiPress House votes to override Pawlenty veto of transportation bill
“A $6.6 billion transportation bill is on the verge of becoming law after the Minnesota House voted for the first time to override a veto from Governor Tim Pawlenty.”
From PiPress the bill will:
” Raise the gas tax by 8 1/2 cents a gallon by 2014. The increases would be phased in, going up 2 cents next month, another half cent on Aug. 1 and 3 cents on Oct. 1. After that, it would go up half a cent a year for six years.
Some 3 1/2 cents of the gas tax increase would be dedicated to paying the debt service on $2 billion in road and bridge bonds. That part of the tax would expire when the bonds were paid off in 2047.

Increase the sales tax in the seven-county metro area by a quarter of a cent to pay for bus and rail transit. The measure would raise the sales tax 0.25 percent to 6.75 percent in suburban cities, 7.25 percent in St. Paul and 7.40 percent in Minneapolis. Advocates said it would double the number of buses in the metro area and ensure construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line between St. Paul and Minneapolis. The bill also adds a $20 sales tax to motor vehicles sold in the metro area.
Outstate counties could impose up to a half-cent sales tax for specific transportation projects if voters approve.
Boost license tab fees on newly purchased cars and trucks. If you keep your current vehicle, your fee would not go up. But if you buy a new car in Minnesota or a used car from another state, you would pay a fee of 1.25 percent of the purchase price. That would be $250 on a $20,000 car. The fee for that car would drop 10 percent a year.
The current maximum tab fee is $189 and drops to $99 the second year the owner has the vehicle. The minimum license tab fee would remain $35.
To offset the gas tax increase, the bill provides a $25 tax credit for low-income taxpayers. The credit would go to single people earning less than $22,390 a year and couples earning less than $32,720. They would not have to own a car to qualify for the credit.
The bill would launch a massive road and bridge construction program. It calls for borrowing $1 billion over the next two years, with $600 million earmarked for repairing or replacing the state’s 13 most dangerous bridges. Starting in 2010, it authorizes borrowing $100 million a year for roads and bridges.
The bill also would add 40 troopers to the State Patrol.”
… about time. Optimal? No. Satisficing? Yes.

Obama’s Transportation Plan posted

Obama’s Transportation Plan is now posted here (pdf).
I quote it in its entirety:
Strengthen Core Infrastructure: As our society becomes more mobile and interconnected, the need for 21st-century transportation networks has never been greater. However, too many of our nation’s railways, highways, bridges, airports, and neighborhood streets are slowly decaying due to lack of investment and strategic long-term planning. Barack Obama believes that America’s long-term competitiveness depends on the stability of our critical infrastructure. As president, Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority.
Support Amtrak Funding: Barack Obama has been a strong supporter of federal financial support for Amtrak. Obama believes we need to reform Amtrak to improve accountability. In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation. In the U.S. Senate, Obama is a cosponsor of the Passenger Rail Investment and Innovation Act of 2007, a leading act to provide long-term federal investment to Amtrak. As president, Barack Obama will continue to fight for Amtrak funding and reform so that individuals, families and businesses throughout the country have safe and reliable transportation options.
Support Development of High-Speed Freight and Passenger Rail: Barack Obama supports development of high-speed rail networks across the country. Providing passengers with safe high-speed rail will have significant environmental and metropolitan planning advantages and help diversify our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Our domestic rail freight capacity must also be strengthened because our demand for rail transportation has never been greater, leaving many key transportation hubs stretched to capacity. Obama is committed to renewing the federal government’s commitment to high speed rail so that our nation’s transportation infrastructure continues to support, and not hinder, our nation’s long-term economic growth.
Strengthen Metropolitan Planning to Cut Down Traffic Congestion: Barack Obama believes we must take steps at the front-end as well as the back-end of the planning process to cut down traffic congestion in our large and medium-size cities. Obama supported a measure authored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to mandate states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies that incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of sidewalks and roads. As president, Obama will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.
Strengthen Air Transportation in Underserved Areas: Obama has worked across party lines to protect funding for the Essential Air Service program, which provides vital funds for air transportation in rural areas. Obama supports the continuation of the Small Community Air Service Development Program that helps small and mid-sized communities attract new air service, which is critical to local economic development. Obama will work to improve the effectiveness of these programs and increase the availability of rail transportation options for residents of rural communities.
Modernize Infrastructure on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers: Obama strongly supported the Water Resources and Development Act, which will provide funding for modernizing the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers’ system of locks and dams. The bill will also provide funding for environmental restoration along the upper Mississippi. The decay of existing locks and dams has led to stagnating economic development for areas along the river, including Iowa, because of the decreasing ability of farmers and other producers to ship their goods both domestically and internationally. Obama’s work to pass the Water Resources and Development Act has been praised by the National Corn Grower’s Association and the American Soybean Association. As president, Obama will continue to ensure that the federal government invests in upgrading our national transportation infrastructure for agricultural and commercial goods.
Improve Transportation Access to Jobs: Three-quarters of welfare recipients live in areas that are poorly served by public transportation and low-income workers spend up to 36 percent of their incomes on transportation. Barack Obama has spent years working to improve transportation access for low-income Americans. As an Illinois state senator, he was the chief sponsor of the bill that created the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation, a body that was charged with building public-private partnerships to help connect low-income Americans with jobs. As president, Obama will work to eliminate transportation disparities so that all Americans can lead meaningful and productive lives. Obama will double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account. JARC funds have been used to connect low-income workers around the country with job opportunities.
Improve and Modernize Air Traffic Control: Because of an outdated air-traffic control system and overscheduling at airports already operating at full capacity, there were a record number of flight delays during the first half of 2007. Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to work well with our nation’s air traffic controllers, neglecting to treat them with the respect they deserve. There are nearly 1,100 fewer air traffic controllers working in U.S. air traffic facilities today than three years ago, despite increasing air traffic.
Obama will work with Congress to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system and he will direct the new FAA Administrator to work cooperatively with the frontline air traffic controllers to restore morale and improve working conditions and operations at the agency.
Protect Transportation Infrastructure from Terrorism: The federal government’s National Asset Database, which is intended to guide homeland security priorities, lists 77,069 potential U.S. targets including petting zoos and popcorn factories. Experts say this database is not useful for homeland security planning. Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security will develop a meaningful critical infrastructure protection plan across the nation and will work with the private sector to ensure that all high-risk targets are prepared for disasters both natural and man-made.
Bolster Airport Security: Between October 2005 and January 2006, Government Accountability Office investigators were able to smuggle bomb components past federal screeners at all 21 airports they targeted. And airline passengers are still not screened against a comprehensive, accurate terrorist watch list. As a result, almost six years after 9/11, we still have a security system that results in eight-year olds and grandmothers being repeatedly questioned and even stopped from flying. Developing a comprehensive, accurate list must be a priority and used in a way that safeguards passengers’ privacy while ensuring the safety of air travel. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Barack Obama believes we must redouble our efforts to determine if the measures implemented after 9/11 are adequately addressing the threats our nation continues to face from airplane-based terrorism. Obama has supported increased numbers of federal airport screeners and improved funding for aviation security.
Safeguard Mass Public Transportation: Every weekday, Americans take 34 million trips on public transportation systems to get to work, school and beyond. Even though recent attacks have happened on public transit in Madrid, Mumbai and London, the Bush administration has invested only a small fraction of the $6 billion that transportation officials have said is necessary to implement needed security improvements. Barack Obama believes that this critical hole in our homeland security network must be addressed. He will fight for greater information-sharing between national intelligence agents and local officials and provide local law enforcement agencies with the everyday tools they need to protect their transportation systems. As a U.S. Senator representing Chicago, Illinois, one of the nation’s major rail transportation hubs, Obama has consistently advocated stronger rail and transit security programs. ”
Obama’s transportation plan is long on “strengthening” “improving” and “modernizing”. It is a little short on “funding”, or on tying revenue to benefits. As a proponent of transparency in government, Obama should be in favor of direct user charges where possible and against hidden subsidies (which lead to over-consumption and economic externalities).

Air-powered Car Asymptotically Approaches Reality

From Popular Mechanics: Air-Powered Car Coming to U.S. in 2009 to 2010 .
“Company officials want to make the first air-powered car to hit U.S. roads a $17,800, 75-hp equivalent, six-seat modified version of MDI’s CityCAT (pictured above) that, thanks to an even more radical engine, is said to travel as far as 1000 miles at up to 96 mph with each tiny fill-up. ”

Legislative Auditor Report on MnDOT

The Legislative Auditor report on Minnesota’s State Highways and Bridges report summary makes for interesting reading. (Full report here
“MnDOT is spending more—and a greater percentage of its resources—on trunk highway road and bridge construction than it did ten years ago.
MnDOT has increased the proportion of trunk highway spending dedicated to system construction, and decreased the proportion spent on operations, research, and support. In the 2002-03 biennium, about 63 percent of department spending was for road and bridge construction. Between 2003 and 2004, MnDOT reallocated over $36 million from its operating budget to fund highway construction. By the fiscal year 2006-07 biennium, spending on trunk highway road and bridge construction had increased to 71 percent of total spending.”
later the report says:
“Overall, trunk highway project investments have not aligned with the department’s stated policy of “preservation first.”
Between fiscal years 2002 and 2007, over half of MnDOT’s spending on construction contracts for trunk highway pavements was allocated to system expansion rather than preservation. In contrast, in fiscal year 2001, only 25 percent of pavement contract spending was allocated to expansion projects.”
Of course ribbon cuttings are better politics than resurfacing, and I guess this whole debate depends on what is defined as spending, what is preservation, and operations and maintenance and what is new construction.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation. Metro Division Transportation System Plan. Technical report, MnDOT, 2001.
which I cited in Forecasting and Evaluating Network Growth implies that 21% of the total budget is spent on construction and 79% is spent on maintenance. Now there are differences (that was metro rather than statewide among them), but it should be clearer as to what spending is for capital expansion and what for capital maintenance.
As the system matures, maintenance takes an increasing share of resources (as there is more network to maintain), and new construction gets more expensive (the most cost effective projects have already been done), so one would expect more on maintenance and less on capital expansion.
That said, ride quality, which is said to be decreasing, needs to be quantified in terms of its economic value. Wearing down roads without rebuilding or properly maintaining is spending future capital (presumably it is more expensive to repair the more damaged it is), but the economic cost of the poor ride itself (a slightly bumpier ride) does not *seem* like it should matter so much, there is no evidence people go slower or waste time due to a somewhat rougher service (assuming we are talking Minnesota conditions, rather than truly decrepit roads).

Open Street Map

Open Street Map is a project to have an open source street map of the world created by users. View a Historic animation of their progress.
Clearly the past few months have seen the addition of official databases (especially the US Tiger file). It is interesting how similar this growth is to wikipedia, which was organic, until Rambot started posting official Census data, vastly increasing the US geographic coverage of the encyclopedia, and then resumed its organic pace.

McCain and Transportation Policy

John McCain looks to be the Republican nominee for President in 2008.
What are his transportation policies?
As with Obama, there is no explicit transportation policy tab on the candidate’s web page. But we can ascertain a few things from his website and other sources: (quotes from website unless otherwise attributed)
(1) He is against earmarks. The good people of Arizona have been blessed by a Senator who refuses to bring home bacon on moral grounds.
“Ending Pork Barrel Spending: Year after year, powerful members of Congress divert taxpayer dollars to special interest pet projects with little or no national value. This practice is especially egregious during wartime, when any federal spending wasted on parochial programs to satisfy special interests represents a failure by the federal government to properly steward tax dollars. John McCain has steadfastly fought to reform this broken system and end the self-serving largesse that defines the current budget process.
As president, John McCain will oppose spending money on projects that siphon away tax dollars collected to fund these important commitments. Setting priorities, and keeping them, is a crucial step toward fiscal restraint and an important priority for a McCain presidency. Every dollar irresponsibly spent by Congress is a dollar diverted from pressing national priorities including lowering the tax burden on working Americans, supporting the men and women fighting the war on terror, making good on the nation’s financial commitments at home, including to senior citizens, and paying down the national debt.”
To wit: McCain voted against SAFETEA-LU, the last surface transportation bills on the grounds of pork. He does not however oppose in principle federal highway spending (McCain’s statement) , rather the specifics of the particular legislation, which he argues was inequitable.
(2) John McCain is a conservationist who is for clean air and believes in the existence of global warming (for a Republican, this is progress) and who “has offered common sense approaches to limit carbon emissions by harnessing market forces that will bring advanced technologies, such as nuclear energy, to the market faster, reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of energy, and see to it that America leads in a way that ensures all nations do their rightful share.”
(3) John McCain supports space exploration
“John McCain is a strong supporter of NASA and the space program. He is proud to have sponsored legislation authorizing funding consistent with the President’s vision for the space program, which includes a return of astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars. He believes support for a continued US presence in space is of major importance to America’s future innovation and security. He has also been a staunch advocate for ensuring that NASA funding is accompanied by proper management and oversight to ensure that the taxpayers receive the maximum return on their investment. John McCain believes curiosity and a drive to explore have always been quintessential American traits. This has been most evident in the space program, for which he will continue his strong support. ”
(4) He seems to oppose Amtrak funding, which is not surprising given Arizona’s lack of service, and its consistent money-losing nature, see here , and supports state flexibility on using federal funds.
(5) He has generally opposed federal subsidies for ethanol, though he supports it if the price of oil is high enough to make it economically efficient.