I get quoted in Global Construction Review: $40bn “fix it first” plan headlines Obama’s infrastructure push
In his State of the Union address last month, US President Barack Obama proposed investing $50bn, starting right away, on the country’s transportation infrastructure.
Of that, $40bn would go toward the upgrades most urgently needed on highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports in what the White House has dubbed a “fix-it-first” policy.
“The national transportation system faces an immense backlog of state-of-good-repair projects, a reality underscored by the fact that there are nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges in the country today,” the White House said in a statement.
Mr Obama’s plan, which would need congressional approval, also proposes attracting private investment by pairing federal, state, and local governments with private capital, in what’s being called the “Rebuild America Partnership”.
And a third plank in the President’s infrastructure push is cutting red tape. Through a “historic modernisation of agency permitting and review regulations, procedures, and policies”, the President hopes to cut in half the duration of typical infrastructure projects.
The “fix-it-first” element of the plan received a muted welcome from Professor David M Levinson, an expert on the economics of infrastructure at the University of Minnesota.
“The priority should clearly be on repair because most of the system is built out, and we’ve had nationally declining travel over the last 10 years, so there’s not a major need for expansion nationally,” he told GCR.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has warned of an investment gap of $846bn in surface transportation
“The general problem is that the median age of an interstate highway link in the US is almost 50 years old now, and the expected lifespan of such links was in the order of 50 years.
“Generally most of the infrastructure that has got to be there 10 years from now is there now, and if we want it to be there ten years from now we need to fix it.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has warned of an infrastructure investment gap, between now and 2020, of $846bn in surface transportation. If not addressed, says the ASCE, this shortfall will hurt the US economy.
Is $40bn enough?
“No,” Prof Levinson said. “No one really knows what’s enough. It’s about the equivalent of one year’s federal spending on roads. So it would be like adding an extra year to the decade, or 10% more over 10 years. It’s not trivial. It’s not going to solve the problem, either, but it’s a real amount of money.”
He also questioned the wisdom of infrastructure investment driven by the federal government.
“The states should be addressing this,” he said. “They can prioritise things locally, they know where the issues are, and they’re the beneficiaries.
“They know how much they need to spend locally to satisfy the local risk-reward, benefit-cost ratio. The federal government allocates things by formula and that means there’s a major inefficiency there.”
We have an entry in the Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge, which asks “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?”. Ours is OpenScheduleTracker. Please go there to read the details and “applaud”.
OpenScheduleTracker archives public transit schedules and provides an easy-to-use interface for understanding how schedules change over time, comparing different schedule versions, and identifying what areas are most affected by schedule changes.
What’s The Problem?
OpenScheduleTracker addresses three primary weaknesses in the way that transit system changes are currently reported and discussed:
1. Small changes are ignored
Public transit schedules evolve constantly, but we often focus only on big changes — new routes, new stations, line closures — and ignore small changes like schedule adjustments, frequency changes, and transfer synchronization. These small changes are not glamorous, but they can have a big impact on the way that a transit system meets or misses the needs of local communities.
2. Big changes are misunderstood
When a new bus route is added or a new rail station opens, the public discussion tends to focus on effects near the new facility: people want to know what’s happening “in my backyard.” These effects are important, but they are only part of the whole picture. Changes to transit systems have network effects which extend through the entire system: a new station in one neighborhood provides access to local opportunities for all users of the system.
3. Old schedules aren’t available for comparison
Analyzing schedule changes over time is often frustrated by the inconsistent availability of previous transit schedule versions. Transit operators’ policies for archiving historical schedule data varies widely, and even when schedules are archived the public often has access only to the current version. Public transit system schedules are significant investments of time, money, and expertise; when they are lost or inaccessible, the public loses the value of that investment.
Andrew Owen will represent the Nexus group at the FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software
for Geospatial – North America 2013) conference happening in Minneapolis, May 22-24.
FOSS Experiences in Transportation and Land Use Research
Andrew Owen, University of Minnesota Nexus Research Group
The Nexus Research Group at the University of Minnesota focuses on understanding the intersections of transportation and land use. In this presentation, we will examine case studies of how open source geospatial software has fit into specific research projects. We will discuss why and how open source software was chosen, how it strengthened our research, what areas we see as most important for development, and offer suggestions for increasing the use of open source geospatial software in transportation and land use research. Over the past two years, we have begun incorporating open source geospatial data and analysis tools into a research workflow that had been dominated by commercial packages. Most significantly, we implemented an instance of OpenTripPlanner Analyst for calculation of transit travel time matrices, and deployed QGIS and PostGIS for data manipulation and analysis. The project achieved a completely open research workflow, though this brought both benefits and challenges. Strengths of open source software in this research context include cutting edge transit analysis tools, efficient parallel processing of large data sets, and default creation of open data formats. We hope that our experience will encourage research users to adopt open source geospatial research tools, and inspire developers to target enhancements that can specifically benefit research users.