St. Louis Regional Chamber looks full speed ahead
St. Louis, Missouri’s newest venture sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The city is vying to become the first in the world to host a hyperloop—a proposed mode of high-speed transportation, in which passengers travel in pods that levitate magnetically in systems of airless tubes.
It’s doing it through the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition in which metro regions from around the world propose prospective routes to house the first-ever hyperloop built by Virgin Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company looking to commercialize hyperloops as a more efficient mode of transit.
At just over a half-hour, the planned route between St. Louis and Kansas City would shave roughly three-and-a-half hours off the current commute by car between the two major population centers.
“If we can link St. Louis and Kansas City into a single megaregion, we would have more than 5 million people in that workforce,” said Andrew Smith, vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “That would catapult us to the 9th largest economic development region in the country.”
To promote the proposal, the chamber teamed up with the University of Missouri System, the Kansas City Tech Council, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Columbia Innovation Center and others to form the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition. The coalition’s first move was to raise $1.5 million for an engineering feasibility study, which began in February and will run through the end of the summer.
“Right now, we are one of only two regions in the country that are at that stage—the other being Colorado,” said Smith, adding that, “Virgin Hyperloop One is now calling us one of the top three routes under consideration in the world.”
When the study wraps up in August, the coalition will have the benefit of a detailed roadmap, with details on costs, route alignment, regulatory framework and environmental impact. Following that, the focus will shift to onboarding additional partners with the capabilities to build the large-scale project.
“This is mostly a private-sector-led effort, and we’ve been very up-front about the fact that we aren’t using taxpayer money to fund it,” said Smith. “This is going to be more like building an airline or railroad than a public highway. We just have to find the right partners to build, own and operate it.”
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Road Work: Michigan Chambers Help with Transportation Funding
After a long and hard fight in the legislature and at the ballot box, Michigan finally has a long-term plan for road funding.
Transportation funding has been a top priority for several years, but the final solution wasn’t found until after voters in May struck down a measure that would have increased the state sales tax by 1% to help raise $1.2 billion for transportation. In the worst defeat for a Michigan ballot measure in 52 years, 80% of voters said no. While it was clear that this particular plan was not what voters wanted, the public and the business community were still clamoring for a solution to solve a looming transportation crisis.
According to a study released in the spring, 38% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor condition, 45% are fair, and only 17% are good. Under current funding, the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council estimates that 53% of those major roads will be in poor condition by 2025. With the “Pure Michigan” campaign spending money to draw travelers to Michigan, and countless other industries relying on surface transportation, it was clear that funding infrastructure improvements was overdue.
Transportation has long been a major priority for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. A 2015 member survey found that transportation was a top concern, with 64% saying that poor road conditions had an impact on their business. So, when a balanced package was being considered in the legislature to raise the $1.2 billion with a combination of new revenue and existing state dollars, the chamber moved to support the measure.
Grand Rapids joined five other regional chambers in support of a common sense, long-term funding solution calling for $600 million in dedicated funding from existing state revenues, and $600 million in new money. The other five chambers were The Chamber of Commerce – Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.
According to Josh Lunger, director of Government Affairs in Grand Rapids, “the unified show of support was helpful in advancing the plan.” On Nov. 4, the Michigan Legislature passed the compromise package which was signed a week later by Gov. Rick Snyder. The $600 million in new revenue will come from $400 million from increasing the gas tax 7.3 cents per gallon and creating diesel parity, and $200 million from a 20% increase in registration fees.
The revenue increases take effect in January 2017. Moving forward, Lunger stressed the importance of working hand in hand with legislators to effectively plan for future budget pressures and the shift of $600 million in “existing state dollars". He urges deliberate and thoughtful consideration to determine where best to make changes so that important programs, such as Early Childhood Education and Workforce Development, are not compromised.
Charlotte Chamber: All in for transportation funding
As part of their Grow America tour, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary (and former Charlotte Mayor) Anthony Foxx met with local business and civic leaders in Charlotte this week. Their tour serves to promote the President's proposal to rebuild or replace America's crumbling infrastructure.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce was in attendance and is in support of congressional action on infrastructure funding. (Click here to hear reactions from chamber leaders invited to attend.) According to Bob Morgan, president of the chamber, the Charlotte region currently has two million residents, and is expected to reach four million within the next 20-30 years. As the fourth fastest growing state in the nation, funding infrastructure to support that growth is a major concern. Although the Charlotte region has great plans for economic growth and infrastructure improvement, their ability to execute those plans relies heavily on federal action.
The president's proposal, which includes $478 billion in transportation infrastructure investment over six years, serves to solve the transportation funding problem. The Highway Trust Fund is expected to once again run out of money in May 2015 if congress does not act. There is still much debate over the best way to pay for increased transportation funding, but one thing is clear: something needs to be done, and soon.
Although transportation funding is a priority in Charlotte, it is also vital to all cities, regions and states across the country. A nationwide coalition of Chambers has banded together in support of congressional action on this issue. To find out more information about the coalition, their letter to congress, and how you can join the Charlotte Chamber in support of this issue, visit acce.org/transportation.
Florida Chamber Strives to Keep Pedestrians Safe
In a study by Smart Growth American and the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Tampa - St. Petersburg area was ranked the 2nd most dangerous city for pedestrians. The Florida Department of Transportation reports that from 2009 to 2013, there were 123 combined pedestrian and bicycle crashes along Gulf Boulevard, resulting in five fatalities. For an area that relies heavily on tourism to sustain the economy, this is not good news.
After attempts to improve safety along the stretch of beaches from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater Beach through engineering measures, such as installing flashing lights at crosswalks and even providing pedestrians flags to wave to alert drivers as they cross the street, additional effort was still needed. The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, Florida DOT and Center for Urban Transportation Research have partnered with area hotels to hand out cards containing safety tips to remind visitors how to safely move about.
Roughly 30,000 rack cards and 20,000 smaller cards about the size of a hotel room key were printed and distributed in 2013. Both of these materials contain 'WalkWise tips' including suggestions to avoid use of cell phones, follow Walk/Don't Walk signals and wear bright colors. Hotels and area authorities hope that these small reminders will keep pedestrians alert and vigilant to dangers around them and reduce the number of incidents.
An additional 10,000 cards were printed for 2014 and early reports indicate that the situation is improving. The Department of Transportation hopes to decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent by 2018.
To read accounts of this initiative, explore the links below:
The St. Petersburg Tribune, 'Gulf Boulevard hotels give tourist tips on crossing dangerous street"
10 News Tampa Bay Sarasota, 'Hotel cards promote safety on Gulf Boulevard'
Bay News 9, 'Pinellas beach hotels offering safety tips to visitors'
Infrastructure Part 1: Louisville
Federal dollars are still flowing to states for infrastructure projects, but there’s not enough money to keep up with needed infrastructure expansion. Knowing the impact that transportation has on attracting new business to communities, chambers are seeking infrastructure project funding through alternate strategies such as new taxes, partnering with neighboring states or working with public and private partnerships.
Infrastructure is critical to economic competitiveness says Business Council of Fairfield County President, Chris Bruhl. As economic development becomes more ingrained in the chamber’s mission, chambers must step in to help solve regional infrastructure problems. Some chambers have tackled this challenge in unusual yet instructive ways.
Louisville, Ky.: Two Bridges and Two States
Louisville is a major transportation hub, with three interstates—I64, I-65 and the terminus of I71—converging downtown near the Ohio River. Logistics, distribution and manufacturing are key economic development sectors for the region, and each depends on safe and reliable bridges and a connecting highway network. But Louisville is currently served by only three Ohio River bridges that are near or over capacity, creating congestion and safety issues.
In 2003, after more than 450 public meetings and a five-year study, the federal government recommended two new bridges and reconstruction of a major interchange known as Spaghetti Junction to address the region’s current and future cross-river transportation needs.
Almost immediately, the project stalled because costs had ballooned to $4.1 billion. Nearly nine years later, a scaled back project that includes all the original major elements is on a fast track to construction. The recent progress is largely the result of strong support, perseverance and creative direction from business, community and political leaders.
Under the 2003 Bridges Project plan, Kentucky was to pay 70 percent of the cost and Indiana was to cover the rest. Relying on traditional highway funding generated from gas taxes, Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet estimated 20 years for project completion, but long before that the project would absorb more than half of the state’s available road transportation funds—a politically unpopular option.
By 2007, with no definitive construction plan, business leaders stepped in, forming the Bridges Coalition, a bi-state advocacy group. Led by Greater Louisville Inc. (the metro chamber of commerce) and One Southern Indiana (Southern Indiana’s chamber of commerce), the coalition united business, labor and bi-partisan government leaders from both sides of the river. Nearly $2 million was raised to support the coalition’s work. Employing communications and legislative strategies, the coalition touted the project’s benefits of reduced congestion, improved safety and job creation, both during construction and after completion.
After three years of coalition work, a milestone was reached with passage of Kentucky legislation that allowed the use of tolls as a potential funding source for the project and the creation of a bi-state Bridges Authority to develop a project financing plan.
In 2011, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer—all strong project supporters—agreed to a revised project design and accelerated construction timetable that reduced the $4.1 billion price tag to $2.6 billion. The governors also agreed to split the cost of the project more evenly. Kentucky would be responsible for the new downtown bridge and approaches including Spaghetti Junction, and Indiana would oversee construction of the East End span and approaches. This modification allowed each state to pursue its preferred financing method for its part of the construction.
Earlier this year, the two states approved the project’s finance plan. Electronic high-speed tolls on the two new bridges and the existing I-65 span will cover about half the cost of the project. (Federal law currently prohibits tolling on existing interstates. Kentucky and Indiana have applied for a waiver to allow tolling on the existing I-65 bridge as part of the project.) The remaining $1.3 billion will come from each state’s traditional highway funds. In June the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan. Construction is slated to begin in 2013.
Carmen Hickerson, V.P. of public affairs and communications at Greater Louisville Inc., says creative funding for major highway projects is a must in today’s economic environment of limited federal funding. Large projects like these are increasingly difficult to fund without the inclusion of user fees. The Ohio River Bridges Project fortunately had two governors and a mayor who were willing to work together to find a solution. Through determination and partnership, Kentucky and Indiana overcame challenges and cleared the path for improved transportation for the region.
How States are Building the Nation’s Transportation Systems Report
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Center for Excellence in Project Finance at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have partnered to produce a review of transportation governance and finance for all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Read the full report here.
This report focuses on transportation finance and the roles and relationships among the branches of state government that are most active in transportation issues. The report also offers a rich diversity of approaches to govern, finance and ultimate deliver America’s transportation systems.
Brookings: Missed Opportunity Transit Report
It seemed fitting that on my way to the Brookings Institute yesterday morning for the presentation on Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America, I hit a typical DC traffic snag and crawled from Alexandria to DC for two long hours. I fancy myself to be a runner and smiled a weak smile of satisfaction when I discovered I could have run there faster than I could drive in my car. I then chastised myself for not taking the Metro to a Transit report unveiling. What was I thinking?
Brookings had a great line-up to discuss the roll out of the Missed Opportunity report. Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at Brookings gave an overview of the study and there was a panel discussion about the implications of the findings followed by Secretary LaHood and Secretary Donovan discussing the federal role.
The real star of the show was the Missed Opportunity report. Visit Brookings site to read the full report and all of the supporting content. Be sure to check out the interactive map.
“Dr. Gridlock”, Robert Thomson, of the Washington Post moderated the panel of Keith Parker, CEO, Via Transit Systems, San Antonio, TX; Matthew Mahood, President and CEO, Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce; Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director, Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES); and Alan Berube, Senior Fellow and Research Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, from Brookings. Here are some of the things I sent out into the twittersphere during the panel:
Following the panel discussion, Bruce Katz joined Secretary Ray LaHood (Transportation) and Secretary Shaun Donovan (HUD) to talk about what the Feds are doing about transit. Secretary LaHood and Secretary Donovan have been working together very closely over the past two and a half years. Again, here are some notable quotes that I tweeted:
Again, here is the link for the Missed Opportunity page on Brookings site: Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.