Friday, October 29, 2010

‘It’s worth the drive …’

We’re fortunate here at OOIDA headquarters to be able to visit with some of the folks who drop in to take a building tour or to take advantage of the Association’s many services.

Sometimes I feel like I’m part of the OOIDA member building tour, but I enjoy it because I get to hear directly from members. Sometimes we have a lot in common.

On a regular basis, our trusted tour guide, Sheri Shepherd, brings around a member from Canada. And because that’s where I’m from, she always makes sure we get introduced.

We had a good chuckle the other day.

Along comes Sherri with OOIDA Member Mike Reinders on a building tour. She tells me that Mike was from Acton, Ontario, and in my best advertising voice, I announce, “It’s worth the drive to Acton.”

Mike nearly did a double take.

“How do you know that?” he asked. And he had a right to ask. Here he is in the middle of the U.S., 1,000 miles from home, and someone is reciting a famous local advertising slogan from his hometown. “It’s worth the drive” has been an advertising slogan for The Olde Hide House as long as I can remember.

Mike told me that The Olde Hide House recently fell on bad times and was liquidating. We agreed that it was a shame.

I am from Listowel, Ontario, about 60 miles from Acton (and totally worth the drive, I might add). Mike told me that he used to live in nearby Drayton, just 20 miles away. That’s a small world, for you.

I need to send a shout-out to two other Canadians who passed through OOIDA headquarters in recent days – Member Duane Richardson of Essex, Ontario, and Member Bob Sage of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Duane and I discussed some cross-border trucking issues. He too, got a kick out of running into a fellow northerner.

Bob Sage is originally from Peterborough, Ontario, so I knew the perfect comeback for him, too.

“Home of the Petes.”

We’re not talking about Peterbilts here, but about the Peterborough Petes hockey team that has produced a number of quality NHL players over the years. Bob and I also agreed to keep in touch on some border trucking issues.

While on the subject, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to another Ontario native, “Snakebite” Bob Heans of Fergus. I talked to Snakebite on the phone recently about a remarkable scenario that he was involved in.

As you may have read on the Land Line site or heard on Land Line Now, Snakebite came to the aid of two young men following a single-vehicle crash near Pittsburgh, PA.

Snakebite used some basic safety techniques and kept the men calm until the ambulance arrived.

The young men not only survived, but one of them credits Bob for helping him avoid an injury to his spinal cord. The man had broken several broken bones in his back, and docs called it a miracle that he wasn’t paralyzed.

We are grateful for every one of you out there, no matter where you’re from or your walk of life. Thanks for your readership and membership. You guys make it “worth the drive” to work.

Texas gubernatorial candidates on transportation

For months the candidates for governor in Texas have been taking their message about critical issues, including transportation, to the people in hopes of winning their support. Only a handful of days remain until voters give the candidates the answers to whether they were successful.

The candidates are Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and Bill White, a Democrat.

Perry’s policies on transportation are well known. The most noteworthy endeavor of his 10-year administration has been his push to create the Trans-Texas Corridor. Approved in 2003, the corridor was touted as a toll road that would cut across Texas from the Mexican border to Oklahoma.

In 2009, after years of debate, the multibillion-dollar TTC was declared dead. But his goal of increasing toll options in the state is very much still alive.

Perry’s election website touts his track record of pursuing “innovative infrastructure solutions for a rapidly growing state by promoting private investment.” Although many Texans cringe at the thought of paying extra to travel around the state, Perry is committed to pushing forward and partnering with private groups to build roads.

Perry’s opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, is not opposed to tolls. However, he is not interested in the grand tolling plan pushed by Perry. White wants to leave toll talk up to local officials and says it is important to “respect the will of the voters.”

White’s plan for involving locals in the decision process is much more palatable than Perry’s approach of shoving the toll option down their throats. If re-elected, there is no doubt that as long as Perry continues to push anything resembling the TTC plan his constituents are not going to stay mum. The pressure will once again be put on state lawmakers to rein in the scheme.

While the candidates differ on how to approach toll plans, they are both campaigning about the importance of stopping diversions from the transportation budget.

Perry says billions of dollars are diverted from the state’s transportation fund for other purposes. His website touts the governor’s 2010-2011 budget that ended more than $300 million in diversions, and using the money for road construction and maintenance.

On White’s website, he calls for phasing out the diversion of fuel taxes for purposes that are not related to highway construction.

The candidates’ commitment to making sure transportation funds are used for their intended purpose is laudable. Whoever is in the governor’s chair during the next four years, it will be worth tracking whether Perry’s election year budget decision or White’s campaign promise are carried forward.

Addressing other options to boost transportation funding, White says he will call on the Legislature to allow local voters to decide whether to increase their fuel tax. Perry says he is opposed to higher taxes of any kind.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Mexico gubernatorial candidates on transportation-related issues

Candidates for elected offices often have clear-cut differences on issues of significance to voters. The race for governor in New Mexico is an exception to that rule when it comes to noteworthy transportation issues.

The victor in the race pitting Susana Martinez, the Republican nominee, and Diane Denish, the Democratic candidate, will be thrust into making decisions on how best to fix and maintain the state’s roads, commuter rail and what to do about the state’s law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. On the campaign trail, both candidates appear to share like minds on the issues.

A story in the Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the “candidates say they would take money from other government spending, including the administration’s budget and capital outlay spending, and put it toward road work.

That appears to be a switch from what typically seems to happen in state government. I cannot guess how many times I have reported on states taking money away from transportation budgets for use elsewhere. A soon-to-be governor is touting turning the tables? It’s about time.

The candidates have also addressed the Rail Runner commuter train. The express train is a centerpiece of outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson’s efforts to improve commutes in the Rio Grande corridor. Denish and Martinez say it would be worthwhile to take another look at the commuter train and whether it is worth keeping afloat.

Another issue on which the candidates share the same view is doing away with a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver’s licenses.

On her website, Martinez pulls no punches on the hot-button issue.

“This law encourages illegal immigrants to come to New Mexico and makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials to determine if someone is here illegally. Repealing this law is a commonsense step towards securing our border,” Martinez says.

She also cautions that as government looks to preserve the rule of law and take reasonable steps to secure the border, government must recognize that “legal immigrants who follow the rules and come to America seeking to improve their lives ... strengthen our nation.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wisconsin gubernatorial candidates on transportation

One of the great things about election season is that candidates are compelled to take a stance on many issues of importance to voters. Transportation funding is one of the topics that Wisconsin voters are pressing the gubernatorial candidates on for possible solutions.

The Democratic candidate is Tom Barrett. The Republican nominee is Scott Walker.

A 2006 report from a bipartisan legislative panel documented almost $700 million in annual unmet needs on roads throughout the state. Funding for the state’s transportation system comes via fuel taxes and vehicle registrations. Since then, revenues have continued to dip as drivers change their habits and fuel-efficient vehicles are more commonplace.

To make matters worse, the state’s transportation fund has been robbed of $1.3 billion during the past eight years to benefit other programs.

Thankfully for Wisconsin taxpayers, the candidates agree this is a flawed setup. Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, has called for the raids to stop.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, also said the road raids need to end. He has gone as far as calling for an amendment to the state constitution to prevent future governors from raiding the fund.

To boost funding, Walker has touted rerouting sales tax revenue from new vehicle purchases into the transportation fund. That money – estimated at $500 million a year – now goes for general use.

This seems like a sound plan. It’s high time that other budgets are forced to come up with their own money source instead of dipping into transportation-related revenue.

On his website, Barrett calls for “a balanced approach to transportation that invests in our roads, as well as public transportation initiatives that will help spur long-term economic growth.

He wants to increase passenger rail options. He says that the pursuit of taking commuters off roadways would result in less wear and tear on state roads, and lower maintenance costs.

One option that Walker said is worth further discussion to help get road work done is the creation of pay-only express lanes. He thinks it is worth considering charging drivers to use an added lane that would allow them to have a faster commute.

Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he opposes traditional tolls that would charge to use all lanes. He wants travelers to continue have the option to use highways without being charged.

Barrett’s campaign has stressed that the mayor is opposed to all tolls.

It is good to hear that both candidates are not interested in charging all highway users to pay for their drive. There doesn’t seem to be much harm in allowing travelers to pay for the privilege to access designated lanes.

But as lawmakers, and the next governor, scramble to come up with possible solutions to plug gaping holes in the transportation budget, it is vital that the state first take steps to ensure that the revenue already coming in is used for the intended purpose.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Florida gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Election Day is only days away and voters are honing in on what candidates for elected offices have to say about key issues to them. Florida voters have a pretty good understanding of where the candidates stand on transportation issues, which include protecting road funds, port issues, and moving more goods by rail.

The Republican candidate is Rick Scott. The Democratic nominee is Alex Sink. Both candidates have addressed transportation issues, although Scott has provided fewer details.

Each candidate has shared concerns about the state’s transportation trust fund. The trust fund has warranted discussion on the campaign trail after the Legislature acted earlier this year voted to strip $160 million from transportation to help cover state budget deficits. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the raid but apprehension remains that lawmakers could once again pursue the maneuver with a new governor in place.

Truckers and others who appreciate the need for transportation funding should like what they hear from the candidates on this issue.

The Florida Times-Union recently published excerpts from a letter Scott wrote addressing raids on road-building funds for other purposes.

“Transportation user fees should be used for what they were intended for when collected,” Scott wrote to the Florida Transportation Builders Association.

Sink is equally adamant in her opposition to raids on road funds. She criticized the “out-of-control Florida Legislature” for their effort to siphon funds. On her website, Sink promised that she would veto all future efforts to “raid this critical funding source and will ensure that these resources are invested in transportation projects.”

Another notable campaign pledge made by Sink addresses providing tax incentives for businesses to use rail.

She says that Florida’s nearly 3,000 miles of existing track “can be used to transport goods while conserving fuel and reducing heavy truck usage that stresses our highways.” As governor, she would be committed to “providing tax incentives to businesses that move more of their goods by rail as a percentage of a business’ total goods shipped.”

From time to time we see big railroads making pleas to government for what amounts to a handout to help them meet their strategic goals of forcing more freight into their captive hands. While it is important that transportation investments are made in their infrastructure, just like other private businesses, railroads should be accountable for the decisions made with their profits.

Perhaps Florida would be better served to allocate available transportation funds elsewhere until the railroads show they can make better decisions with the money they already get.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Maryland gubernatorial candidates on transportation

In the final days before the Nov. 2 election, candidates for elected offices are pulling out all of the stops to distinguish themselves from their competition. Maryland voters who will cast their ballots for governor have a good idea about how the candidates would address transportation issues during the next four years.

The candidates are Gov. Tom O’Malley, a Democrat, and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican.

One big difference between the candidates is how they view a pair of proposed transit funding projects. On his website, O’Malley hypes his support of the Red Line in the Baltimore area and Purple Line in Washington, DC, which would be partially funded by the federal government. The state would borrow money for at least some of their portion.

O’Malley says the projects would put the state “in a position to compete for federal funds as the projects enter their engineering and construction phases.”

Ehrlich, who was governor from 2003-2007, indicates he will develop “safe and cost-effective alternatives” for the Purple and Red lines. On his website, the light rail projects are described as “neither cost effective nor practical in light of Maryland’s depleted transportation trust fund.”

He writes that Maryland does not have the $3.6 billion needed to build the projects and “any further funds spent on them are simply stolen from systems that need immediate help.”

Ehrlich is sure to point out that revenue from the TTF is down significantly since O’Malley took office, which corresponds with one of the worst economic downturns in the nation’s history. Since 2007, the state has received reduced fuel, titling, registration and sales tax revenue, as well as fewer toll and transit fares.

To help the state rebound from this downturn in revenue, Ehrlich plans to establish a “consensus commission.” The commission would recommend “realistic ways” to fund Maryland’s transportation system.

It would be worth keeping a close eye on possible solutions touted by the proposed commission. Hard to imagine more toll options would not get serious consideration.

Capital Beltway improvements are included on Ehrlich’s to-do list. To ease regional congestion, his site promises “more effective use of HOV lanes on I-270 and improvements on I-495.

In an effort to aid local roadwork, Ehrlich says he will commit an additional $60 million in state road repair money to counties.

O’Malley’s site focuses strongly on transportation options, including transit and ride sharing, which could keep more people off roads.

It is good to see the governor highlight alternative modes of travel in the state. Getting commuters to be more active in reducing congestion is a win-win scenario for everyone who travels roadways. But, it would be nice to hear more about how O’Malley would address road funding during a second term.