Consultants Address Latest Trends, Challenges
Jeffrey F. Boothe, Managing Principal at InfraStrategies discusses the latest Trends and Challenges with METRO Magazines's Alex Roman. "We have been successful in broadening the level of support for transit and now probably have more Republican support for transit than just about anytime I can think of in all the years I’ve been working on the program." -Jeff Boothe
METRO spoke with several consultants who not only discussed the nation’s growing infrastructure needs and the current funding challenge, but also their role in the changing mobility model, challenges they face as firms, and ways they could help deliver projects more efficiently and cost effectively.
Alex Roman, METRO Magazine: What is your perspective on the impact this Administration has had on the transit industry in its first couple years? InfraStrategies' Jeff Boothe: When the Trump Administration started in 2017, we had concerns with reports from the transition team and outside organizations that the Trump Administration was trying to zero out portions of surface transportation, which included the Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program. We have moved from that starting point to the FY20 budget proposal where the Administration didn’t zero out the CIG program and actually requested funding, including for some projects that don’t yet have grant agreements. That was a marked change from the revised budget for FY17, as well as the FY18 and FY19 budgets.
Perhaps, those moves might mean that we are seeing some grudging recognition that the program enjoys strong support on Capitol Hill and that led to putting some money in the program for FY20. That’s progress, in terms of understanding the role and importance of the CIG program. I would say, we have also demonstrated strong business community support, and that those businesses are typically located in non-urbanized areas, which are often areas where there’s strong Trump support. Members of Congress are realizing the program has a reach that goes far beyond the cities in which the projects are located and that benefits that are derived from the funding of the program go well beyond those cities. We have been successful in broadening the level of support for transit and now probably have more Republican support for transit than just about anytime I can think of in all the years I’ve been working on the program. I think those are some things that started as negatives, but have turned into positives over the last couple of years. Alex Roman: Overall do you feel the industry is pleased with how things are going? Jeff Boothe: I will say this… we are in a period of transition right now. What I mean by that is that we have to figure out an alternative or supplement to the gasoline tax that allows us to build on it since we don’t have a viable alternative. Frankly, there is not yet a politically viable alternative to the gasoline tax. We’re not yet at the point where we can implement a vehicle-miles travelled tax or other means to capture revenue. Having said that, it’s undeniable that as we begin to see growth in electric or hybrid-electric vehicles, as well as the growth and interest in autonomous vehicles, the gasoline tax will increasingly cease to be a surrogate for the impact on the wear-and-tear on the nation’s transportation system. Finding an alternative becomes imperative as how people travel and the vehicles used in the surface transportation system move to electric and/or autonomous vehicles over the next 10 to 20 years.
Honestly, most of the innovations have come at the state and local level where folks are beginning to look at different methods to raise revenues beyond the use of the gasoline tax and to begin to capture the impacts of electric vehicles, transportation network companies (TNCs), and autonomous vehicles, when those vehicles begin to emerge. Alex Roman: Is there any groundswell forming that supports at least raising the gas tax? Jeff Boothe: That is a very good question. There is support in the House, as evidenced by Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, and a number of House Democrats that have expressed support. But for every indication of support, we get thrown a curve ball by Senate Democrats who are now trying to leverage the gas tax to offset the impact on families as a result of the 2017 tax bill. On the Senate side, we have a Republican, Roger Wicker, who is chair of the commerce committee, who has gone on record as supporting a gas tax increase and saying that it is what we have to do. As is so often in politics, we have some odd bedfellows.
The question is whether Congress can come together and develop the political courage to once and for all raise the gas tax, which is now in its more than 25th year of not being raised. Meanwhile, we see at a state level that many have raised their gasoline taxes without political repercussions for those members in the legislature that supported the gasoline tax increases. It is more a matter of getting over the fear that there will be political repercussions in 2020 for members of Congress who support a gas tax increase. Congress is looking to the President to show some leadership by signaling he would support the tax increase. We need Congress and the President to take the steps necessary to put surface transportation on a sustainable foundation, because right now the current situation is not sustainable. Alex Roman: You recently launched a new firm that includes Carolyn Flowers, Sharon Green, Jeff Morales, and Michael I. Schneider… can you discuss what your biggest challenges are as a new firm? Jeff Boothe: Certainly, within the firm there are five people that are well recognized within the industry. That is a great starting point. It’s just a matter of time from where we begin to go out there in the marketplace and to tell people about what we’re capable of doing that we will continue to win work.
Full Story at METRO Magazine