Gas Prices Continue to Decline
The average price at the pump for American motorists dipped to just shy of $2.55 in mid-December according to AAA. This amount is almost 70 cents below the average price at the same time last year and more than $1 below the 2014 peak price of $3.70.
This is good news to consumers this holiday season as AAA estimates that Americans are saving about $200 million per day on gasoline compared to a year ago.
“Gas prices have fallen at a remarkable pace that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago,” said Avery Ash, AAA spokesman. “Lower gas prices represent real doorbuster savings as everyone begins their holiday shopping.”
AAA tracks the daily change to the price of gas at the national level and also by state. The average price in Wisconsin (December 15th) is $2.53 a gallon, 59 cents lower than a year ago. The price for diesel has dropped about 32 cents.
Gas prices have declined to the lowest levels in four years due to significantly lower crude oil costs. Domestic oil production has increased by more than 70 percent since 2008, and the United States may soon become the world’s largest oil producer.
Secretary Gottlieb Keynotes TDA Annual Meeting
With a theme of After Vote Yes, the TDA Annual Meeting was all about next steps.
Secretary Gottlieb presented an overview of the department’s 2015-17 budget request. The budget broadly follows the recommendations of the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission.
The proposal keeps the Zoo Interchange, I-94 North-South and the 12 enumerated Major Highway projects on schedule. It also includes strategic investments in local and transit assistance and highway rehabilitation and maintenance.
In order to make these investments, the department proposes $751.4 million dollars in new revenue from users. The majority of the increase comes from a reformulated motor fuel tax and a new highway use fee. The change to the motor fuel tax would result in roughly a 5 cent increase per gallon at the pump and cost the average motorist less than $28 per year. The highway use fee would only apply to the purchase of a new vehicle and would equal 2.5% of MSRP.
In acknowledgement that the benefits of transportation go well beyond the users of the system, the department proposes to supplement the new user fee revenue with $573.6 million in general fund revenues.
If you were not able to attend, you can review the department’s presentation or watch Secretary Gottlieb’s presentation at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce. Also check out an interesting presentation on transportation funding trends by Nick Goldstein from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
Thanks Annual Meeting Sponsors
American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin
Ayres Associates, Inc.
FABCO Equipment, Inc.
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 139
Johnson Timber Corporation
Mead & Hunt, Inc.
Miller-Bradford & Risberg, Inc.
Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc.
Transportation Environmental Management, Inc.
Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association
Wisconsin Concrete Pavement Association
Wisconsin Counties Association
Wisconsin County Highway Association
Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council
Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters
Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association
And a special thanks to the Wisconsin Counties Association for sponsoring the After Vote Yes Cocktail Reception.
FY 2015 Federal Funding, USH 41 Exemption
After a short-term extension of the continuing resolution and a long weekend, the Senate finally passed the $1.1 trillion FY 2015 omnibus appropriations measure, clearing it for the President’s signature.
The measure was plagued by opposition from both sides of the aisle. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led liberal opposition to a provision in the bill repealing part of the Dodd-Frank law regarding financial swaps. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other conservatives opposed the bill because it does not include any provisions preventing the president from changing immigration enforcement. In the end, the bill passed 56 to 40.
Transportation spending levels for most programs are essentially flat as compared to last fiscal year.
The good news for Wisconsin is the measure grandfathers existing truck weights on Highway 41 when it transitions to a federal interstate next year. Thanks to Senator Baldwin and Representatives Petri and Ribble for all their work on this issue.
Commission Approves Three New Projects
The Transportation Projects Commission voted to recommend three new Major Highway Program projects with a total cost of $670 million for enumeration as part of the 2015-17 budget:
- I-43 from Silver Spring Drive to State Highway 60 in Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties. This 14 mile section helps connect Milwaukee and Green Bay and carries approximately 84,000 cars a day. The project includes the addition of a lane in each direction and replaces several outdated bridges, curves and ramps. The estimated cost is $448 million.
- I-94 from USH 12 to Wisconsin State Highway 65 (130th Street) in St. Croix County. This 7.5-mile stretch currently carries up to 46,400 vehicles a day, and about half of this segment has crash rates exceeding the state average for similar roads. The project adds a third lane in each direction and is estimated to cost $129 million.
- Wisconsin State Highway 50 from I-94 to 43rd Avenue in Kenosha County. This 4.4 mile segment carries up to 36,700 cars daily and has a higher than average crash rate. The project would add a third lane and replace outmoded bridges on the highway for a cost of $93 million.
The commission also voted to cancel two projects and reduce the scope of another. The two projects – Beloit Bypass, Wisconsin State Highways 81 and 213, and Wisconsin State Highway 38 – were cancelled due to lack of public support. The commission also approved removing two lane bypasses of Viroqua and Westby from the USH 14 Viroqua-Westby project as it is not considered necessary at this time.
Another project – USH 53 in La Crosse County – hindered by a lack of local consensus on a preferred alignment and scope for the project was not cancelled, giving officials more time to reach a consensus. The project was originally enumerated in 1997.
House Votes to Increase Inland Waterways User Fee
After asking to be taxed more for years, it appears the inland waterway shipping industry may finally get its way.
The House attached the industry-favored hike in diesel fuel taxes to the widely popular ABLE Act, a measure that would provide tax protected savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. If the measure becomes law, the per-gallon tax collected on diesel fuel used by barge line towboats would rise to 29 cents a gallon, up from the current 20 cents per gallon.
The barge fuel increase was included in the measure as one of the “pay fors” used to offset the cost of the disabilities account tax break. Ignoring the illogical and duplicative nature of this accounting treatment, this is the first time in years the House has voted to increase the waterways infrastructure user fee, which would help reduce the backlog of lock improvement projects.
The Waterways Council, an association that represents the barge lines and cargo shippers, said in a statement it “is very pleased with the House passage of the ABLE Act, which included the 9-cent increase in the barge diesel user fee. Reinvestment in waterway infrastructure pays tremendous dividends to the nation in increased exports, competition, transportation capacity, and jobs.”
Now the measure moves to the Senate for consideration.
Transportation in the News
Federal Transportation Funding Fixing it First– A detailed breakdown of 2013 federal highway obligations by the Government Accountability Office shows that states used just 6% of contract authority to build new roads or bridges. The remaining amount goes to maintain the system: 15% to add capacity (usually, but not always, new lanes) to existing roads and bridges, 40% for rehabilitation of existing road and bridges, and another 19% for engineering, right-of-way acquisition, planning and utilities.
According to Transportation Weekly, this analysis is contrary to the belief of some members of Congress that the current revenue stream would be enough if wasteful and/or non-essential spending was cut. Whittling down $41 billion in obligation to the $32 billion supportable by Highway Trust Fund revenues would be significantly more difficult than eliminating new spending for bicycle and pedestrian lanes or “new” roads.
Building the Workforce – The University of Wisconsin is launching a new center to provide training and opportunities for more people to pursue careers in transportation. The Midwest Transportation Workforce Center (MTWC) is one of five centers nationwide and will be housed within UW-Madison’s Nation Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research Education.
The transportation industry is facing a new set of challenges, according to Teresa Adams, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who will lead the new center. "In addition to a high rate of retirements and vacancies in this field, emerging technologies, as well as environmental and climate considerations, are changing the knowledge base and skill requirements for future workers," she says.
Interesting News Coverage
MDOT, December 4, 2014 – "State Transportation Commission urges legislators to address projected state transportation funding shortfall”
Detroit Free Press, December 1, 2014 – "Snyder tours Detroit freeways, urges legislative action"
The Courier-Journal, November 29, 2014 – “INDOT chief urges new look at road funding"
Gainesville Times, November 26, 2014 – “State legislators [Georgia] working on transportation funding suggestions”
60 Minutes, November 23, 2014 – “Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure”
Courier-Post, November 25, 2014 – “Lawmakers [New Jersey] seek roadmap to fund transportation”
The Salt Lake Tribune, November 19, 2014 – “Utah cities seek sales tax increase to improve local roads”
The Salt Lake Tribune, November 17, 2014 – “Utah civic leaders launch unified drive for transportation funding increase”
The Hill.com, November 13, 2014 – “States moving on gas tax hikes on their own”
Wisconsin State Journal, November 3, 2014 – “Texting while walking: Officials see electronics distracting bicyclists, pedestrians”
CITYLAB, November 3. 2014 – The economic case for a national per-mile driving fee”
La Crosse Tribune, October 28, 2014 – “Shipping problems plague upper Mississippi”
TDA Fly-in to Washington, DC
25th Annual Fly-in
It’s almost that time of year again – the time of year TDA members join together to show our delegation just how important federal transportation investment is to Wisconsin.
Click here to see just a few of the reasons why you should add your voice and participate in the 2015 TDA Fly-in.
The registration deadline is February 13, 2015.
Note: Start looking for deals on your flight now. Due to dwindling demand for the air portion of the package, air transport is not included in this year's package. AAA stands by to help you find the right flight alternative for you. Industry consolidation has resulted in fewer flight options than in years past, so don't wait to book your air. The schedule will allow participants to catch the nonstop Southwest Airlines flight #2582 to Milwaukee, which departs at 3:55 p.m.
Calendar of Events
- 2015 Wisconsin Transportation Reception during the TRB Annual Meeting: Sunday January 11th 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis.
- TDA Fly-in: March 25th-26th. Register today.
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