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September 9, 2019 3:15 PM, EDT

Congress Kicks Off Fall Quarter Amid Growing Traffic Woes Nationwide

Traffic on H1 in Honolulu Traffic on H1 in Honolulu. The Hawaiian city joins a long list of metropolitan centers that is experiencing chronically congested roads. (Suzi Pal via YouTube)

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The headline on the front page of Honolulu’s Star Advertiser on Aug. 27 read, “Isles Repeat Low Road Ranking.” To set the article’s mood, reporter Nina Wu wrote: “The worst urban interstate pavement conditions in the country and a low mark for spending per mile left Hawaii ranked 47th among states in a recent survey of highway performance.”

According to a Reason Foundation annual report, Hawaii surpassed Rhode Island, Alaska and New Jersey among states with the lowest highway performance metrics.

Eugene Mulero

Mulero

During a recent trip to Oahu, this writer experienced hours of punishing evening rush-hour traffic along Honolulu’s main artery. State officials already have acknowledged the island’s traffic woes and proceeded with a transit system. A significant demographic, however, has yet to embrace transit.

Honolulu is not only a city with chronic traffic. It’s part of long list of metropolitan areas suffocating from congestion.

RELATED: North Dakota ranks No. 1 in Reason Foundation highway performance report

In a different report also published last month, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute concluded the average commuter faced an annual delay of 54 hours due to traffic in 2017. That was an increase from 47 hours per year lost in 2012. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington led the way as congestion hotspots.

“Big towns and small cities have congestion problems — every economy is different, and smaller regions often count on good mobility as a quality-of-life aspect that allows them to compete with larger, more economically diverse regions. As the national economy improves, it is important to develop the consensus on action steps — major projects, programs and funding efforts take 10 to 15 years to develop,” the report’s authors explained.

Reacting to the findings, U.S. House transportation committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) blamed his institution’s inaction on long-term infrastructure funding plans for the congestion nationwide.

“Reports like the 2019 Urban Mobility Report are exactly what we should expect after decades of underinvestment at the federal level and a lack of political will to even consider raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993, and why we’re left with highways, roads, bridges and transit systems that are inefficient, outdated, and in some spots, downright dangerous,” DeFazio said. “The cost of inaction is too great.”

Prior to the August recess, DeFazio’s Senate counterparts advanced five-year, $287 billion infrastructure package that left unresolved the looming shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund. The account, used to assist states with transportation projects, relies on insufficient revenue from the federal fuel tax. This week, DeFazio’s committee is scheduled to examine congestion pricing and tolling as potential funding alternatives for highway projects.

The Week Ahead (All times Eastern)

Spotlight Hearing

Sept. 11, 10 a.m.: The House Highways and Transit Subcommittee examines the merits of congestion pricing and tolling as it readies highway policy legislation. Congestion pricing and tolling are meant to alleviate traffic and fund repairs and maintenance for freight and commuter corridors. Cities such as Seattle and New York, as well as the Washington metropolitan area, have sought to explore proceeding with congestion pricing. The interest in congestion pricing signals cities’ growing concern with traffic, experts have suggested.

Sept. 10, 10 a.m.: The Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings hosts an event exploring new advances in transportation and service delivery.

Sept. 10, 11:30 a.m.: The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meets to mark up fiscal 2020 legislation.

Sept. 10, noon: Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz opines about congressional politics at the Heritage Foundation.

Sept. 11, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee meets with acting deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, Patricia Cogswell.

Sept. 11, 2 p.m.: The House National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy Subcommittee meets for a debate on climate change.

Mood Swings

Still no word from the Trump White House this year on a big-picture infrastructure funding plan. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, authorizers in the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to take on the matter in the coming weeks.

 

In Case You Missed It

Policy outlined in a Senate panel’s infrastructure measure touches on the labor community, Stan Greer observed in The Hill newspaper.

Who’s New

Lauren Schapker of ARTBA

Schapker

Over the summer, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association appointed Lauren Schapker vice president for legislative affairs.

She will be tasked to advocate for ARTBA’s concerns, such as prompting lawmakers to approve a sustainable source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund relies on dwindling revenue from the federal fuel tax.

Before ARTBA, Schapker led the Washington office of the National Ground Water Association, where she advocated for projects relevant to the group’s interests.

 

Buzz

The Beltway intelligentsia south of Reagan National Airport have something to cheer about. After a summer shutdown, Metro rail service is back.

Favorite Video

Bloomberg’s Shaun Courtney provides us with an explainer on Congress’ infrastructure funding conundrum.

Favorite Tweet

When is rent too high on Park Avenue? When not even a Saudi prince can make a payment.

The Last Word

We have a lot of money because of the tariffs we’ve taken in. We’ve taken in tremendous — many billions of dollars of tariffs from China.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 4.

Donald Trump

We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics