Infrastructure Update: Summer Recap

Infrastructure 2009

Despite the dog days of summer, some things are moving on the infrastructure front. Before Congress adjourned in August, it made some limited headway on transportation and livability bills, and ULI wrapped up its own rollout of Infrastructure 2009: Pivot Point. More details are below.

Transportation Reform Hiccups
To keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, Congress gave it an infusion of $7 billion from general funds before leaving for summer recess. Some sort of spending authorization, however, will be needed to keep funds flowing after September 30, when the existing law, SAFETEA-LU, expires.

The Senate and the Obama administration are hoping for an 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU, to allow for a fuller conversation about transportation reform. Congressman Oberstar (D-MN) is still pushing for quick consideration of his bill, which essentially doubles transportation spending from SAFETEA-LU levels. But no one has seriously tackled how to pay for spending increases, with both Congress and the Obama administration indicating that a gas tax increase is off the table for now.

Come fall, a likely outcome is a series of short-term extensions of SAFETEA-LU. Once health care and climate bills are out of the picture, the Obama administration and Congress may have more capacity to consider what to do about transportation.

New Momentum for Livable Communities
In early August, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced the Livable Communities Act to establish competitive planning grants for towns and regions; implementation of challenge grants for public transportation, affordable housing, complete streets, transit-oriented development, and brownfield redevelopment; an Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at HUD to administer the grants; and a federal Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities.

These proposals echo ULI’s July publication Transportation for a New Era, which recommends competitive grant programs to create incentives for sustainable investments, and a more integrated, cross-agency vision for community development. The House has not yet introduced a companion bill.

ULI Concludes Successful Rollout of Infrastructure 2009: Pivot Point
Over 2,000 people in more than 20 cities participated in events held since the April release of Infrastructure 2009: Pivot Point, programs that also provided an opportunity for dialogue with leaders from state and local government. The report rollout made a splash in 14 major news publications, including the New York Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the San Francisco Business Times.