Funding Transportation Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is the third part of a series of blogs about funding transportation. The first discussed emergency funding while the disease was still in its earliest stages, the second discussed the planning required to prepare for an eventual economic recovery.

The American Jobs Plan was proposed in March 2021 as a way to create millions of jobs and enhance the country’s infrastructure. Often referred to as the “infrastructure bill,” the proposal includes more than $110 billion for modernizing roads, highways, and bridges. Billions are also set aside for public transit, airports, and seaports to address safety, resilience, and equity. As you might expect, TRB has resources that can offer guidance on many of the issues addressed in the Biden administration’s plan.

Improving roadway infrastructure
In Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future–a report from TRB and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine–it was estimated that to meet the long-deferred rebuilding of pavements and bridges and to accommodate and manage growing user demand, $45–$70 billion annually will be required until the mid-2030s. Potential options to raise the funds to meet demand, boost the system’s resilience, and expand its geographic coverage include lifting the ban on tolling of existing general-purpose Interstate highways and increasing the federal fuel tax to a level commensurate with the federal share of the required investment. The Chair of the report committee, Norm Augustine, was a guest on TRB’s Transportation Explorers podcast and discussed how these recommendations could fit into the proposed infrastructure plans.

A 2020 TRB webinar identifies sustainable construction practice ideas; explores how to include sustainability in procurement and contracting; and looks at a means for tracking, evaluating, and managing sustainability within highway construction projects.

The National Academies TRB study Performance of Bridges That Received Funding Under the Innovative Bridge Research and Construction Program, which was Congressionally mandated, examines the performance of bridges that received funding from 1999 to 2005. The program provided state departments of transportation with a total of $128.7 million in grants as incentives for use of innovative materials and technology to construct or repair approximately 400 bridges. Materials used included fiber-reinforced polymer composites, high-performance concrete, high-performance steel, and corrosion-resistant reinforcing bars. The report provided recommendations to Congress on how the installed and life-cycle costs of bridges could be reduced through the use of innovative materials and technologies. Looking to past research can prove useful in prioritizing and allocating future funds.

Keeping the roads safe
Another portion of the American Jobs Plan goes to ensuring road safety. Historically, significant drops in traffic fatalities over a short period of time have coincided with economic recessions. Longer recessions have coincided with deeper declines in the number of traffic fatalities. In the early 2000s, the number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. declined from 43,510 to 32,479 (25.4 percent). NCHRP’s Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012 provides an analysis that identifies the specific factors in the economic decline that affected fatal crash risk, while taking into account the long-term factors that determine the level of traffic safety.

In making these decisions on what must be updated, highway agencies can use a method to assess and establish priorities for roadside safety hardware and prioritize projects for upgrades. The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s (NCHRP) Roadside Hardware Replacement Analysis: User Guide presents ways to implement and plan for assessing roadside hardware.

Policies and safety initiatives that are successful in curbing distracted driving are explored in the TRB Behavioral Traffic Safety Cooperative Research Program’s (BTSCRP) Using Electronic Devices While Driving: Legislation and Enforcement Implications. A TRB blog explores distracted driving prevention, as does a TRB podcast.

Innovative infrastructure can improve safety. The high efficiency, dimming, and instant-on capabilities of light emitting diode (LED) technology have allowed lighting designers to overcome some of the limitations of previous technologies, particularly in roadway lighting environments. The results from NCHRP’s LED Roadway Lighting: Impact on Driver Sleep Health and Alertness do not support the need to modify the guidelines for LED roadway lighting for affecting human melatonin suppression and alertness; however, more research on the topic is still needed.

Improving and updating public transportation infrastructure
Public transportation has been particularly hard-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) offers a wealth of resources for understanding transit infrastructure investments. Guidance for Calculating the Return on Investment in Transit State of Good Repair presents an analysis methodology and walks through the steps for calculating the return-on-investment for a potential investment or set of investments.

Larger and more heavily used rail transit systems develop increased levels of defects, consistent with what is seen in the railroad industry at large. Current practices are analyzed and compiled in TCRP’s Maintenance Planning for Rail Asset Management—Current Practices.

Public investments can increase property values or help increase sales revenue. Tax Increment Financing is a public financing method to capture a portion of resulting additional property (or sales) tax revenues. It is an increasingly important source of funds for transportation projects, and it has the potential to be a key part of project financing. TCRP’s Tax Increment Financing for Transit Projects examines whether and under what circumstances TIF might be used to fund transit operations and maintenance, as well as potential challenges.

Transit reliability is critical to the operation and attractiveness of public transportation services. With the unprecedented evolution in transportation services, including new mobility service providers such as Uber and Lyft, improving transit reliability has taken on an even greater level of importance. An investment in public transit can improve service, and TCRP’s Minutes Matter: A Bus Transit Service Reliability Guidebook details eight steps that a transit agency can undertake to develop and maintain a Reliability Improvement Program. TRB furthered the discussion on this report through a webinar, and the recording is now available.

Intercity passenger rail is allotted $80 billion in the American Jobs Plan. TRB’s National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP) interviewed the public sector, Amtrak, and freight rail stakeholders when preparing 2016’s Guidebook for Intercity Passenger Rail Service and Development. The report presents resources, strategies, analytical tools, and techniques to support planning, design and construction, and operations decision making in the development of intercity passenger rail service at state, regional, or multistate levels.

Keeping freight moving
Freight has undergone massive adjustments, including changes in where people were located and significant increases in e-commerce. The supply chain has been further disrupted by incidents ranging from outbreaks of COVID-19 amongst facility employees to lost shipping containers and back up. But freight investment project prioritization differs widely in importance across states due to budgeting constraints. NCHRP’s Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects identifies the state of the practice of freight project prioritization and common steps across all state DOTs in the nation.

In September, TRB is offering a workshop, Innovations in Freight Data to share the latest applications of traditional and emerging freight data sources, development of value-added features, integration of data sets, and other innovations. Register to join the conversation.

Next year, TRB in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard will offer the 18th Biennial National Harbor Safety Committee Conference to focus on promising practices, innovation, and technology to address critical safety and security issues related to waterways management.

Infrastructure on the ground to help air travel
Like public transportation, air travel suffered dramatic declines in service during the pandemic, but airports have unique factors to consider when it comes to infrastructure. For instance, ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft are posing a significant challenge airports’ reliance on parking revenue. TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) offers Rethinking Airport Parking Facilities to Protect and Enhance Non-Aeronautical Revenues, a guidance document that identifies near-term and long-term solutions to help airports of all types and sizes repurpose, renovate, or redevelop their parking facilities to address the loss of revenue from airport parking and other ground transportation services. A TRB webinar delved deeper into this transition and the slides are freely available.

Airports are also looking to incorporate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into their planning, operational, and infrastructure policies. ACRP’s Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems provides guidance for airports on UAS in the areas of managing UAS operations in the vicinity of an airport and engaging stakeholders (Volume 1), incorporating UAS into airport infrastructure and planning (Volume 2), and potential use of UAS by airport operators (Volume 3). A TRB blog recaps some of the research around drones, and the slides are available from a recent two-part Day of the Drones webinar series to further explore the issues.

More traditional airport infrastructure is addressed in ACRP’s Guidelines for Collecting, Applying, and Maintaining Pavement Condition Data at Airports. Data are gathered both from visual observations as well as by mechanical measurement or other means.

Planning to be more resilient
Emphasizing the need to be ready for anything, the proposed American Jobs Plan includes $50 billion for infrastructure to withstand climate disasters. TRB’s blog, Transportation Planning to the Extreme for Weather and Climate Change, highlights a number of resources for these preparations.

Likewise, a May TRB webinar will focus on the role of state DOT senior leadership in embedding transportation resilience in plans. Past TRB webinar slides are available with a focus on resilience in marine transportation and airports.

Recordings of a recent National Academies workshop series focused on emerging technologies for resilient supply chains.

The Biden administration’s plan also includes more than $100 billion that is focused on strengthening the future role of electric vehicles in the U.S. fleet. A TRB blog explores a number of available resources around electric vehicles on the roads, the rails, and at sea.

Serving underserved neighborhoods
Reaching across modes of transportation, the American Jobs Plan also includes $20 billion for neighborhoods historically excluded from transportation investments. TCRP’s Equity Analysis in Regional Transportation Planning Processes, Volume 2: Research Overview identifies ways in which equity in public transportation can be analyzed and adapted by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in partnership with transit agencies. The report discusses research findings and recommendations organized around a five-step equity analysis framework that is built upon a foundation of public involvement. TRB hosted a webinar with the report authors and the recording is freely available.

In September, TRB will offer an opportunity to discuss these topics in depth at the Conference on Advancing Transportation Equity. Presentations will feature those working on the front lines of transportation equity and justice within community-based and non-profit organizations. Register to join by June 7 for the best rates.

An earlier TRB webinar explored the history of environmental justice, public health, travel behavior, and public involvement and the slides are available.

Get involved with TRB
With such a vast array of areas set for investment, TRB has untold ways for you to make an impact. Get involved with future Cooperative Research Program work. Look for ongoing information on new projects, requests for proposals, or to nominate yourself or others to serve on a project panel. Submit problem statement research ideas and find new announcements in TRB’s weekly newsletter or on the homepages for ACRP, NCHRP, and TCRP.

In 2020, 4,646 individuals served on TRB’s standing technical committees. In addition, some 14,500 volunteers contributed to committee activities as friends. Become a friend of any of TRB’s committees by visiting to get started today!

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Beth Ewoldsen, Content Strategist

Transportation Research Board


Published April 19, 2021

This Summary Last Modified On: 4/15/2021

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