CSX Corporation presented a gift of $25,000 to the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute, a National University Transportation Center based at Marshall University, in a ceremony Friday, Jan. 16.
The presentation took place in the office of Interim MU President Gary White in Old Main on the Huntington campus.
The gift increased the total amount of donations from CSX to Marshall to more than $814,000 since 1984, according to Dr. Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall University Foundation Inc.
Randy Cheetham, regional vice president for CSX, presented the check to Frank Betz, RTI’s executive director and CEO.
“The Rahall Transportation Institute has become a great partner with CSX,” Cheetham said. “We’ve worked with them on several research projects, and we’ve found them to be a tremendous resource. We’re very fortunate to have them right here in our own backyard.”
Betz called CSX “a great company” that has been partnering with RTI in rail research for a long time. “We appreciate this latest donation,” he said.
Betz said this donation is going towards future advancements in technology and research at RTI.
Cheetham added, “We have a long history with Marshall University and we are very proud of that partnership. We want to continue to keep it strong and to keep it going.”
CSX Corporation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the nation’s leading transportation companies, providing rail, intermodal and rail-to-truck transload services. The company’s transportation network spans approximately 21,000 miles, with service to 23 eastern states and the District of Columbia, and connects to more than 70 ocean, river and lake ports.
RTI is a leader in multimodal transportation and economic development. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation for transportation excellence focused on applied technology, research, education, outreach and training.
From left, Lance West, Marshall University’s vice president for development; Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute; Randy Cheetham, regional vice president with CSX; Gary White, MU’s interim president; MichaeSellards, chairman of the Marshall board of governors, and Dr. Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall Foundation Inc., pose with a check for $25,000 presented from CSX to RTI.
At right, 4th-district House candidate Nick Rahall waves after voting in Beckley with his then-wife, Helen McDaniel, on Nov. 2, 1976.
After nearly four decades, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., will be on the outside of the U.S. Capitol looking in come Saturday.
On Nov. 4, Republican challenger Evan Jenkins won the election for the House seat Rahall had occupied since 1977, garnering 76,726 votes, or 55.29 percent, versus Rahall’s 62,044 votes, or 44.71 percent.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, Rahall served 19 terms in the House. He is the top Democrat in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and fought for federal highway funding, veterans’ benefits, gun rights and miners’ benefits and safety.
Rahall, 65, is a Beckley native and Woodrow Wilson High School graduate. Following his defeat in November, Larry Puccio, chairman of the Democratic Party of West Virginia, said in a statement that Rahall’s work in Congress made a lasting impact on West Virginia and his district.
“Nick Rahall has been such a tremendous leader to the state of West Virginia,” Puccio said. “From fighting for coal jobs and miner safety, to highway and infrastructure improvements and countless other contributions, he is a champion of the issues, projects and values so important to our state.”
Rahall was first elected to Congress in 1976 in an election that was anything but ordinary. Fourth district incumbent Democratic congressman Ken Hechler gave up his House seat to run against Jay Rockefeller in the 1976 gubernatorial election, but lost. Hechler then ran as a write-in candidate against Rahall and Republican challenger Steve Goodman to try to retain his seat.
The unlikely Democrat-versus-Democrat House primary led to widespread voter confusion and delays in vote-counting. Voters were not familiar with the write-in process, and many election officials were equally confused. Some precincts told voters they could not use stamps for Hechler’s name, while others allowed the use of stamps that had been distributed by Hechler’s campaign.
Once the results were canvassed, Rahall had defeated Hechler 45.6 percent to 36.6 percent. Goodman retained only 17.8 percent of the vote.
Rahall earned overwhelming support from West Virginia’s southern coalfields in the 4th congressional district. Rahall then ran for and won the 3rd congressional district seat in 1992, after West Virginia lost its 4th district due to population decline reflected in the 1990 census.
For the most part, Rahall consistently won what was considered one of the most heavily Democratic House districts in the country. Before 2014, Rahall’s only other close general election was in 1990, when he fended off Republican challenger Marianne R. Brewster with a 52-percent victory. Democrats won seven House seats in 1990 to get 267 total seats, while the GOP lost eight seats and fell to 167 seats.
Rahall served for 34 years on the Committee on Natural Resources and chaired the committee for four of those years. He was the chief sponsor of the 1992 Coal Act, which established a health benefits fund for coal miners, and in 2006 he secured funding for the Mine Safety Technology Consortium in Montgomery, which Rahall described as a “catalyst for transforming mining know-how into superior coal mine health and safety products and services, including training technologies.”
Rahall served as the top Democrat on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure since 2011. He established the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, and helped acquire federal funding for many West Virginia highway projects over the years, including the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway.
Like many Democrats across the country, Rahall’s re-election chances in 2014 were shot by public disapproval of President Barack Obama and his controversial policies, including new, more stringent carbon emission regulations that have had a ripple effect on West Virginia’s coalfields. Rahall supported Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, and lost the West Virginia Coal Association’s endorsement last year.
Marybeth Beller, director of the Department of Political Science at Marshall University, said this fall that Rahall’s defensive stance against claims he had “betrayed” West Virginia’s coal industry likely did not help his chances for re-election.
“The Congressman made very little attempt to educate the public to the real reasons for the decline in employment in coal, instead going on the defensive to suggest he didn’t support the EPA proposals, which is true,” Beller said. “However, he allowed the argument to become one in which he took a defensive posture, rather than educating the public and discussing ways to work to diversify the economy.”
Furthermore, Beller thinks Rahall’s campaign against Obama — a tactic many Democrats employed to try to distance themselves from the unpopular president — portrayed conflict within the party, which may have led many voters away from the Democratic candidates.
“Rather than tout positive initiatives by the Obama White House that have helped West Virginians ... Rahall campaigned against the president just as Jenkins did,” Beller said. “For the voters it appeared as though Rahall was against all the policies of the president, who is also the leader of his party. The message he, and (2nd House district Democratic candidate Nick) Casey and (Democratic Senate candidate Natalie) Tennant, sent to the voters begged the question: if the leader of the party is so bad, why would voters stay with that party?”
Rahall retires this weekend as the youngest-elected, longest-serving representative in the history of the House. He is married to Melinda Rahall of Ashland, Ky., and has three children, Rebecca, Nick Joe III and Suzanne Nicole and three grandchildren.
- See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150101/DM01/150109921/1276#sthash.0Qik9J3h.dpuf
Driving into downtown Charleston at 8:30 a.m. on any given weekday can be a frustrating experience — especially if traffic signals don’t work in your favor.
But soon, 58 intersections in downtown Charleston will be networked together and programmed remotely to keep traffic moving more smoothly at any time of the day, especially during morning and evening rush hours.
Aaron Bias, a traffic signal technician for highway contractor company Bayliss & Ramey, recently turned on wireless radios on traffic signals replaced as part of a $4.6 million Department of Transportation project to revamp traffic signals and street signs in Charleston. Each signal will communicate with one of two “access points” — one on the East End and one on the West Side — and each access point will be securely linked to the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, where a computer controls when lights turn red and green.
“In the morning, you’re going to have heavy traffic coming into the town, and in the evening, you’re going to have a lot going out,” Bias said. “They’re going to change those patterns so the lights are actually going to be running different timings at different times of the day. And at different intersections, where there’s higher volume of traffic coming in, like the Leon Sullivan Way exit ... In the mornings, there’s high traffic volume there, so it’s going to run a different pattern there in the morning than in the evening.”
The Division of Highways first announced Charleston’s multimillion-dollar stoplight replacement project in 2010 with an estimated completion date in the summer of 2012. New LED traffic lights, illuminated street signs and computerized control systems have been installed at nearly 60 intersections throughout Charleston. Crosswalk signals and buttons have also been added along Kanawha Boulevard so that pedestrians can safely cross to or from the riverfront.
City traffic engineer Allen Copley said the LEDs in the stoplights will save the city in energy costs, and Bias said the computerized traffic signaling system will reduce stop-and-go traffic on major streets, leading to quicker travel times and less fuel waste. The signals also have sensors that change lights to green when an emergency vehicle is approaching.
The project has been hit with delays and caused some inconveniences for commuters, but Copley said so far, public reaction to the new traffic signals has been mostly positive.
“We’ve already gotten several positive comments about a lot of the left turn arrows we’ve installed in different parts of the city,” Copley said. “Specifically at Dickinson (Street) and Quarrier (Street), people coming north seem to like that one. We’ve had very few complaints.”
Bias said motorists will notice a change in coming weeks once Charleston’s traffic signals are connected to the Rahall Transportation Institute. Right now, Bias said each traffic signal in Charleston is running on an independent, timed schedule; once the Rahall Transportation Institute takes control, a computer will control the timings of red and green lights at each intersection and can make changes citywide based on traffic volume and other factors.
“It’s designed to flow massive amounts of traffic in one direction,” Bias said. “System times are designed for gas savings, so you’re not stopping and going all the time, so you can get going and go straight through town. In theory, if you hit one end of Virginia Street here, if you drive a certain speed, you should be able to drive all the way through to the other end of Virginia Street without hitting a red light.”
The Rahall Transportation Institute also controls the traffic signaling for the cities of Huntington and Morgantown. Andrew Nichols, director of Intelligent Transportation Systems for the Rahall Transportation Institute, said drivers would purposefully avoid Fifth and Third avenues in Huntington before the signals on those streets were upgraded. Since Huntington’s traffic signal replacement project finished up in 2012, Nichols said the traffic lights on those streets are synchronized to change in a “green wave,” so someone driving the speed limit could theoretically drive all the way through Huntington without hitting a red light.
Nichols said the new traffic signaling in Huntington not only keeps traffic running smoothly; it encourages drivers to drive the speed limit.
Similar benefits will be seen in Charleston once the secure link between Charleston and the Rahall Transportation Institute is installed. Nichols and traffic engineers from the City of Charleston and the Division of Highways will have access to real-time data about the traffic signals at each of Charleston’s intersections, including vehicle traffic volume, pedestrian volume and any issues with signals. They will be able to manipulate the traffic lights as needed and troubleshoot problems with the click of a mouse.
“If there’s a problem, if they start getting calls about a left turn not lasting long enough, they can pull up an intersection and see what’s happening there,” Nichols said. “If an intersection goes into flash (flashing yellow lights), they’ll get an email notification, and they can go in and see what’s causing it to go into flash.”
Radar sensors installed at many intersections will detect how many cars are stopped at a red light, and the computer will use that data in determining when to change a light from red to green. Copley told the Daily Mail in May that traffic lights on Kanawha Boulevard will only turn red if the radars detect traffic waiting to turn onto the boulevard or pedestrians press a button to cross the boulevard.
“Hopefully we can do a little more with this new technology and equipment to make the city better,” Copley said. “We have more tools to work with.”
Most of the work is complete, and the project is expected to be completely finished by the end of the year.
More deer are struck by vehicles on a 12-mile segment of U.S. Route 19 in Nicholas County than any other stretch of highway in West Virginia, according to recently released research on deer-vehicle collisions in the state.
A joint research project by the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University and West Virginia University found that, from 2008 to 2012, more than 68 deer were struck by vehicles between mile markers 4.3 and 16.4 on U.S. Route 19. The report includes deer-related crash data for two-mile segments of road in the state with more than eight reported deer-vehicle collisions over the five-year period.
The project was conducted as part of a 2011 legislative audit of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources that called for better control of West Virginia’s deer population. The research, which was jointly funded by State Farm Insurance, Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Division of Natural Resources, is the first of its kind in West Virginia, said Andrew Nichols, a co-author of the report and director of Intelligent Transportation Systems at the Rahall Transportation Institute.
Nichols said although there are potential techniques for mitigating deer-vehicle collisions in West Virginia, such as wildlife fencing and wildlife crossings, the effective methods are too expensive to justify the cost in most cases because West Virginia does not have easily identifiable large mammal migration hotspots like some western states.
“In my opinion, it’s not an issue that the DOT should tackle just because it’s a widespread issue,” Nichols said. “Honestly, short of just having fewer deer, it’s up to the drivers themselves to be alert. The DOT installs deer crossing signs, but I’m sure the average driver wouldn’t be able to tell you where those are during the daily commute, and research shows those signs aren’t effective.”
The 293-page report analyzes deer-vehicle collision data pulled from police crash reports statewide from 2008 to 2012 and identifies potential ways the crashes could be mitigated. Nichols said the data doesn’t show the entire scope of West Virginia’s high deer-vehicle collision numbers because not every wreck is reported by motorists to police.
The report identified 18 high-frequency deer-vehicle collision highway segments (13 or more reported collisions in five years) in the state. U.S. Route 19 in Nicholas County between mile markers 10.3 and 12.3 had 22 reported deer-vehicle collisions between 2008 and 2012, more than any other two-mile stretch of roadway. The report identified the areas most prone to deer-vehicle collisions as the Eastern Panhandle, the Summersville area of Nicholas County, the Parkersburg area of Wood County and Kanawha River Valley near Winfield in Putnam County. Two segments of Interstate 64 between Cross Lanes and Hurricane and Interstate 77 from mile markers 109.7 to 111.7, just north of Charleston, were the only interstate segments identified as having high numbers in the report.
The report outlines several mitigation techniques, including the installation of more wildlife fencing, enhanced deer crossing signs that flash yellow when deer are near the roadway, and setting lower nighttime speed limits. Wildlife fencing is taller than standard roadside fencing, preventing mammals such as deer from leaping over the fence and into the path of traffic.
Wildlife fencing has proven effective in at least one part of West Virginia; the report indicates U.S. Route 33 between Interstate 79 and Elkins has 19.1 miles of the barrier. Out of a total of 24 deer-vehicle collisions on the entire 41.7-mile stretch of road from 2008 to 2012, only three of those crashes occurred within the stretch of highway with the fencing.
The downside to installing the fencing is its cost. Though researchers say deer-vehicle collisions in West Virginia could be reduced 79 percent to 97 percent with wildlife fencing in deer “hotspots,” the report estimates wildlife fencing would cost more than $250,000 per mile over its 25-year lifespan.
Nichols discussed the report with members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Infrastructure on Nov. 17. Senate vice-chair Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan, said the state’s deer-vehicle collision problem should be mitigated through increased hunting to reduce the number of deer in the state.
“I’ve known some people that have lost their lives because of deer coming across and jumping across corridors and landing in vehicles,” Kirkendoll said. “It’s happened in my area. I think you could have some way to try to increase hunting — maybe with some more advertising or more hunting events — that would create some more hunting activity. I don’t see a downside to that.”
Though deer-vehicle collisions are expensive — the average property damage claim is $3,888, according to State Farm — Nichols said that because they make up a very small percentage of total wrecks in West Virginia, and cause fewer injuries and deaths than other types of vehicle crashes, the Department of Transportation could get more “bang for its buck” through other highway safety investments.
Nichols said there were 1,517 traffic fatalities from 2008 to 2012, and only 12 of those resulted from deer-involved collisions. He said only 2.2 percent of crashes with injuries in the state during that time period were deer-related.
“The problem is, in terms of mitigating, you’ve got these (deer-vehicle collisions) that are competing with other types of crashes so it becomes a prioritizing exercise,” Nichols said. “When you look at an annualized cost of more than $10,000 and an installation cost of about $154,000 per mile, the price tag goes up really high. In terms of prioritizing DVCs with everything else in the state, the DVCs fall down in the list mostly because when a deer gets hit, usually it’s only a car that gets hurt.”
Select Committee on Infrastructure chair Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, said the problem of deer-vehicle collisions will solve itself within the next few decades as autonomous cars become the norm.
“Automobiles will avoid those collisions in the future,” Staggers said. “I think the smart automobile is more of an answer than the state doing anything ... I think the solution is already coming. We don’t have to do anything or spend any money.”
The entire report can be found online at www.njrati.org/research.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will join members of the Wayne County Economic Development Board, Norfolk Southern Railway representatives, and state and local officials on Wednesday for a tour and update on the development of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard.
“Intermodal cargo is a hot commodity and it’s growing jobs. This is a prime time to take stock of the progress on construction at Prichard and chart out a comprehensive marketing strategy that will lead to solid opportunities and broad benefits,” said Rahall, top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I have worked to make the federal government a full federal partner in this jobs generator since the Rahall Transportation Institute first identified intermodal cargo opportunities for our region. I stand ready to help build on what we have achieved to ensure this region captures its full share of modern day transport opportunities.”
With Rahall’s support, the Heartland Intermodal Gateway Facility at Prichard received a $12 million federal grant through the Fiscal Year 2011 National Infrastructure Investments, or “TIGER III,” Discretionary Grants Program for construction.
“Governor Tomblin has helped move this project along on the State side and I believe this update will be beneficial to both of us as we strive to seize every opportunity the Heartland facility offers our State,” Rahall said. “I look forward to continuing to work with our Governor to bring the vast potential of this facility to reality.”
Tomblin helped to move the facility’s development ahead through his completion of an operations agreement with Norfolk Southern. The West Virginia Port Authority owns the Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility and has worked in concert with federal agencies, Norfolk Southern and local officials to develop the intermodal cargo operation.
“The Heartland Intermodal Gateway Facility will play a vital role in helping our state successfully compete for upcoming economic development projects,” Tomblin said. “The investments supported by Congressman Rahall and our state Department of Transportation have the potential to open a number of freight corridors and port destinations from Virginia to Chicago and will help our state strengthen its presence in both the trucking and rail shipment industries.”
The Rahall Transportation Institute’s (RTI) long-running work with the Prichard project has been multifaceted. Most recently, RTI has been identifying opportunities to improve the economic competiveness of regional shippers, better enabling them to tap into the lucrative international freight markets.
“Transportation research clearly points to the economic benefits that can be achieved by integrating various modes of transportation, like highway and rail, as seamlessly as possible. The Rahall Transportation Institute has worked to make the Heartland Intermodal Gateway a model of welding our region’s economy to the global marketplace more seamlessly and efficiently. It is truly building jobs through transportation,” said state Sen. Robert H. Plymale, who authored state legislation to provide a funding source for projects like the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard.
The Wayne County Economic Development Authority is helping to coordinate potential business development related to the Prichard facility with the aim of accruing the fullest possible economic benefit for the area.
“The Heartland Intermodal Gateway is a portal for commerce that holds job opportunities for the entire Tri-State region. Wayne County’s partnership with all levels of government and Norfolk Southern will serve as a job catalyst, developing additional business and industry within our transportation hub that Congressman Rahall, Governor Tomblin and so many have worked so hard to build,” said West Virginia Delegate Don Perdue, executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development Authority.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Rahall and Tomblin will participate in a project update meeting provided by the Wayne County Economic Development Authority, West Virginia Public Port Authority, West Virginia Development Office, and the Rahall Transportation Institute in the conference room of Allevard Sogefi USA in Prichard followed by a site tour.
HUNTINGTON -- The Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard in Wayne County is expected to be completed in December 2015 and have a major economic impact on the Tri-State area and West Virginia, visiting business leaders were told Monday.
State Sen. Bob Plymale joined more than 30 economic development officials from around the Mountain State to view construction of the intermodal facility during a breakout tour during the West Virginia Economic Development Council's annual conference on Monday. Plymale, who has been a strong advocate for the facility for more than a decade, said the facility is nearly 50 percent complete.
While the Huntington area has many economic development sites to showcase to visiting business leaders, Plymale said the intermodal facility will be the only one of its kind in West Virginia, which makes it an obvious destination.
"If you're going to compete globally, you've got to have the ability to ship containers because that's what most things are shipped by," Plymale said. "Most industries are going to that containerization, and this facility will allow you free access to the Port of Norfolk and to the Midwest and West Coast. It gives you the opportunity ship to anywhere in the nation, and in the world."
Plymale said the intermodal facility would be advantageous for any company within a 75- to 100-mile radius, which includes businesses from Ohio and Kentucky. He said he recently spoke with Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, who called the facility a "game changer."
The Prichard site is a perfect location for such a facility, said Dan Motley, industrial development manager for Norfolk Southern Corporation. He said studies indicated the location, sitting along the company's Heartland Corridor rail line, the Big Sandy River, U.S. 52 and near Tri-State Airport, was a logical fit in the company's Heartland Corridor project.
"This sits right along our line that has (Norfolk, Virginia,) on one end and Columbus, Ohio, on the other," Motley said. "We already owned part of the site here, which helped, too."
Both Motley and Plymale said one of the key impacts the intermodal facility will have is it will provide a level of shipping production totally unavailable to businesses is the area. Plymale said he expects the facility will be appealing to businesses seeking to startup or relocate, and bringing those businesses to Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard is good not only for the immediate area, but also for all of West Virginia.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall are scheduled to provide an update on the intermodal facility Wednesday at Allevard Sogefi USA in Prichard.
The WVEDC annual conference also included tours to Heritage Farm and Museum and Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. The three tour locations were designed to showcase the variety of economic development thriving in the Huntington area to the more than 100 economic development officials. The event also featured many guest speakers including Ann Barth, TechConnect executive director; Christy Bailey, National Coal Heritage Area executive director; and Russ Bailey, U.S. Foodservice president.
Gary Walton, Huntington Area Development Council president and event organizer, said the conference is not only a great resource for business information, but also a perfect networking opportunity. He said the opportunity to speak with leaders from around the state is invaluable for those in economic development. He said he's proud to be able to highlight the great things going on around Huntington to his peers.
The conference wraps up Tuesday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, following a morning of information sessions featuring a variety of local and state business leaders. The first session begins at 9:15 a.m., with the last beginning at 11:30 p.m.
Construction on a new section of the PATH - Paul Ambrose Trail for Health started Monday on Washington Boulevard between Glenwood Terrace and Holswade Drive (just east of Meadows Elementary School at Hal Greer Boulevard).
The new section will help link Ritter Park to Spring Hill Cemetery.
The project is being funded with private donations through previous Fit Fest events.
The sixth annual Fit Fest will take place at 1 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 14, at Ritter Park. The event aims to create a healthier community and benefit the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health. Fit Fest is comprised of a 5K walk/run; 10K run; children's 25, 50 and 100 yard dashes; half-mile and mile runs; and healthy vendors and exhibitors.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The uncertainty in the nation’s transportation infrastructure system is “creating an invisible crisis,” according to the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Anthony Foxx, speaking Monday at the West Virginia Transportation and Infrastructure Summit, said forecasts show the U.S. will be $1.8 trillion behind in transportation infrastructure spending by 2020.
Part of that is caused by partisan gridlock over the reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, which in part reimburses states for federally funded highway projects. Money in the fund is expected to run out next month, and departments of transportation across the country will soon have to decide if they will stop or cut back highway projects and affect about 700,000 jobs.
“States can’t plan,” Foxx said.
Foxx, 40, pointed out past generations have worked to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure, including railways and the interstate highway system. But because Congress hasn’t taken action — 27 continuing resolutions have been passed in the last few years to fund the Highway Trust Fund, but no long-term solution has been reached — the current generation is poised to leave things in worse shape for future generations.
“My generation of Americans started out pretty well,” Foxx said. “We had the highest standard of living in the world, the strongest, most innovative economy, the best education. We did so because prior generations had blessed us with their own grit, their own determination, their own sacrifices, their own commitment to the future.”
In recent years, the U.S. has begun to slip in global rankings. Some speakers at the summit suggested the nation’s crumbling infrastructure system is at least partly to blame.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said other countries are continuing to invest in their infrastructure systems and pull ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic development and the ability to compete in the global marketplace.
“It is certainly a critical time for our nation’s transportation and infrastructure,” Rahall said. “Modern, safer transportation networks have induced economic development, brought jobs, improved opportunities and have increased the efficiency and profits of businesses here in West Virginia and beyond.”
Although Congress has been slow to act on reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund, the vast majority of Americans support increased spending on transportation and infrastructure. Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, said a study found the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of gross domestic product on transportation annually.
“Americans overwhelmingly support increasing our infrastructure investment as evidence by consistent support for local investments at the ballot box,” Betz said. “American satisfaction ranks 25th of 32 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations for satisfaction in public transit and 17th overall for satisfaction with our roads.
“More than 90 percent of Americans support an increase in transportation infrastructure spending. With the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon for 20 years, how can we expect to maintain a transportation system that is safe?”
Betz isn’t the only transportation expert to note the stagnant federal gas tax. Others argue the tax no longer funds the transportation system as it did in 1993, as fewer people drive and fuel-efficient cars are becoming more popular.
“As cars become more and more fuel efficient, which is a good thing, the average car now gets 25 to 30 miles per gallon where 10 or 15 years ago it got 15 or 20,” Larry Malone, project manager for West Virginians for Better Transportation, told the Daily Mail last week. “That means people can spend less on gasoline. When you spend less on gasoline, the number of gallons you buy, when that goes down so does the revenue to the road fund. The road fund is constrained right now because of better fuel efficient vehicles and also inflation has been eating away at the total dollars.”
Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have introduced a plan that would increase the gas tax by six cents and tie future gas tax increases to inflation. Other, similar plans are on the table as well.
Since 2008, the federal government has taken $50 billion from general funds to fund the needs of the nation’s transportation infrastructure, said Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Union. As Congress stalls on the Highway Trust Fund, seven states have already cut back on their highway projects while 28, including West Virginia, have announced their plans to scale back. But it doesn’t need to be that way, Ruane said.
“The opportunity is right there in front of us,” he said. “Congress needs to seize the moment.”