Mobility 21, a leading transportation infrastructure lobby in Southern California, focused on financing, gridlock (political and roadway), goods movement, and air quality challenges at its 11th annual summit held last Friday at the Disneyland Hotel. The group honored Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) with a Transportation Vanguard Award and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with a Transportation Visionary Award for their respective achievements: MAP-21 and America Fast Forward.
The meeting draws all major transportation firms, many construction and consulting firms, and leaders from Port of Long Beach officials to members of the California Transportation Commission to members of Congress. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Congressman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) focused on the need for sustainable federal transportation funding in his morning address to the entire assembly.
Finding funds for maintenance, repairs, or new projects is becoming a major challenge. General session speakers all focused on some facet of the financing problem:dwindling gas tax revenues, fewer highway funds, political gridlock, elimination of earmarks (Shuster said a ports and waterways bill up for renewal next year has traditionally been a list of earmarked projects brought forward by local representatives).
Luncheon keynote Jonathan Tisch, Chairman of Loews Hotels and Co-Owner of the New York Giants, told the gathering that gridlocked transportation networks impact his business. Upgrades, he said, will require financing via public-private partnerships. “Given the vast fiscal and budget challenges our nation faces – with rising retirement, health care and pension costs consuming ever-greater percentages of government budgets – we will not be able to build the world-class infrastructure America desperately needs by relying on traditional funding models.”
Speakers and sessions throughout the day discussed technological, sustainability, active transportation, or marketing initiatives (such as LA Streetcar’s outreach to the downtown business community) that also address congestion.
Shuster emphasized that his focus on infrastructure for goods movement serves his distant rural district as well as the nation as a whole. “The federal government should have a significant role in a national transportation system, providing infrastructure to promote commerce.” He mentioned a railroad bill that is expiring and up for renewal this year, and gave the audience an estimated total cost starting at $500 billion for national transportation improvements including goods movement projects. “How do we fund it? We need to consider all options. Tolling, oil exploration taxes, perhaps vehicle miles traveled in the future. Goods movement has to be a top priority, and getting to and from the ports has to be competitive. This is one way we can keep manufacturing jobs in America.”
General session speakers mentioned air quality in connection with goods movement and congestion issues, but it was also a focus of at least two panel discussions. Using the 710 Corridor project as an example, one covered goods movement infrastructure projects and public health from a community outreach and environmental quality report standpoint. An afternoon session focused on moving goods using low and zero emissions technologies, and Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Nick Sramek listed all the initiatives underway to reduce air pollution generated by port operations.
Mobility 21 launched a mobile web application at the conference, and urged attendees and the public to advocate for improving transportation in Southern California. Membership in Mobility 21 is free and open to all. Check back for more on this major conference.