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NATPO Holds 60th Annual Conference in Providence

Fri September 07, 2007 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

Covering Ontario to Philadelphia, New Brunswick to New Jersey, The North Atlantic Transportation Planning Officials (NATPO) held its 60th annual conference at the Westin Hotel in Providence Aug. 12 to 14.

The NATPO conference brought together planning officials from the transportation agencies of the northeastern Canadian provinces and states from Maine to the District of Columbia and planners from regional planning agencies, the Federal Highway Administration and consulting firms.

And all with an eye on the future of building transportation corridors — how best to plan them, construct them and — critically for all involved — how to fund them.

NATPO 2007 was a must event for federal, provincial, state and regional transportation planning organizations, consultants, municipalities and metropolitan planning organizations. This annual conference provides the opportunity for member states/provinces and transportation planning consultants to share experiences, exchange ideas and meet new people.

It covered a wide range of timely multi-modal transportation planning topics and presented a unique opportunity for transportation planners to share experiences through a formal speaker program during the day and at evening social gatherings, which included a ferry trip to Newport with a reception at the Ocean Cliff Mansion.

The conference was jointly hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program (RISPP) with Robert A. Shawver from RIDOT and Katherine Trapani from RISPP serving as co-chairs of this year’s conference.

Shawver reported that the conference “was an overwhelming success with excellent attendance, and with a large contingent of officials from the Canadian provinces.”

Officials came from 19 states and provinces including Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island, Puerto Rico, Quebec, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Traditionally, the conference alternates between the States and Canada. Next year, on Aug. 10 to 12, the conference will be held in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, near Niagara Falls. This is the first time in 26 years that the conference has been held in Rhode Island.

Visionary Presentations on Planning

The two-day event began strongly at the Aug. 12 general session with a visionary presentation by the keynote speaker, Kip Bergstrom, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council. Bergstrom made the case for the development of truly high-speed rail transportation within the northeast region based on its ability to expand the geographic scope of face-to-face networks among collaborating innovators.

“High speed rail is commonly thought of as a way to mitigate highway congestion, free up limited air capacity for longer haul trips, and promote smart growth,” said Bergstrom. “While these are valid aims, high speed rail can play an even more important role in deliberately aggregating economic capability at the mega-regional scale, just as the interstate highway system accidentally aggregated economic capability at the metro scale.”

Shawver added that this year’s conference had a particularly strong speaker program, which generated much interest from the participants. The topics covered in the strong presentations varied widely, reflecting the diversity of the transportation planning profession itself.

Some topics covered included: “Planning for Smart Growth,” “Traffic Calming,” “Data Sharing and Exchange,” “Hurricane Evacuation Planning” and “Highway Safety Planning.”

Of special interest to the participants were the presentations relating to transportation financing issues, particularly the difficulties in procuring federal and state highway and building funds to repair and rebuild the tens of thousands of bridges and roads across the 19-state region.

“There is a looming crisis in funding for transportation in the United States, both at the national level and at the local level,” wrote Jeffrey N. Buxbaum, principal of Cambridge Systematics Inc., Cambridge, Mass. “The Federal motor fuel tax has not been raised since 1993, and the highway trust fund is expected to go into deficit by 2009. Most states have had difficulty raising revenue for transportation.”

His talk summarized recent trends in transportation finance, initiatives underway at the national and local level, and new opportunities and pitfalls that arise from techniques such as public private partnerships, long term concession agreements, tolling and congestion pricing.

His speech was augmented by Joung H. Lee, senior analyst for Transportation Finance and Business Development at AASHTO, in Washington, D.C.

Lee’s presentation discussed the current national surface transportation funding picture in two ways. First, the immediate solvency crisis facing the federal Highway Trust Fund in 2009 and 2010, due to a significant revenue shortfall, with possible options to avert this situation presented to the group. Second, Lee discussed long-term strategies to maintain and improve highway and transit program funding in this country for the next 25 to 30 years.

“Yes, planners are very concerned with finances. As the Joung Lee presentation shows, the needs are much greater than the funding currently available,” said Shawver. “Jeff Buxbaum was involved in the study of the Massachusetts transportation financing problems and also the national chamber of commerce study identifying the National Highway Trust fund future deficit.”

The host state of Rhode Island featured a session on its major construction project — the $600 million relocation of Interstate 195 — with videos of the impressive transport of the project’s 5.5-million-lb. (2.5 million kg) signature bridge by barge 12 mi. (19 km) up the Narragansett Bay to Providence.

The rest of the agenda, in part, was as follows:

• Multi-State Multi-Modal — Ralph Nicosia-Rusin of the FAA, spoke on New England Regional Airport System Plan; Marygrace Parker of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, addressed Northeast Rail Operations; Robert Kunkel, Short Sea Shipping Cooperative, spoke on the Marine Highway.

• Financing — Jeff Buxbaum, Cambridge Systematics, and Brian Schattle, chief financial officer of the R.I. Airport Corporation, spoke on the drying up of state and federal funding for major projects in the region. Schattle also led a discussion on the financing model for the $222.5 Warwick Intermodal Facility — connecting high-speed rail to the state airport, and the strategy and plan — and the implementation process to secure the necessary financing.

• Data Sharing and Exchange — by Peter Davies, Castle Rock, Timothy Boesch, Wilbur Smith Associates, and Rob Tardif, Ontario Ministry of Transport

• Planning for Smart Growth — Kevin Flynn, R.I. Division of Planning and David Costello, Maryland Department of Planning

• Making Transit Work — by Tim McCormick, R.I. Public Transit Authority; Ben Miller, Vineyard Fast Ferry; Professor Richard Sheridan, University of Rhode Island; and Jason Hellendrung, Sasaki Associates

• Rhode Island’s I-Way — Relocation of I-195 by Lambri Zerva, Frank Corrao and Bob Shawver, all of RIDOT. CEG

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