Transportation Leader Calls for New Financing Approach

Sat February 23, 2008 - West Edition
CEG



In a keynote address to the California Municipal Finance Conference Feb. 6, Bill Dodd, chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA), endorsed sweeping changes in transportation finance policies across the United States.

Citing a newly released report by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Dodd, who is also a Napa County supervisor, said overall transportation investment will have to jump by $140 billion a year just to forestall further deterioration of America’s roads, highways, bridges and transit systems, and that the United States will need to invest an extra $250 billion annually if the National Commission’s goal of creating and sustaining the world’s pre-eminent transportation system is to be achieved. These funds, Dodd noted, should come from a combination of public and private investment — including more extensive tolling, and the creation of new partnerships between public agencies and private investors.

“I know the idea of raising new revenues isn’t very popular,” Dodd acknowledged. “But whether you’re looking at the potholes on Napa County roads, the traffic jams through Jamieson Canyon, or the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis last summer, we’ve got a transportation system that is poorly maintained, excessively dangerous, seriously overcrowded and woefully underfunded.”

Dodd argued that the issues are important enough to start making big changes in the way we finance transportation in this country, and suggested that the Bay Area’s experience with the financing of toll bridge projects like the new Carquinez Bridge may serve as a model for partnerships involving highways and other kinds of transportation facilities.

“Our goal has been to make sure Bay Area toll payers get the biggest bang for their buck. BATA has more than $5 billion of bonds outstanding, and we set a target of keeping interest rates below 5.85 percent. But by working closely with the investment community to achieve the lowest possible financing costs, the average effective rate on those bonds is just 4.35 percent.

“The bottom line on all this,” Dodd added, “is that a strong transportation system that moves both people and freight efficiently — via roads, bridges, highways, rail, bus or ferry — is absolutely essential to America’s economic well-being and to our quality of life.”

MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.