The Trade Corridor Bulletin

Volume 15 – No. 3 | March 2021

Congress Revives Earmarks as Biden-Harris Administration & Lawmakers Prepare for Major Infrastructure Package

By: CAGTC Staff

President Biden, Source: White House Official Website

After signing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure into law earlier this month, the Biden-Harris Administration has shifted its focus to developing an infrastructure package. The White House is expected to produce a detailed plan in the coming weeks, which will likely be modeled after the “Build Back Better” proposal President Biden set forth during his campaign. Several congressional committees have already began drafting their titles for a surface transportation reauthorization bill, with Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Thomas Carper (D-DE) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) indicating they intend to move an infrastructure bill through their respective committees by the end of May.

Though there is consensus within Congress about the need for infrastructure investment, several Republican Members have voiced concerns regarding the upcoming bill’s scope. Congressional Democrats and the Administration are expected to incorporate a series of environmental improvement provisions throughout the legislation, which may jeopardize its chances of garnering bipartisan support. After a meeting with President Biden and seven other members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) emphasized that the reauthorization legislation must focus primarily on fundamental transportation needs, such as roads and bridges, asserting that “Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

Funding is also a point of contention. President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan proposes $2 trillion for infrastructure, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called for a “big, bold and transformational” investment. To pay for these major investments, the White House is reportedly considering rolling back corporate tax cuts. President Biden’s pledge to raise taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 annually could be another potential source of funding. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) predicted that no GOP lawmaker will support a “Trojan horse” infrastructure bill that includes a tax increase.

Without Republican support, Democrats may look to passing infrastructure legislation through budget reconciliation, a procedure that would allow them to circumvent the Senate filibuster and pass the bill by a simple 51-vote majority. Chair DeFazio and Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have expressed support for this approach. However, reconciliation bills are subject to specific requirements, particularly within the Senate, which would limit the provisions lawmakers can include in such a measure. For example, transfers from the Treasury’s General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) – which has been used in past reauthorizations to address the HTF’s insolvency – would likely violate Senate reconciliation rules, as would specific project funding, such as earmarks. Nonetheless, after the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package passed without a single Republican vote, President Biden stressed that he would prefer to advance infrastructure legislation on a bipartisan basis.

The likely return of earmarks – also called “Congressionally Directed Spending” or “Community Project Funding” – will also have implications for transportation spending under the 117th Congress. Last month, House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chair DeFazio published proposed guidelines to revive earmarks for annual appropriations bills and infrastructure legislation. Earmarks, a process by which legislators direct funds to specific projects, have a complicated history. After a series of high-profile controversies, including large sums of money directed to projects with little-to-no constituency, House Republicans banned the practice after winning a majority in 2011 and the Democrat-controlled Senate followed suit.

For fiscal year 2022 appropriations bills, Chair DeLauro announced new rules intended to ensure transparency and accountability for Community Project Funding requests. Members would be required to: publish funding requests online; certify that they, their spouse, and their immediate family have no financial interest in requested projects; and provide evidence of community support for requested projects. The Government Accountability Office will also periodically audit a sample of enacted earmarks. Additionally, Community Project Funding will be limited to one percent of total discretionary spending and Members may submit a maximum of ten project requests in an appropriations cycle.

Chair DeFazio, Source: Rep. DeFazio Official Website

Chair DeFazio subsequently announced that Members will be able to submit requests for highway and transit project funding in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill. The proposed process requires members to identify whether the project is included on the State, Tribal, or territorial transportation improvement program (STIP) or metropolitan transportation improvement program, provide funding sources for the full share of the project’s cost beyond the amount requested, and submit letters of support from the state or local project sponsor. Lawmakers will have the opportunity to testify about their infrastructure policy priorities during an April 14 Member Day hearing held by the Committee.

In the coming weeks, the Appropriations and T&I Committees will provide additional information regarding which accounts and programs will be eligible for funding requests and the criteria necessary for consideration.

While the Senate has not yet announced any formal requirements, Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has expressed support for the return of earmarks stating, “I have always believed that members of Congress have a better understanding of their communities than Washington bureaucrats.”

The House GOP caucus voted by secret ballot on March 17 to lift their conference ban on earmarks. Many Republican lawmakers felt that abstaining from the earmark process would limit their ability to secure projects for their constituencies in the upcoming infrastructure bill. Republicans in the Senate are separately considering amending their rules to allow party Members to submit earmarking requests, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saying he would defer to Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) on the issue. Chair Shelby stated he supports earmarks that are “meritorious and transparent” but that the decision would ultimately be made by the caucus.

Celebrating CAGTC’s Pathbreaking Women During Women’s History Month

By: CAGTC Staff

Rachel Vandenberg
Erin Aleman

CAGTC is celebrating Women’s History Month by profiling two of our own great female leaders, Rachel Vandenberg of Dewberry and Erin Aleman of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).  Vandenberg and Aleman both serve on CAGTC’s Board of Directors, providing us the benefit of their expertise and perspectives while guiding the organization through its 20th year and beyond.

A huge gap remains between the number of women and men working in the logistics and transportation sector. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, of the 8.5 million workers in the transportation and utilities industry, women made up just 24 percent. Both Vandenberg – a licensed professional engineer specializing in port and intermodal  development – and Aleman – an urban and regional planner in America’s freight rail hub, Chicago – have deftly navigated their respective careers in the traditionally male-dominated freight & logistics field and earned their positions as industry leaders.

As senior vice president and national director for ports and intermodal for the nationwide professional services firm Dewberry, Vandenberg advances goods movement infrastructure across highway, rail, and marine networks. With more than 25 years of strategic planning, engineering, and project management across multiple modes, she offers an expert understanding of the complex transportation networks that support the economic and social viability of our communities. She has managed relationships with a diverse client base that includes state departments of transportation, self-help counties, regional transportation and transit agencies, class-one railroads, cities, private operators and developers, and port authorities.

In 2019, Aleman was appointed unanimously to lead CMAP as the agency’s third executive director. In addition to being the first woman to serve as CMAP’s executive director, she is also the first professional planner to lead the agency. She has come full circle by rejoining CMAP, where she began her remarkable ascent fresh out of graduate school in 2007 as the agency’s Phillip D. Peters Regional Planning Fellow. Aleman brings more than a decade of accomplishments in developing transportation and land use policies to the agency as it embarks on implementation of ON TO 2050, the region’s long-term comprehensive plan to help the seven counties and 284 municipalities of northeastern Illinois improve quality of life.

Some common themes emerge when discussing leadership lessons with Vandenberg and Aleman. Whether transportation planning or engineering, it’s more about the people than the transportation mode, as all of our lives revolve around transportation and logistics. Each shares a passion for how infrastructure can facilitate a better quality of life and the role transportation plays in supporting the economic and social viability of our communities. Finally, the support of family was viewed as a critical success factor as their careers blossomed.

Our CAGTC staff sat down (virtually, of course) with Vandenberg and Aleman to gain their unique industry perspectives. Here are their insights:

CAGTC Staff: Is there one mentor whom you would point to as helping advance your career, and how did that person influence you?

Aleman: There are so many people who have influenced me and helped me along my career path. Because we are talking about freight, I’d have to say my dad, Sam. He retired last year after 30 years with UPS in Michigan. His dedication to making sure people on his route got their packages on time is always so amazing to me – especially because his job was both the first and last mile connection. While the number of packages grew over the years, he still made his job about the people. That’s one thing I learned from him.

Vandenberg: I’ve had several mentors that helped me grow in different ways at different points in my career. One mentor who jumps to the forefront was one of my first supervisors, Diane Steinhouser, who at the time was the newly promoted resident engineer for a significant Caltrans construction contract. Diane encouraged me to use my judgment to make time-critical decisions in the field. She provided a backstop to keep me out of trouble, advised me quickly and privately when she would have done something “differently,” and, through her actions, made sure that the contractor respected my authority. She put a lot of trust in me and challenged me to live up to that trust.

CAGTC Staff: For years the freight and logistics industry has been male dominated. Are there perspectives or skills that you believe women offer the industry that were previously missing?

Vandenberg: While men and women can both engage a range of traditional “masculine” and “feminine” management and problem-solving styles, I think women often seek a broader concurrence and coalitions to develop solutions that take advantage of multiple viewpoints.

Aleman: Whether your passion is numbers related or creative problem solving, there’s something for everyone. As women, we often sell ourselves short when it comes to the skills necessary to thrive in industries that are traditionally thought of as male-dominated.

CAGTC Staff: What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

Vandenberg: First, often there are fewer female role models, so women don’t have as many mentors to model behavior and style. Women can be lumped together as a monolith, so future women leaders need to be deliberate in defining their own success. Second, my professional success depended to a great extent on personal support from my partner and my family.

Aleman: I am consistently inspired by the young women in our organization – their passion and commitment to the field and making it better and more inclusive, not just for those working in the industry, but also for the public for whom we work. As for the biggest challenge, we are on the cusp of a major transition in our industry – electrification, automation, and the need for more resilient infrastructure. My hope is that we are putting the building blocks in place so that the next generation can run with them.

CAGTC Staff: What piece of advice would you give to women considering a career in your field?

Aleman: First, I would highly encourage any young woman contemplating the transportation, freight, and/ or logistics industry to give it a shot. There’s no better way to make an impact on your community than by getting involved in planning. I have a passion for the public side of planning because you’re able to help shape policy in a meaningful way. My perspective is that you can’t have lasting solutions unless you invite everyone to the table to be a part of the conversation.

Vandenberg: I was drawn to transportation because engineering solutions for our transportation system, by their very nature, require an understanding of the people and industries that use them. My advice to young women, and men, who are interested in transportation is to be ever curious and to seek new solutions to old problems, and new ones. We need the curiosity and inspiration of the next generation.

CAGTC Staff: Are there any questions on this topic that we should have asked, but didn’t?

Vandenberg: How can women’s voices best be heard in a male-dominated industry?

In a male- dominated industry, women’s views may sometimes be dismissed off-hand or women can be judged harshly for speaking with authority or showing ambition. This is where other women and our male colleagues can provide real support, often simply by being mindful to this tendency. The voices of our women in our industry can offer their greatest value only when they are heard.

Aleman: What would the world look like if more women — and members of other under-represented groups — worked in the transportation and planning fields?

As a mom, I spent lots of time pushing my kids around in strollers. It gave me an entirely new perspective on how our transportation infrastructure is largely focused on able-bodied people. Curb-cuts, ramps, elevators, sidewalks – these are critical elements that improve quality of life for people of all ages, stages of life, and abilities. This is the perspective we miss when we have a homogenous group of people building places. Our infrastructure also impacts who feels welcome and where. One of the core principles of our region’s 2050 plan is to have a region that is more inclusive, which is why our team works collaboratively with communities to build in that broad perspective from the beginning of our projects. I try to remind myself to ask who is missing from the conversation before we begin.

Industry News

USDOT Announces FY 2021 Round of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant Program

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced on February 16 it is seeking applicants for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 round of the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program. INFRA grants will fund transportation projects of national and regional significance that are in line with the Biden Administration’s priorities including creating good-paying jobs, improving safety, applying transformative technology, and explicitly addressing climate change and racial equity. The funding available for this year’s grants totals approximately $889 million.

The Department recognizes the role that infrastructure investment plays in economic development and job creation, and the added urgency of this funding at time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put stress on state and local budgets.

“As we work to recover and emerge from this devastating pandemic stronger than before, now is the time to make lasting investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We are committed to not just rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, but building back in a way that positions American communities for success in the future—creating good paying jobs, boosting the economy, ensuring equity, and tackling our climate crisis. The INFRA grant program is a tremendous opportunity to help achieve these goals."

Read the full release here.

Industry News

Association of American Railroads: Railroads Stake Out Positions on Addressing Climate Change

On March 1, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) outlined policy proposals aimed at safely and effectively combatting climate change. As the leader in fuel-efficient surface transportation, railroads know more must be done to drive down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Armed with the right policies, railroads – and the nation – can make real progress toward a cleaner, more sustainable economy.

“Policymakers, businesses and individuals must unite and act swiftly on smart, lasting solutions to fuel economic recovery and protect our environment,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Well-designed, economically sound policies can effectively drive the economy toward lower overall emissions, specifically in the transportation sector. Railroads stand ready to be a part of the solution.”

Today, railroads account for roughly 40% of U.S. long-distance freight volume – more than any other mode of transportation. At the same time, railroads account for just 2.1% of transportation-related emissions according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. If 10% of the freight shipped today by the largest trucks were moved by rail instead, GHG emissions would fall more than 17 million tons annually or the equivalent of removing 3.35 million cars from the road.

Read the full release here.

Industry News

FHWA Awards $18.7 Million to Eight Projects to Explore New Highway Funding Methods

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded $18.7 million in “Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives” (STSFA) grants to eight projects, led by six state Departments of Transportation and two transportation coalitions, to test new user-based funding methods for highways and bridges. The program helps states explore innovative new ways to provide long-term support for the Highway Trust Fund.

“The pilot projects under the STSFA program allow states to learn more about potential new user fees structures that can complement traditional funding sources that states rely on to build and improve the nation’s highway and bridge infrastructure,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack.

Since its creation in 2016, the STSFA grant program has provided $73.7 million to 37 projects in states across the nation. It funds projects that test the design, implementation and acceptance of user-based systems, such as a mileage-based fee. They also support outreach by transportation officials to help the public understand these new methods.

The “Fixing America's Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act directs the FHWA to establish the STSFA grant program to let states demonstrate new fee-based revenue mechanisms that could supplement the Highway Trust Fund. Among other things, the STSFA program requires applicants to address equity concerns, such as the fees’ impacts on differing income groups and geographic areas. It recognizes that a mileage-based, road-user charge system may potentially redistribute cost burdens among different users.

*Editor's note: Caltrans, a CAGTC member, received a grant in this year's round of funding.

Read the full release here.

Member News

Caltrans Unveils Vision for Future of Transportation

Moving around California three decades from now will be safer, cleaner and simpler with more mobility options under a plan Caltrans unveiled March 2. The California Transportation Plan (CTP) 2050 details the state's long-range transportation vision and establishes a roadmap to improve mobility and accessibility in the state while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to transportation.

The CTP 2050 is a comprehensive, ambitious plan that — as opposed to focusing on individual projects or budgets — examines wide-ranging policies and strategies to meet several key objectives, including:

  • Expanding economic opportunities through the easy, integrated movement of people, freight and services
  • Creating a low-carbon transportation system that protects public and environmental health
  • Advancing transportation equity and improving quality of life for Californians
  • Responding to current and emerging trends and challenges, including demographic and economic shifts, land use changes, and other factors
  • Enhancing safety and security on bridges, highways, and roads
  • Fostering healthy lifestyles through walking and bicycling paths
  • Harnessing potential changes in travel behavior, such as increased use of autonomous vehicles, shared mobility services and the effects of increased teleworktelehealth and distance learning, to reduce our reliance on driving
  • Supporting sustainable growth and affordable housing

Read the full release here.

Member News

PSRC’s New Visualization Tool Offers Insight into the State of the Transportation System

PSRC has debuted a new visualization tool developed to support the Regional Transportation Plan.

The tool is the culmination of research and data collection efforts on a variety of aspects of the transportation system begun last year. These included bicycle and pedestrian facilities, regional freight assets, traffic signals, Transportation Demand Management Programs, and specialized transportation services throughout the region. These data sets can be seen in context with other regional information such as demographics, regional centers, and transit stations among others.

Key findings from the research show:

  • Signal coordination is available on congested corridors
  • Just over half the region’s arterials have partial or full sidewalks
  • High capacity transit is available in 22 of the region’s cities
  • Most of the region’s population lives within the ADA transit service area
  • Over 3% of the bridges are in poor condition

Read the full release here.

Research News

ASCE 2021 Infrastructure Report Card Gives U.S. ‘C-‘ Grade

American Society of Civil Engineers

March 2021

The American Society of Civil Engineers unveiled their 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure on Wednesday, March 3. The nation earned a ‘C-’, up from 2017’s cumulative GPA of ‘D+’. This is the first time since ASCE began issuing the report card that the nation’s infrastructure has received a GPA outside of the D range.

The highest grade was the ‘B’ in the rail category, while the lowest was the ‘D-’  for the nation’s transit systems. The report finds that 45% of Americans lack reliable access to transit services. Eleven categories received grades in the ‘D’ range. The Report Card covers 17 categories of infrastructure pertinent to all Americans: , including a new stormwater chapter, and a spotlight on broadband. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the need for national broadband infrastructure has become more apparent than ever during the last year.

Between 2017 and 2021, five category grades increased while only one—bridges—decreased. This, combined with state and local governments’ commitment to improving infrastructure, indicate that infrastructure investment in the United State is trending upwards. However, 11 of the 17 categories received scores in the ‘D’ range: aviation, dams, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks, roads, schools, stormwater, transit, and wastewater. This demonstrates that much more work is needed to be done to improve the overall infrastructure network.

Read the full report here.

Research News

The Nation’s Top Truck Bottlenecks 2021

American Transportation Research Institute

February 2021

Since 2002, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has collected and processed truck GPS data in support of numerous U.S. DOT freight mobility initiatives. Using truck GPS data from over 1 million freight trucks, ATRI develops and monitors a series of key performance measures on the nation’s freight transportation system. Among many GPS analyses, ATRI converts its truck GPS dataset into an ongoing truck bottleneck analysis that is used to quantify the impact of traffic congestion on truck-borne freight at over 300 specific locations.  While other datasets may identify congested corridors, no dataset available today specifically identifies granular chokepoints in the nation’s truck freight transportation system.

Measuring the performance of freight movement across our nation’s highways is critical to understanding where and at what level investment should be made. The information provided through this effort empowers decision-making in both the private and public sectors by helping stakeholders better understand the severity of congestion and mobility constraints on the U.S. highway transportation system. This is of particular importance as the nation weighs the needs and resources available for transportation funding.

Read the full release here.