Research Roundup: A Closer Look At Transportation Policies — Energy Security Is National Security

Despite transportation accounting for 70% of U.S. oil consumption, energy and transportation policy have historically been devised and implemented in wholly disparate spheres.

Transportation projects, whether highways, public transit, or port upgrades, are neither developed nor operated with any consideration for energy use.

These are just a few thought-provoking points argued in Transportation Policies For America’s Future: Strengthening Energy Security And Promoting Economic Growth (72p. PDF).

This new, critical document from Securing America’s Future Energy argues that, in fact, our transportation infrastructure policy today is at odds with efficient energy consumption objectives.

A former Director of National Intelligence, a former Secretary of the United States Navy, the CEO of Applied Materials, the President/CEOs of FedEx and Royal Caribbean International, along with several retired top military commanders are among the 21 prominent leaders who are working to build bipartisan support for a comprehensive, long-term policy to reduce U.S. oil dependence and to improve energy security.

They note that “hostile state actors, insurgents, and terrorists have made clear their intention to use oil as a strategic weapon against the United States.”

However, the findings of their report state that America’s transportation network exists almost entirely in a vacuum, with virtually no connection between how it is designed, how it is funded and how American families and businesses use it every day.

This has resulted in an inefficient system in which needs are not aligned with investment, cost is out of alignment with usage, and congestion is threatening to undermine any significant gains associated with recent improvements in vehicle technology and fuel diversification.
Furthermore, we leave ourselves exposed and vulnerable to those who would harm the nation.

 This report argues that while The United States has made genuine progress toward advancing energy security in the last decade, vehicle technology (e.g. fuel economy standards) and fuels (e.g. alternative fuel subsidies and mandates) represent just two pillars of the transportation equation.

The third pillar — infrastructure — is also critical to addressing our energy challenges.

Infrastructural improvements do not in and of themselves offer the opportunity to reduce oil consumption by a similar quantity as the other two “pillars,” but absent them, congestion could otherwise prevent the realization of gains associated with better vehicles and fuels. 

The document goes on to argue that with the current federal surface transportation legislation extenstion expiring in a few weeks (March 4, 2011), a growing confluence of factors make the next reauthorization bill a unique opportunity to bring it into alignment with our national strategic energy interests.

These factors include:

  • Growing bipartisan policy consensus that status quo solutions are incapable of producing positive results
  • Fiscal collapse of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which has focused policy attnetion on alternative funding mechanisms
  • Growing public discontent with deteriorating transportation performance
  • Advances in information technology

The report arrives at several recommendations, including:

  • Establishment of national standardized system performance metrics within the Department of Transportation and at the state level where projects receive federal funds, with reducing oil consumption as the principal performance metric
  • Creation of a new federal formula program which consolidates and eliminates duplicative programs, equal to 25% of total annual federal transportation funding and focusing on improving transportation system performance in metropolitan areas
  • Development of a $5 billion-per-year competitive program that makes funds available to congested metropolitan areas for comprehensive proposals that seek to design and deploy dynamic tolling, technology investments, innovative public transportation solutions and other travel demand management initiatives
  • Establishment of a Freight and Intercity Infrastructure Enhancement Program to maintain and improve highway and passenger rail capacity outside of metropolitan areas and along major freight corridors
  • Removal of federal legal restrictions on state tolling/pricing of new road capacity
  • Active promotion of long-term deployment of comprehensive, privacy-protective VMT fees that adequately account for fuel consumption externalities

The Council’s report should make everyone sit up and take notice.  This all-star panel of retired high-ranking military leaders and corporate CEOs makes a strong case for setting aside partisan and policy differences in the interest of securing the nation’s peace and stability through energy security.

Additional resources:

Securing America’s Future Energy website

Securing America’s Future Energy Press Release