The return of reality-based governing?

In the past few weeks, both Maryland and Virginia raised revenue to fix aging transportation infrastructure. And they ensured that future revenues would increase with inflation.

The revenue packages are quite different, reflecting each state’s uniquely messy political realities. But for the first time in a long time, they make genuine progress in solving the region’s transportation problems.

For more than 20 years, Maryland, Virginia, just about every other state, and the federal government have failed to raise gasoline taxes as inflation slowly eroded purchasing power.

It should not be remarkable that two governments have realized that if you want something, you have to pay for it. But it is. And perhaps this is the beginning of the end of the magical thinking that has paralyzed our policymaking in general and for transportation in particular. At least 15 states have either announced or enacted plans to raise new revenue to fund transportation programs in the last year. The states have used a variety of tools to collect those dollars, including raising motor fuel taxes, issuing bonds, and raising toll fees.

The next reality transportation policymakers must face is the reality of climate change. We have to make our transportation infrastructure more resilient to the expected worsening of storms, floods and droughts. We also have to reduce transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions. We have made significant progress in improving vehicle efficiency, but more can be done, including investing in alternative vehicles and fuels. We also need to reduce vehicle miles traveled by driving less, carpooling or using public transportation.

We must keep these imperatives in mind as we allocate these sorely needed new transportation resources.