More NASTO Notes

Post date: Jul 22, 2012 9:40:55 PM

If you’re like me, sometimes it takes a few days (weeks) to sort out your notes from a conference or meeting. So, although time has marched on, there are several points from last month’s NASTO (Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials) conference in Baltimore that are (in my opinion) worth remarking and thinking about.

In no particular order:

Natural disasters really are disastrous and we really really need to plan for them – Those of us who were largely spared the worst effects of Hurricane Irene last year should not forget about how bad it really was in some places. Vermont’s transportation secretary, Brian Searles, described in detail the devastating impact of the storm, including widespread flooding and a complete disruption of parts of the transportation network. The state was cut in two by closure of the east-west mountain passes, and many towns could only be reached by helicopter. VTrans is still working on fixes in some spots. Vicki Arroyo, of Georgetown Climate Center, showed slides from the destruction in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina, including pictures of her own family, which always helps to put a human face on tragedy. The clear message is that we all need to step up our game in planning for natural disasters, which appear to be a growing part of our future. (FYI, this can happen anywhere. A couple of weeks ago both mainline rail connections between England and Scotland were shut down due to landslides caused by flooding.) On that point, Sonal Sanghavi, of Maryland DOT, talked about that department’s efforts to develop a comprehensive asset management system for drainage infrastructure, done in an ecosystem-based approach.

Funding is different from financing! – Thanks to Laurie Mahon of McKinsey, who gave a “master class” on the difference between the two, something I’ve been talking aboutwhenever I can. Financing schemes – debt and borrowing – don’t work without adequate funding – taxes, fees, tolls, fares – behind them. (Laurie also had some good guidance on how to make projects more attractive to investors.)

High-speed rail is still moving forward in the Northeast – Although California has gotten most of the attention lately, several speakers pointed out that planning and investment in HSR in the Northeast continues to advance, without nearly as much controversy. Just one item of interest: Bob Garrett of PennDOT noted that that agency is investing nearly half a billion dollars in the Keystone Corridor (although it owns no infrastructure and operates no service of its own there!) and is seeing explosive ridership growth and expanding TOD investment.

Transportation finance See my earlier post.

Best luncheon speaker ever – If you ever have a chance to hear a talk by Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, don’t miss it on any account.

Congrats to Jim Redeker – Connecticut DOT’s commissioner is the new NASTO president and offered some thoughtful remarks on how to position the transportation community to deliver and succeed in today’s difficult environment. Jim has a strong background in transit, transportation and land use, economic development, and strategic planning, and is a great choice for the coming year.

Congrats to Maryland DOT – As host agency, MDOT did the thoroughly professional job we always expect of them. They are still the benchmark DOT in my book. We will definitely miss Beverly Swaim-Staley, who has been a first-class CEO!