Economic Development Research Group Blog

Resilience Economics in Action: The Example of US-101 in California

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Many MPO’s and state DOT’s are beginning to assess not only their vulnerability to transportation system failures caused by natural disasters and weather-related events, but also the wider economic consequences of potential future infrastructure system failures.  As such events may increase in frequency with aging facilities and climate change, understanding the economic consequences of these events should be at the core of any resiliency analysis.  To address this issue, two fundamental questions need to be considered: What are the economic consequences of failures in a transportation system caused by weather or other natural disaster events? What cost-effective transportation solutions can best avoid, mitigate, or quickly respond to these potential failures? Quantifying the scale of economic losses due to a disruption in the transportation system highlights how much of the economy is exposed to natural or weather-related disasters.  This assessment can be used as a benchmark to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of various...
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The Missing Link in Resilience Planning (Resilience Series - Part 3)

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Growing up in the Swiss Alps, the natural hazard I was most aware of as a child was avalanches. My village was especially exposed to this risk. When the road to access the villages in the valley was improved by partly covering it with avalanche sheds, this was regarded as a huge step towards reducing the number of days in winter during which the villages were cut off from the outside world. However, something in the planning process must have gone wrong: The avalanches still tended to bury the road with snow where it had not been protected by sheds. Obviously, while some segments of the road had been made resilient, the road as a whole, with its unprotected segments, was still vulnerable. Traffic engineers know that capacity improvements on a highway can only work as far as adjacent intersections also allow for a higher throughput. The network’s weakest link determines...
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Household Vulnerability and Resilience Assessment (Resiliency Series-Part 2)

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Katrina . . . Wilma . . . Irene . . . Matthew . . . Harvey . . . Great Smokey’s Fire . . . Mendocino . . . Sandy . . . Maria . . . Irma . . . Camp Fire . . . Michael These are just some of the “named” events that have brought wide-spread damage to U.S. infrastructure and households since 2005. And this does not begin to cover the floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other “un-named” natural disasters that have befallen the U.S. in the past 14 years. From 2005 through June of 2017, 212 major natural disasters in the US produced $1.2 trillion in directly related damage and 9,680 deaths ( Washington Post, October 20, 2017 ). This does not even consider the events of 2018. With this as background, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) of 2018 points in the direction of even...
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Investing in Climate Resilient Cities (Resiliency Series-Part 1)

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About 85% of the U.S. population lived in cities in 2015 (Census FactFinder). These urbanites are subject to unique impacts of climate change, as highlighted by the Fourth National Climate Assessment , released in November 2018. The Climate Assessment provides an update on indicators of climate change, including rising average global temperatures, extreme high temperature events, and more frequent heavy precipitation. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking with four high-intensity hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria). And rainfall associated with hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific is predicted to increase due to warmer temperatures. Some studies predict increased frequency and severity of thunderstorms across the United States. At the same time, sea level rise increases coastal flooding risks from weather events. More extreme and rising temperatures mean that in addition to flooding, drought and associated wildfires have also occurred in recent years, including the 2011-2017 California drought. City...
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Resilience: Beyond the Buzzword

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This fall, Hurricanes Florence and Michael presented a story that is sadly familiar. Disaster strikes, the waters recede and reveal the damage. A national conversation on resilience ensues. Will we be prepared next time? Can we be stronger than the storm? In adapting our infrastructure for a changed climate, the impetus for action is clear. However, translating resilience from buzzword to action is a generational challenge for planners. Understanding the history and meaning of the concept is a good place to start. Here goes. Resilience is not new. The Ancient Romans, for example, were very concerned with protecting their critical infrastructure: military roads, agricultural stores, aqueducts. The earliest Roman aqueducts were built underground to protect them from erosion and military attack. Like the barbed-wire fences surrounding modern airports, Emperors forbade planting and, presumably, loitering near their monumental works. Like ancient civilizations, we put systems in place to protect our critical infrastructure....
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Resilience and Social Equity

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Resilience has emerged as a significant consideration in developing long-term transportation plans in response to US DOT’s Climate Change and Resiliency initiatives.  The focus has been on hardening existing and planned infrastructure and assessing risks and recovery for key elements of the transportation system.  These efforts have focused on facility and human vulnerabilities, and on operational recovery.  However, as we have seen repeatedly, identifying “vulnerability” and assessing resilience and recovery for populations often ignores the unique needs, resource deficits and challenges faced by low-income and minority populations.    These issues are reminiscent of the debates about environmental equity of 25 years ago that led up to the issuance of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. [1]   The disproportionate effects of lack of preparedness and recovery from natural and man-made disasters are just as profound (and potentially more-so) as those arising from deliberate investment decisions made by government agencies and sources of...
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Measuring the STEM-Intensity of Your Region

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I recently participated in a workforce roundtable at The Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER’s) annual conference in Atlanta. C2ER is a membership organization comprised of economic researchers and data providers from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. This year’s conference theme was “RISE: Resiliency, Innovation, Skills, Equity,” which inspired me to present on workforce data and how it can be used to find job opportunities for people who don’t have a college degree. My presentation explained how STEM occupations—those requiring knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math—are often thought of as well-paying, white-collar jobs held by people with high levels of education. These include engineers and scientists, for example. In reality, there are many occupations that require a level of STEM knowledge and still pay well but are accessible to people without a college degree. These include jobs like arborists, diesel mechanics, electricians, and land surveyors. This disconnect is...
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Value Capture, Transportation Investment, and Joint Development

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The Transportation Research Board's (TRB's) National Cooperative Research Highway Research Program (NCHRP) recently released Report 873: Guidebook to Funding Transportation Through Land Value Return and Recycling. With ongoing conversations at every level of government about the best and most equitable ways to pay for our transportation infrastructure, the distribution of benefits created by infrastructure, and the long-term sustainability of our land development patterns, this guidance could not be timelier. Value capture can be an important tool in the transportation toolbox because (a) it is an often-overlooked source of potential revenue and, (b) if pursued wisely can yield better outcomes overall by shaping development patterns to take advantage of a well-performing transportation system (or in some cases, creatively reusing currently underutilized space adjacent to transportation infrastructure). For this project, EDR Group, working as part of a team led by Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), documented the implementation of a variety of value...
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Welcome to TRB 2018

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Click find for a schedule on where to find us during the conference  
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Community Energy Initiatives: Evaluating Their Achievements

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Energy program evaluation has sure changed! Programs to support efficiency in energy use and renewable power sources go back 40 years, following oil crises in the 1970s. Utility companies were mandated to provide incentives to users via “demand side management” conservation programs. These were followed by public rebates for investment in renewable and efficient technologies. The programs were evaluated for effectiveness, and initially there was great concern about net benefits -- not counting “free riders” (who would have made the energy efficient choices even without the program). EDR Group was a part of these evaluations from its beginning in the late 1990s, and our work featured measurement of both economic impacts and net benefits. Now today, we are in a world where energy solutions are more broadly appreciated for their economic, social and environmental sustainability benefits.  And now we are seeing sustainable energy initiatives being taken by residents and municipalities –...
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Economic Impact Tools and Models: Are they Useful?

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Infrastructure investment proposals can generate intense public discussion , and when it occurs, there is almost inevitably talk about how the project will (a) hurt the local economy, (b) save the local economy or (c) both. When the latter occurs, it is often because there are two factions – supporters and opponents. Of course, what is often missing is objective information to help guide and control these fears, hopes and allegations. That is where economic models and tools both come in. What is the difference between models and tools? EDR Group has been working in this field for 20 years now, and yet we still see ample confusion on this topic. Here’s a try at answering the question: A TOOL helps people carry out a function, so a “decision support tool” can be any method or process that helps people assess alternatives. In the case of transportation investments, this includes benefit-cost...
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3 Reasons to Invest in a Transit Economic Blueprint

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The President’s federal budget proposal proposes $2.4 Billion in transportation spending reductions – including significant cuts in federal transit programs. Meanwhile, states from  Georgia  to  Oregon  and places in-between have looked to increase state transit funding and there is growing discussion about the role of public-private-partnerships (PPP)’s in funding transit improvements. These changes create an environment in which transit systems and proponents must make a more compelling case than ever before to business and economically savvy audiences demonstrating their economic role. It is time for states and regions to take stock of what is really at stake in transit investment.  A State or Regional Transit Economic Blueprint  can be understood as a regional study showing the role of transit in the economy, and mapping out the rationale for future investment strategies. Areas like  Hampton Roads , Virginia,  Fairbanks Alaska  and  Austin Texas  in the last year have undertaken significant efforts to define the...
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Innovative Infrastructure Finance

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Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the condition of U.S. infrastructure on a scale of A through F. Since 1998, America’s infrastructure has earned persistent D averages. Underinvestment is a much-studied topic. EDR Group’s recent report on this issue to ASCE "Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future” found that the most significant investment gap across all types of infrastructure is in the transportation sector, where $1 trillion in additional investment is needed over the next ten years.  The U.S. funds federal spending on highway and transit projects through a variety of user fees that pay into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Fuel taxes contribute the largest share of revenues by far. In FY 2014 they constituted 87% of the HTF’s tax revenues . However, over the past 10 years spending from the HTF began exceeding revenues, a condition forecast to...
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Securing Grant Funding for your Rural or Freight Project

To secure funding for projects through the federal TIGER or FASTLANE grant programs, it is critical to demonstrate not only a great project in terms of benefit-cost ratio, but also why the project has economic consequences. Successful TIGER grants for highway or bridge projects have tended to go to applicants who can show community or regional benefits. The new FASTLANE grant program seeks applications that can demonstrate national freight significance and visible economic outcomes. Rural and freight projects can easily be overlooked if the sources of benefits are not understood to go beyond the regular travel time, reliability and mileage savings. In rural areas, where traffic volumes are often low – a strong accessibility and livability case can be essential to a strong application. In 2014 EDR Group performed the Benefit-Cost analysis for the largest TIGER award given that year – the Kentucky Mountain Parkway Extension. Access to state parks, health...
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Moving Your Audience: Communication Strategies in Transportation Research https://t.co/H3myYXDjW4
It’s Amazon vs. Braintree in suit over delivery signage. EDR Group's Peter Plumeau quoted. https://t.co/VF0dlaj4YUhttps://t.co/wpFhxe8NLz
RT @city_viewer: This article aligns well with #EDRGroup's work on the relationship of transportation investment to site selection decision…
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