Happening Now

Midterm Election Transportation Takeaways

November 8, 2018

In the biggest win for transit infrastructure of the night...

The media’s focus has quickly shifted from the election results, to President Trump’s press conference, to the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

We’d like to back up and take a moment to highlight a few transportation takeaways from the 2018 Midterms this week.

Transportation Ballots

In the biggest win for transit infrastructure of the night, CALIFORNIA voters rejected an attempt to rescind a 2017 state gasoline tax. Through their overwhelming rejection of the repeal initiative, which failed 55 percent to 45 percent, voters protected $54 billion in additional infrastructure investment for roads, rails, transit, and ferries. It’s yet more proof that—when shown a clear, convincing plan for how the money will be invested locally—the public is willing to put its money behind infrastructure.

Though that was not the case in COLORADO where voters shot down two infrastructure initiatives: roads-only Proposition 109 and road-and-transit Proposition 110. Proposition 109 lost 61 percent to 38 percent, while Proposition 110 performed better at 59 percent to 40 percent. The law which put the propositions before voters requires Colorado’s secretary of state to propose another transportation measure for voters in 2019; we hope legislators can develop a more inspiring, future-looking transportation vision by then (i.e. include 21st century rail transit options).

With the passage of Amendment 11, FLORIDA voters struck a constitutional provision requiring the state to develop high-speed rail (while simultaneously reforming criminal sentencing rules and expanding the rights of foreign-born persons to own property, due to the bundled nature of voter initiatives in the state). The so-called “requirement” to develop high-speed rail is a hold-over from a voter initiative in 2000, repealed by voters in 2004. The private-sector Brightline will do just fine without any constitutional backing, so passengers shouldn’t worry about this.

General Transportation Takeaways

The Democrats convincingly took the House of Representatives. However, despite being outvoted in aggregate, Republicans saw gains in the Senate—partially due to a favorable set of contests, partially due to a structural advantage in the Senate for low-population rural states. Analysts predict that whatever happens with the House and the White House, this trend in the Senate is likely to ossify.

It also appears that national trends are intensifying: metropolitan areas are becoming a deeper shade of blue, while rural areas turn even more red. That means from a rail transportation perspective it is even more important that Amtrak continue to operate a robust and efficient National Network. If America is to have a sustainable federal program for rail transportation, it must have a rail network that serves urban and rural communities, Red and Blue states. Policymakers—and railroaders—would do well to keep this fact in mind during next year’s surface transportation reauthorization.

It's a good sign that Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConell both (very briefly) mentioned an infrastructure bill today.

Key Races
  • Sen. Bill Nelson trails Gov. Rick Scott by less than a single percentage point in Florida’s senatorial race. Sen. Nelson was the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which will play a crucial role in the 2019 transportation reauthorization. Gov. Scott’s first move as governor of Florida was to kill the planned Orlando – Tampa high-speed rail project, though he has had a mixed record with transit and the Brightline projects since.
  • Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Rail, is less than a percentage point ahead of challenger Josh Harder (D). Rep. Denham was in the running for the top Republican spot on the Transportation Committee following Rep. Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) retirement. Denham was fiercely anti-California HSR, but fairly supportive of Amtrak.
  • Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) will replace Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) as the senator of North Dakota. Rep. Kramer is a Rail Passengers Golden Spike recipient for his work in preserving and promoting the Empire Builder.
  • Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom became the next governor of California. During his victory speech, Newsom “committed” to completing the first phase of the high-speed rail project from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley.
  • Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) was defeated by challenger Colin Allred (D). Rep. Sessions frequently filed amendments targeting Amtrak’s National Network during his tenure in the House.
National Results (as of Nov. 7 – 3:00pm Eastern)
  • House: Democrats 221 – 196 Republicans (Democrats gained 26 seats)
  • Senate: Democrats 46 – 51 Republicans (Republicans gained 2 seats)
  • Governors: Democrats 23 – 25 (Democrats gained 7 seats)