Monday, March 16, 2020

On Gas Pricing and Construction - Bits

For the past week it has seemed important to join with others in talking about physical distancing, flattening the curve, and other elements of trying to anticipate the wave of illness in the pandemic.

I'm not sure there is more to say now that is constructive, so maybe we can return to the regular programming for a while. It may be more sporadic, though, with City meetings canceled and on-going projects shifting to online modes or even slowed. Maybe some new topic will emerge, also.

Gas Prices

Somehow over at City Observatory, they've managed to notice things other than the pandemic. Last week there were a couple of good notes on gas prices.
The Observers write that with gas prices dropping precipitously, now would be an excellent time to implement a carbon tax to take up the slack in the drop.
We, like most economists, have long advocated for pricing carbon as a way to reflect back to consumers the environmental costs of their decisions. The predictable political opposition to that idea arises from the fact that no one wants to pay more for energy, particularly a gallon of gas (which is perhaps the most visible price in the US economy). Implementing a carbon tax as oil prices are falling would cushion the blow. A twenty-five center per gallon carbon tax would capture something like half of the value of the decline in oil prices–and could produce $35 billion in annual revenue to support projects to fight climate change. A carbon tax would also diminish somewhat the increase in vehicle miles traveled, air pollution, and greenhouse gases that would otherwise be triggered by cheaper gasoline. Similarly, it would serve as a valuable incentive to consumers not to purchase less fuel-efficient vehicles (which would likely happen if gas prices are consistently lower than $2 per gallon.

It’s never easy to implement a new tax. But there’ll never be a better opportunity to implement a carbon tax than when oil prices are dropping.
They also responded to a New York Times piece that was circulating among transportation folks that asked why in large metros transit ridership started falling around 2013. To the Times it seemed a little mysterious. But the Observatory had a culprit in mind:
There’s no question that bus ridership is down since 2013. But, with due respect to the authors: There’s no mystery here. We know exactly “who dunnit.” We have a smoking gun: It was gas prices.
We also saw this on the Marion and Center Street bridges. The crossing counts went up in 2014 after having plateaued for several years. Falling gas prices have been the primary driver of the increase in the second part of the decade.

It will be interesting to see, too, what the crossing counts are during and after the pandemic. It may be that we form some new patterns of telecommuting that are durable and persist beyond the pandemic. Or other changes in driving patterns. Just another thing to watch.


Since the New Holman Hotel hasn't broken ground, it seems very likely to be delayed or even outright canceled as a result of the coming recession and drop in conference bookings.

We're probably stuck with this for a while now
Site of old Marion Car Park and New Holman Hotel
While the Historic Landmarks Commission made demolition of the Marion Car Park conditional on initiating land use approvals, as a procedural element those approvals were distant enough from actual construction that we are now facing a gravel lot there for some time.

As with Belluschi Pond and Crater, the City should take greater care to ensure that structures aren't demolished prematurely and that demolition is tied to the actual commencement of construction on the replacement project.

Probably other projects also will go on hiatus. The City's published Notices have very much slowed already. As of today there is a single Public Notice for the Historic Landmarks Commission meeting on the 19th, which has been canceled and postponed to next month - though at this point it is hard to see very much happening in April also.

There are no other Notices posted after that, and this is a clear sign of a slow-down.

PSA from the Governator

via Twitter


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added awesome PSA from the Governator)

Mike said...

I absolutely agree that we need to raise the gas tax nationally to set a floor price of $5/gallon. The added tax revenue can go to fixing necessary roads and streets AND building complete transit. No new construction.

I have long suspected that the hotel site wouldn't happen. Right now I'm worried that the other downtown construction will just stop from a lack of money. I blame the past leadership of salem and the State (DAS) for funding and supporting edge of town development, which sucked up too much money to really get downtown and other urban construction going. I can only hope that with HB 2001 and a recession showing that suburban style development is a loser, that we will finally stop seeing auto-centric development.