Administration Calls for 18-Month Extension of Transportation Law
By Ron Thaniel
July 13, 2009
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a June 29 conference call with mayors, reiterated the administration’s position that an immediate 18-month extension of the current surface transportation law is needed so that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) can be replenished, and the administration can implement discrete, leading-edge, capacity-building measures that a long-term reauthorization should expand upon.
This builds on a June 17 statement by LaHood that stated, “As part of this (18-month extension), I am proposing that we enact critical reforms to help us make better investment decisions with cost-benefit analysis, focus on more investments in metropolitan areas and promote the concept of livability to more closely link home and work.”
An analysis by the USDOT shows that the HTF will be running short on revenue in late August or early September of this year. To extend the program 18-months at the baseline funding level will require $18 billion for the highway account and $2 billion for the transit account. Legislation would need to be passed by July 31 to avoid disruptions of highway projects.
The administration believes through an 18-month extension that opportunities can be created to put in place a limited set of reforms that can form the basis for further reforms in a full six-year authorization.
Although the House Highway and Transit Subcommittee approved The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 on June 24, it has been and continues to be very unlikely that Congress and the administration could complete a multi-year authorization of the massive federal surface transportation law by September 30 of this year. The current federal surface transportation program, which was authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005. The prior law, Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), was extended twelve times over two-years.
Stage I of Next Transportation Authorization
The administration’s core principles for the proposed 18-month reauthorization, which is considered “Stage I” of the broader reauthorization process, includes a general fund transfer to the Highway Trust Fund to maintain its solvency (it is the position of USCM that this clearly opens the door to metropolitan focused reforms in the extension). Other key points in Stage I include identifying revenue-raising measures that will reimburse the general fund for the transfer over ten years; state and MPO capacity-building measures that would be seen as a “downpayment” on longer-term improvements in data-driven decision making, transparency, and accountability; and measures to improve regional mobility and access and enhance the livability of all communities.
Regarding state and MPO capacity-building measures, the administration proposes $300 million to help states and localities build capacity for collection and analysis of data on transportation goals. States and MPOs that choose to participate would be given funding to establish project evaluation infrastructure, including information on usage or ridership, accidents and fatalities, average speeds and travel times, and environmental impacts. This voluntary program would provide participating entities the opportunity to integrate analysis into investment decisions and prepare for improved accountability standards and merit criteria in the long-term authorization.
Pertaining to increasing transparency, the administration is proposing stronger requirements for tracking and reporting on the projected and actual outcomes of state and local transportation investments that use federal dollars.
Regional Mobility, Livability Reforms
Of particular interest to USCM, the administration is supporting efforts to improve regional access and mobility and enhance livability of communities. Possible reforms in Stage I could include developing guidelines for multimodal regional access plans, establishing local transportation governance standards and best practices, and funding approved multimodal access plans. In addition, Stage I could include developing guidelines for community plans and providing funding for approved projects with special emphasis on convenience of transportation options, reduction in travel times, smart growth, preservation of open space, and more integrated responses to land use and transportation needs.
USCM’s Mobility Plan Offers Bold Vision for Sustainable Metro Investments
As the many issues pertaining to an 18-month extension and House action on the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 play themselves out, it is important that mayors meet with their members in House and Senate leadership and key transportation and finance committees, and urge them to support new-targeted metropolitan investment policies to ensure increased federal funding commitments to transportation infrastructure in cities and their metropolitan areas through the creation of a Metropolitan Mobility Program.
The mayors Metropolitan Mobility Program proposal ensures that traffic congested areas actually receive funding, and can budget for transportation investments that compliment centers of housing and employment.
Under the Conference’s proposal, new and existing federal surface transportation funds should be allocated (i.e., as following current suballocation practices, specifically local project selection) within states calibrated to the economic output of qualifying metropolitan areas. Project selection would coordinate transportation and land use using transit-oriented development with the measurement of increasing affordable housing investment near transit and employment opportunities.
Furthermore, project selection would include measurements based on a population’s density or compactness of cities within a metropolitan area. The Conference is recommending that MPO’s and MMA’s use those performance standards and national goals to develop mobility plans to accommodate new economic and population growth.