Director William D. Ankner, Ph.D.
Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
on the Reauthorization of ISTEA
Monday, April 21, 1997

Senator Chafee, Secretary Slater, Governor Almond, others: It's a pleasure for me to be here this morning on behalf of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation... to express my strong support for the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), without significant changes.

Passage of ISTEA marked a sea change in the way federal transportation dollars can be spent. As opposed to relying on strict categories determined by Washington, ISTEA allowed states the flexibility to define their transportation needs... and finance most of them.

This is but one of the points where alternative transportation proposals, such as that offered by the Step 21 coalition, fall short.

It is as though we have not learned and grown through the ISTEA process over the past five years. Such proposals are a return to the "old ways" of doing business -- and definitely not the good old days. Simply put, the opponents of ISTEA just don't get it.

The Step 21 plan allows money to be spent on air quality programs, but doesn't mandate such programs. It speaks to public involvement, but basically guts all the essential public requirements gained through ISTEA.

Vague language replaces specific requirements and policies. Transit issues are not even addressed. Specific programmatic goals and polices are negated or deleted.

Perhaps one of the most difficult provisions of ISTEA for all states has been the fiscal constraint requirement associated with the development of a States' Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Quite frankly, it's caused us many a long night and a multitude of conversations.

However, due to the strong partnership requirements in ISTEA and the increased level of public involvement, these decisions have included wide representation from all affected parties.

No longer are all our transportation priorities determined solely be a select few. This is a major structural improvement that will likely be lost if ISTEA, as we know it, falls by the wayside.

They just don't get it. After finally bringing real public participation into the transportation decision making process under ISTEA, they would go back to the days of rubber stamps and public disconnection.

As noted by Governor Almond, some ISTEA alternatives like Step 21 would structure the new system based directly on each individual state's fuel taxes paid into the transportation fund. In essence, a state would only get out what it put in.

A state's transportation deficiencies and general need would have no role in the process of determining allocations.

Again, they just don't get it. Single Occupant Vehicles (SOV) and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) based funding formulas would result in more pollution, greater energy use and devastation of our mass transit programs.

We cannot turn our backs on the progress we have made in these areas, under the bogus refrain of equity.

No other federal program allocates resources on the basis of contributions. Resources are appropriated on the basis of need. It does not appear appropriate to totally change course at this time.

The ISTEA alternatives have no role for states and local governments managing their transportation systems. Technology solutions such as ITS seem absent from their programs.

Once again, they just don't get it.

We can't build our way out of congestion. We must manage our transportation needs.

For example. It's been shown that simply synchronizing our traffic lights can restore 10 to 15 percent of capacity during the average commute.

Every one minute improvement in incident response time saves four minutes of congestion. These are the kinds of improvements we must continue to focus on.

The ISTEA alternatives would also undercut national needs for local preferences. Here again, they just don't get it.

The basic structure of ISTEA is similar to that of an orchestra, with a combination of talented musicians and artful conductors performing together in a symphony.

The non-ISTEA solutions are akin to several individual musicians playing their own tunes, with a hope that they will somehow blend together as a unit. I believe we should do more than hope that our national transportation needs are being met.

The world has shrunk. Increasing interdependence means improvements made in California will certainly effect freight and people movement in Rhode Island. In concert with the federal government, we must continue to recognize and promote this interdependency connection.

ISTEA works. It works for our nation. It works for our highways and bridges that connect our cities. It works for transit. It works for Rhode Island. And it also works for smaller communities.

The transportation enhancement program has probably done more good in this regard than any other program in allowing federal dollars to meet basic local needs.

Just yesterday I had the opportunity to join Senator Chafee at Market Square Common in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Thanks to the Enhancement Program, the city center will be completely revitalized to accommodate motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in a completely integrated manner.

This type of project can revitalize a large city or a small town. It's a shame that those who would reverse this progress just don't get it.

In closing, the opponents to ISTEA cite many restrictions and obstacles to the implementation of ISTEA. We share some of their concerns. However, they just don't get it.

In many cases it's not the law that has caused the problems.. It's the regulations and procedures. A good example of this is a situation we faced in East Greenwhich, where we had to fix the staircase at the local courthouse.

Despite the relatively tiny amount of enhancement funds needed, we still had to comply with the standard federal guidelines -- making the project much more complicated than it should have been. We can, however, fix this problem by streamlining such requirements, without changing the fundamental structure of ISTEA. This is the kind of improvement we should be focusing on.

Consequently, in Rhode Island, along with my ISTEA Works group colleagues, we have developed a package of proposed legislative and regulatory changes, to help streamline and make improvements to ISTEA.

I feel very fortunate that my ISTEA Works colleagues have allowed me to be the first to present this list of improvements, which is included along with my written testimony. (Hold up list).

Instead of abandoning ISTEA, we should be working to improve the crucial benefits we have realized through ISTEA. Benefits such as (a):

- Recognition that the federal role extends beyond the interstate roadway to a matrix of roads, bridges and intermodal facilities that are multi-jurisdictional but essential to interstate mobility.

- Endorsement of a strong federal role in preventative maintenance for a sound national transportation system.

- Recognition of the importance of integrating all modes of transporting people and goods, particularly transit.

- Creation of the Enhancement and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality programs.

- Expansion of the role for public and MPO involvement in transportation planning and program development.

- Realization that we need to manage our transportation system. No longer are the DOT's simply builders and landlords... We are mangers of a transportation business.

It is these very strengths that we see lacking in major transportation proposals such as that offered by the STEP 21 coalition and others.

Before I conclude, I'd like to address an issue that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been discussed in any of the testimony to date. The issue is accountability. There is a role for the federal government to play. These dollars should not be parceled out as a block grant. The federal government has a right to see that they are getting the proper bang for their buck.

And they have a right to insist on performance criteria for allocation of federal resources. Performance measures and accountability must be woven into the ISTEA programs.

I want to once again thank you for the opportunity to speak here this morning. The task before this committee is not an easy one. However, I look forward to working with you to help put together a transportation act that's right for our nation and will allow our transportation system to prosper into the twenty-first century.

Thank you.