Federal Transportation Funding
In February of this year I, along with thirty-four other Governors, signed a letter urging Congress to address the critical need for a higher level of federal funding for transportation. There are two key actions that the Congress can take to make this happen.
First, fully fund the next national surface transportation act. At the current level of user taxes, approximately $26 billion dollars could be spent annually from the Highway Trust Fund without exceeding the limits set by the Byrd Amendment. The current level of federal-aid funds being authorized for funding to the states is only $20 billion per year. Annual obligational limits set by Congress under ISTEA have been far below the apportionment levels set by the act. The large balance in the highway and mass transit funds will continue to grow and be unavailable for transportation investment unless Congress discontinues this practice.
A second step would be to end the diversion of the 4.3 cents in federal fuel taxes now going to the General Fund for deficit reduction. Highway user revenues should be dedicated to transportation purposes. This action would result in the addition of over six billion dollars annually to the Highway Trust Fund each year.
Just these two actions alone would result in an additional $12 billion dollars a year and a total annual federal-aid highway program of $32 billion. All without having to raise any additional highway user taxes.
Lack of Adequate Funding -- Not surprisingly, the primary problem which faces Idaho in respect to its transportation system is a lack of adequate funding. A 1995 Highway Needs Assessment Study reported that there were over $4.1 billion dollars in total highway and bridge needs for the seven year period from 1994 through 2000. The needs are there, but the funding is not.
Under ISTEA, Federal funding for highways has been about $20 billion per year with another $25 billion being spent by state and local governments. Obviously, this amount of funding will not meet our needs, and unless the level of funding is increased, the condition of our highways and bridges will continue to deteriorate. Unfortunately, the percentage of total highway funding being provided by the federal government has declined over the last ten years. State and local governments have assumed the majority share of the transportation financing burden. If we are to begin to address the problems which face us, then the federal government must strengthen its role in the partnership by reversing the decline in its share of transportation funding.
Program Flexibility and Streamlining
A second area that I feel is important to discuss with you is the relationship between the federal, state and local levels of government. Congress should streamline and simplify the programs and processes through which federal funds flow to the states. Much of the flexibility promised by ISTEA does not exist because the federal agency regulations that followed were overly prescriptive and specific.
Each state has unique characteristics, circumstances and problems which cannot be dealt with by a "one-size-fits-all" solution from the federal level. Congress should provide the states with the flexibility needed to address their own priority transportation needs. State planning systems should determine where best to spend funds and which projects to choose in order to meet the transportation needs of the entire state. Idaho and other states have and will continue to promote cooperative, joint decisionmaking between federal, state, and local jurisdictions in order to provide the best transportation system possible. Rigid funding and planning requirements, set- asides and suballocation of funds serve to limit flexibility, distort state priorities and result in a less effective and efficient transportation system.
Mandates and Sanctions
A final area I would like to address briefly on the reauthorization process is unfunded mandates and sanctions. Legislation introduced by Senator Kempthorne and passed into law by Congress has been of great benefit. There will continue to be efforts, however, to force unfunded mandates upon the states. Mandates imposed upon the states should be fully funded or else be rejected by the Congress. In addition, there is an ever increasing use by the federal government to use sanctions rather than incentives to achieve national goals. Many federal-aid transportation programs impose sanctions, usually the loss of federal funds, in order to get the states to comply with the stated goal. The effect of these sanctions is to distort state spending into areas which may not be a priority for the state or the best use of those funds. I believe that the use of incentives is a more effective and productive way to encourage states to achieve national goals. Congress should avoid the use of sanctions, particularly when they are not directly related to the goal sought.
To begin, I will say that from my perspective as the Governor of Idaho, there are many things about ISTEA which have been good for our state, including the development of a better working relationship between the federal, state and local governments. Though it still needs to be improved, the increased level of responsibility and flexibility given to state and local governments for the funding and management of their transportation systems has also been positive. Most importantly, ISTEA gave recognition to the value of transportation in and through rural states like Idaho by apportioning a reasonable amount of funding to those states. Any new bill enacted by Congress should not only continue these positive aspects of ISTEA, but should strengthen them as well.
Idaho is unique in many ways and presents a number of challenges to providing a transportation system which efficiently connects the diverse regions of our state. Idaho covers more than 83,000 square miles and is more than 500 miles long from the Canadian border to Nevada and 300 miles wide along the southern border. To travel from Coeur d'Alene through Boise to Pocatello, the state's second largest city, is a journey of more than 600 miles. Over forty percent (40%) of the state is forested and sixty-four percent (64%), or nearly two-thirds of our land area is under Federal ownership.
Our population is only 1.2 million, making Idaho one of the most sparsely populated states in the nation. But our population growth has been very high in the 1990's, ranking second in the nation for the years 1990 -- 1994. Idaho's economy has also been growing at a rate far above the national average. Our traditional economic base of agriculture, mining and forestry products has been joined by tourism, manufacturing and high-tech industries as part of this economic growth. From 1987 -- 1994 high-tech employment grew by sixty-two percent (62%) and non-agricultural exports by over two hundred percent. Our growing population and economy are both highly dependent on providing and maintaining a well-connected intermodal transportation system.
As a final topic I would like to talk to you about Idaho highways. The 5,000 miles of our State Highway System cover large distances and many extremes in geography and terrain. High mountain ranges, steep, narrow river canyons, lava beds, and thousands of rivers and lakes all present formidable, and very costly, obstacles to highway construction.
To illustrate the challenges and opportunities we face in Idaho, I have chosen to specifically discuss our major north -- south route, US-95. I chose this route because I believe that over its 540 mile length it is a good representative of all highways in Idaho.
Characteristics -- US-95 runs down the length of the state from the Canadian border at Eastport to the border between southwestern Idaho and Oregon.Much of the route remains as a two-lane highway, often narrow and winding. As was shown in our opening video, the route passes through every type of terrain from the mountain valleys and rolling hills of the Palouse in the north to the sagebrush deserts and farmlands of southwest Idaho. In between, it passes through the steep and narrow canyons of the Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers. US-95 provides tourist access to resort cities and to the wilderness areas of central Idaho. In southern Idaho it provides the rich farmlands, orchards and vineyards of the Snake River plain with access to markets and processing plants. It is also unique in that it is the only in-state route connecting the northern and southern parts of Idaho. In a state which is cut virtually in half by mountain ranges, the maintenance of this single link through the Salmon River canyon is critically important.
Needs -- In 1996 the Idaho Transportation Department completed a needs analysis of US-95 which estimated that it would require a $335 million dollar investment over a ten year period to widen narrow sections of the highway to a minimum width of 34' and to correct existing bridge, pavement and safety deficiencies. An annual investment of almost $35 million dollars would be required to bring this route up to the standards where it should be. That amount is larger than the current annual federal-aid apportionment of National Highway System funds being received by Idaho. Without a significant increase in Federal funding, the prospects for completing these needed improvements to US-95 are not good. These same arguments for funding could be applied to many of the other major highway routes in Idaho.
NAFTA -- Passage by Congress of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has greatly increased the economic opportunities for trade between Canada, the United States and Mexico. These new opportunities have increased the importance of fast and efficient ways to move goods north and south across our country. The entrance of US-95 from Canada into Idaho at Eastport has become a critical freight transportation route. Since 1987, the volume of commercial truck traffic entering Idaho at this port has more than doubled, from 22,000 to 46,000 trucks a year. Much of this traffic is Canadian wheat and other products destined for Idaho's seaport at Lewiston, where it will be barged down the Snake and Columbia Rivers to Portland. US-95 also serves as a connecting link to the east-west routes of 1-90 to Seattle in Coeur d'Alene and to 1-84 near Payette. It continues south to meet 1-80 at Winnemucca, Nevada, which provides access to California. US-95 also serves the Intermodal rail facility at Nampa, Idaho.
High Priority Corridor -- Section 1105 of ISTEA recognized and allocated federal-aid funding for high priority corridors throughout the United States in recognition of their importance to the national highway system. I would urge the Subcommittee members to give the same designation and consideration to US-95 within Idaho during the reauthorization of ISTEA.