I appreciate the invitation by Senator Smith, Chairman Warner and Senator Baucus to appear before you today to express my thoughts on the very important issue of reauthorizing the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), specifically in the areas of environmental programs and planning.
Speaking on behalf of the State of New Hampshire. We believe that ISTEA has worked as an effective successor to the Interstate Era, and successfully has served the entire nation. New Hampshire joins with several other States in supporting reaffirmation of ISTEA without significant changes.
We believe that the original aims of ISTEA are still the right way to go: by placing more responsibility on State and local governments, by providing greater flexibility, by recognizing that transportation needs vary from State to State and within a State improving regional planning efforts, and by giving equal consideration to all modes of transportation.
New Hampshire supports the maintaining of a strong federal role in transportation, including funding for federal clean air mandates through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Program (CMAQ).
We support the need for long-term, consistent federal capital investment in transportation, that continued investment is needed to maintain and encourage economic growth.
While the objective of this hearing is to gather comment on the environmental programs and planning aspects of ISTEA, we feel it is important to note the goal of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was to achieve a balance between the impacts and mitigation of a project. But a fractured regulatory permit system sometimes requires an agency to unbalance or block actions that may greatly benefit the welfare of affected citizens.
We suggest stronger emphasis be placed on the need to achieve balanced resolutions by those federal agencies assuming an advisory and regulatory role in the NEPA decision-making process.
Some Suggestions for Improving the Transportation Planning Provisions of ISTEA: By making optional many of the mandates, the States could conform to the spirit of ISTEA while tailoring a process that better meets the needs of the individual state's citizens. For example: eliminating the mandate for management systems has allowed different States to devise systems appropriate to support their decision making.
For the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the requirements for a twenty year project-specific, financially constrained plan should be changed. A twenty year plan should be more realistically based on goals and strategies to establish a direction for planning activities. Such a plan obviously cannot be financially constrained in the strict sense now required.
For the States and MPOs, the public process should be simplified. Instead of encouraging public involvement we have driven people away with the number of meetings we hold. When compounded with the meetings we need for TIP and STIP amendments. We suppress public involvement.
We support continuance of the transportation enhancement concept. We suggest, however, that reauthorization enable States an option to process small projects (e.g. under a value of $50,000) as grants, thereby avoiding the disproportionate preparation and overhead costs current procedures create.
New Hampshire continues to support the environmental and planning goals of ISTEA, but we have identified problems associated with the process as it now exits.
The idea of widespread public involvement in transportation planning is commendable. Unfortunately the process has become cumbersome and often confusing to citizens. Rules and interpretations have gotten us off track, stifling both public interest and participation. The result, in many cases, has been to drive away the very people who wanted to participate. Good intentions have been met with skepticism and a lack of support.
An already complex arena of environmental regulation is now more so. The existing approach has proven costly both in funds and in time when it comes to transportation projects.
In some cases, it has added years to the development of projects and increased costs considerably. Ironically, in many cases it has caused more serious environmental impacts than were avoided.
On the issue of funding ISTEA, the need to maintain at least the current funding level is great. There are currently more than 95-thousand bridges classified as deficient in the United States.
New Hampshire is not a stranger to harsh weather conditions and despite our best efforts, more than 600 State and municipal bridges are designated as "Red List" bridges, meaning that due to known deficiencies they have to be inspected twice a year.
Americans are traveling almost twice as much as they did in 1973 and the number of vehicles on the nation's roads has increased by more than 50 percent. That jump, along with a working population in New Hampshire that often commutes long distances, has put increasing pressure on our highway system and emphasized the need to maintain it at higher levels of standards to ensure safe and efficient mobility.
Motorists are traveling more but paying relatively less for fuel and fuel taxes. In 1979, federal/state motor fuel taxes accounted for 6.7% of the cost of owning and operating a vehicle. By 1993, the fuel tax share of motor vehicle costs was 4.4% -- a 60% drop over 15 years.
Although highway investments increased substantially in the last decade, the investment must continue increasing to keep up with our needs. Any delays in preserving highway investments or in meeting the needs brought on by traffic growth could quickly reverse the repairs and the gains achieved over the past few years.
When adjusted for inflation, U.S. highway investments per mile of travel have dropped 40% since 1973. When adjusted for inflation, U.S. capital highway investments are up just 10% since 1973.
The future of American jobs and economic development depends on increased transportation funding. Current funding levels are inadequate for the nation's transportation needs, yet a portion of user taxes (4.3 cents) is still going to non-transportation purposes.
New Hampshire supports a return of the 4.3 cents per gallon fuel tax, currently diverted to the general fund for deficit reduction to the highway trust fund. Those funds should be distributed for their intended purposes to maintain and improve the condition and safety of the nation's highway, bridge, and transit system.
To enable the full investment of the highway user taxes without being detrimental to the laudable efforts of general fund reduction we suggest either removal of the trust fund from the general budget category or pursuit of the revenue constrained fund as proposed by senators Chafee and Bond and co-sponsored by Senator Smith.
Using highway user revenue to mask other spending unnecessarily limits infrastructure investment and associated economic opportunity and breaks the trust placed in the trust fund concept by the paying public. Failure to adequately fund the transportation system could cripple the nation's mobility and economy.
Surveys have shown that highway accessibility is the number one selection factor considered by businesses when deciding where to locate.
Again, New Hampshire believes ISTEA has worked. We support the key notions of istea, partnering between state and local entities, intermodal planning, and public participation in the planning, design, and construction of transportation projects.
We support a continuation of at least the existing funding levels in ISTEA and oppose efforts to dramatically adjust the formula for allocating funds to the states.
Thank you again for allowing me to share my thoughts regarding the reauthorization of ISTEA with you. My agency would welcome the opportunity to work with your staff to address any of these issues. I welcome any questions you may have.