At the outset, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for holding this hearing today here in the State of Nevada, and also for your very clear leadership, both in the original ISTEA, as well as in its reauthorization.
The Regional Transportation Commission, known as the RTC, in Reno brings a unique perspective to ISTEA reauthorization discussions, due to our three-fold mission: we are the builders, maintainers and rebuilders of the regional road network with an annual work program totally $34.6 million; we are also the metropolitan planning organization for the Reno Sparks area, and then, third, we provide public transportation services to over eight million passengers on an annual basis.
We are supportive of the adjustments to the CMAQ funding program that would allow maintenance areas to remain eligible for CMAQ funds.
Speaking as the MPO Director, continuation of the ISTEA planning and project selection process is critical. Approving of projects by both the MPO and the State ensures that transportation projects which meet both local and State objectives are completed in a coordinated and comprehensive fashion.
With respect to proposed funding levels, we applaud provisions that retain the Federal role in the nation's surface transportation network. It is clear that the balance of highway and transit funding must remain a level playing field, with roughly a 4 to 1 ratio between highway and transit funding.
The use of new and innovative intelligent transportation systems, or ITS, technology is critical to moving people and improving air quality. ITS technology is particularly important in an area like Reno, which is a top tourist attraction, which, at the same time, is very prone to emergencies such as floods, earthquakes and very severe winter storms.
Four years ago the TransCal field operational test project linking San Francisco with Reno along the Interstate 80 corridor was funded with ITS funds. Last year saw ITS funding approved for an innovative public-private partnership of transit services in the south shore of Lake Tahoe.
In ISTEA reauthorization we are seeking authorization in Reno of an ITS system, which will produce significant traveler benefits and ensure that Reno is fully able to participate as a partner in these two existing ITS projects that are right there at our borders.
Our system, requiring $3.7 million in Federal funds, is based on an automatic vehicle location system, and would use ITS technology to improve traffic flow, customer convenience and overall efficiency of the transit network in Reno.
The Regional Transportation Commission also supports the return of the 4.3 cents Federal gas tax now used for deficit reduction, provided that after any allocation is made for Amtrak, that the balance is split 80 percent for highways and 20 percent for transit. Taking the trust fund off balance is also supported, certainly in light of our goal, which is to take full advantage of all available resources to meet the transportation needs.
Highway funding is critical to the western State of Nevada. Our top priority in northern Nevada in the Reno Sparks area is Federal funds for the extension of the U.S. 395, what is also known as the I-580 corridor, from Reno to Carson City, which is the State capitol, located approximately 30 miles south of Reno. Carson City, as mentioned earlier, is one of the very few State capitols not connected to the interstate transportation system. This project would build eight and a half miles of freeway and connect existing freeway sections just north and south of the Carson area.
In reference to the issue of formula allocation of gas tax revenues, also known as the donor-donee issue, as has been pointed out earlier, Nevada is clearly on the borderline between being in either one of those two designations. It is certainly our hope in Reno that whatever happens with the formula allocations, that our position is improved as an outcome.
In conclusion, the Regional Transportation Commission strongly supports a continued Federal role in transportation and the continuation of successful ISTEA legislation and its flexible funding provisions, increased focus on ITS technologies, emphasis on intermodalism and State, local and Federal partnerships are keys to successfully solving our future transportation challenges.