Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Field Hearings Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Testimony of Jim Manion President,
AAA Idaho, Chairman of Idaho Highway Users, Inc. Boise, Idaho
March 22, 1997

My name is Jim Manion. I am Idaho division president for AAA Oregon/Idaho representing 58,000 member motorists in the 34 Idaho counties. Our members represent a cross-section of Idaho's citizens, young and old, men and women, working and retired, farmers and corporate officers. We regularly solicit their opinions on transportation issues, and I will share those a little later on.

I also serve as chairman for the Idaho Highway Users Inc., an organization that has for decades supported critical investments to our roads and bridges. The Idaho Highway Users record demonstrates strong and realistic advocacy regarding the critical role of a strong roads and bridges network. The Highway Users group has also demonstrated an unwavering tenacity to protect for appropriate use the taxes and fees all motorists pay. Part of my written testimony includes the mission statement for this organization.

Both organizations support strong federal and state roles in transportation policy and prudent investment of scare highway use resources in those programs that enhance our economic productivity, decrease safety risks, and contribute to an enviable quality of life in Idaho and throughout this country. Last year, both organizations supported increases in our state fuels taxes and vehicle registration fees. While not a popular position to represent to our many members, both associations felt the decision was warranted and appropriate.

An Overview of the Problem

Our state's roads and bridges, -- many built decades ago -- are showing signs of age. An Idaho Needs Assessment Study last year identified a backlog of needed repairs and construction amounting to $4 billion. The results, like those from a previous study, were almost mind-numbing. By way of contrast, the Idaho Transportation Department's total expenditures last year totaled $268 million. That amount includes both Federal and state appropriations.

Our Legislature considered a bill this session that would have financed improvements for Idaho's main north-south route, U.S. 95. A long-standing coalition of communities, organizations and individuals has for years attempted to find a funding source to reconstruct a route once referred to by an Idaho governor and forever characterized in the minds of Idaho citizens as, `Idaho's goat trail.' Had the bill passed, voters would have been asked to okay a 4-cent gas tax increase and higher registration fees to finance the issuance of nearly $400 million in bonds to pay for the project. The bill didn't pass, but it did not destroy the resolve of its sponsors, because the need is great.

Lest June, AAA and its affiliated clubs throughout the United States, launched a campaign called "Crisis Ahead: America's Aging Highways and Airways." Its purpose was to show policy makers and opinion leaders that unless urgent steps are taken to better maintain and improve our highways and airways, Idaho and the rest of this country will face a certain transportation crisis.

At the core of the problem is an unsettling prognosis that our roads and bridges are beginning to crumble. In Idaho, 83 percent of the state's moor roads are in poor, mediocre or fair condition, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Idaho fares better than other states in the condition of its bridges. Nevertheless, the FHWA says 376 of our 4,000 bridges are structurally deficient and 414 are functionally obsolete. Those categories represent 20 percent of the bridges on the state system. Despite notions to the contrary, the total mileage of all roads and streets in the U.S. has grown only 3 percent, according to officials from AASHTO. Our real problems are compounded by the 79 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled during that same period. Some areas of Idaho where populations have risen dramatically, are essentially faced with a shrinking infrastructure.

The Consequences

-- Without adequate and sustained funding sources, each Idaho motorist can expect to pay $225 a year for extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. That amounts to a $181 million tab.

-- Without adequate and sustained funding sources, we'll see more congestion. In its communication to legislators earlier this year, the Idaho Transportation Department included a map that shows volume and capacity deficiencies. An accompanying graph to their presentation showed a trendline that is moving sharply higher. Motorist delays, wasted energy and lost productivity are the result.

-- Without adequate and sustained funding sources, our ability to get where we're going is impeded by safety defects and stretches of road now identified by the state as deficient for passing opportunities.

-- Without adequate and sustained funding sources, we're fed there will be more road tragedies. Between 1992 and 1995, 981 people died on our state's highways. At The national level, nearly 42,000 people died in traffic accidents in 1995, up for the third year in a row, following a two-year decline.

-- Without adequate and sustained funding sources, real deficiencies will take motorists lives. A safety report released just two weeks ago concludes that poor road conditions and designs contributed to one-third of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year. AAA found a similar link in 1994, with estimates that 28 percent of all fatalities that year were due to poor road designs.

Funding Issues

The U.S. Department of Transportation's recent assessment of road and bridge conditions indicates that our $20 billion investment per year is less than is needed just to maintain current conditions, and a staggering $40 billion per year less than is needed to leave a better network of highways for the next generation. On the surface that gap looks insurmountable, but we believe there are some positive steps that could address the difference.

Idahoans and citizens of every state should be able to count on their highway taxes being used for road improvements. The funding disparity between what highway users pay and what they receive from the federal government is that not all of the taxes collected from highway users are deposited in the Highway Trust Fund, much less in the highway account of the trust fund. Although motorists paid $30.9 billion in federal highway use excise taxes in 1995, the federal government returned only $18 billion to the states for highway and bridge improvements. Part of my testimony shows a state-by-state breakdown of the difference between what motorists in each state pay in federal taxes and the amount each state has received this year in total highway spending authority.

In identifying the problems we f~ace in Idaho, I would be remiss without saying that the Idaho Transportation Department has performed admirably. Faced with limited program dollars and tough challenges to downsize, work smarter, privatize and outsource its workloads, the Department's efforts have been stellar. A Legislative Interim Study group charged the Department with the task of working smarter and reducing expenses. The Department has done that. It has shown its commitment to the issues of safety, mobility and working smarter to accomplish more.

AAA Members on the Issues

What do AAA Idaho members think about the issues? As I mentioned earlier, we often poll our members on issues of interest. For years, our members have indicated the willingness to support user based fees and taxes when they are appropriately used for roads and bridges. We testified to that effect last year when the Legislature considered and passed House Bill 825, a funding package that raised the state's gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

-- In 1995, we released results from a mailed survey which indicated that 54 percent of our members would support an increase in gasoline taxes to support highway maintenance and improvements.

-- 85 percent of the respondents to that survey opposed an increase in gasoline taxes to support other government services. Our members want Idaho's constitutionally protected user funds spent on roads and bridges. Interestingly, despite the addition of 4.3 cents to the federal fuels tax in 1993 for federal deficit reduction, our members want to believe there is still trust in the Trust Fund.

-- A legislative survey we mailed to members in 1992 and released during the 1993 Legislative session revealed that when asked how transportation funding should be spent, 62 percent said more should be spent on roads and bridges. But our members did not support use of Federal Trust Fund Moneys or state Highway Account taxes for public transportation.

-- In that same survey 74 percent told us that federal and state gas taxes and any possible increases should be used only to fluid transportation projects. Just 16 percent of the respondents opined these taxes should be used to fluid other needs including budget deficits or funding shortfalls.

-- Is it reasonable to assume that as congestion increases, the state should limit road capacity expansion to discourage driving? Sixty-two (62) percent of our members said `no' to that notion in a non-scientific "tell us" poll that appeared in the January 1997 issue of the Idaho Motorist member publication. The tough decisions will not come from hiding our heads in the sand, but from our ability to plan now for corridor management and preservation of critical rights of way. Our inability to plan and pay now will reap huge incremental costs in the fixture.

-- Our members are concerned about variety of safety issues. Nearly nine out often (89 percent) of the respondents in the 1997 survey said they would oppose a measure increasing allowable commercial truck weights on Idaho roads. Our association opposed HB 181 during the 1997 Idaho Legislative session which would have increased Idaho's maximum allowable truck weights from 105,500 pounds to 129,000 pounds.

-- What are the biggest safety concerns for Idaho motorists? Based on the 1997 survey results, the top five safety concerns are: drunk drivers, 35 percent; speeders, 21 percent; large trucks, 14 percent; aggressive drivers, 10 percent; road conditions, 9 percent.

Federal Funding Recommendations

These are AAA and Idaho Highway Users recommendations:

-- We support Senator Warner's proposal to increase highway spending to $26 million. Lest year motorists paid 18.3 cents federal tax for every gallon of gasoline they purchased; Those who use diesel paid 24.2 cents a gallon. Together, and with other assorted user fees, we paid $31.5 billion. Did all these highway user fees go to roads? No. In fact, nearly one-third went elsewhere. $6.5 billion went to General Fund, for non-highway programs. About $2.6 billion went to the Mass Transit Account.

-- Deposit the 4.3 cents per gallon fuel tax in the Highway Trust Fund and increase highway funding to invest the additional revenues in road and bridge improvements.

-- Resist the notion that ISTEA enhancement moneys provide a "one-size-fits-all" solution to transportation problems. Flexible funding was designed to give locals the opportunity to make better decisions, but the restrictions on enhancement moneys and CMAQ funding have had the opposite effect. By writing specific instructions for enhancement funds, locals are unable to make the wisest possible use of those funds.

-- We oppose the administration's transportation vision, one that would divert more than $4 billion from the federal highway trust fund to heavily subsidize an ailing Amtrak. We oppose using dedicated user fees to put welfare recipients to work. We adamantly oppose tolls on roads already paid for by highway users.

-- We support federal legislation that would take federal trust funds off budget. AAA members and highway users pay billions in gasoline taxes to maintain the improve highways, but in a typical year, less than two-thirds of their taxes are actually spent on those improvements. Truth in budgeting is essential.

-- Target highway expenditures to the NHS which interlinks and serves motoring, tourism and business interests.

We understand the dilemmas Congress will face before September 30. The funding pie certainly looks smaller because so many special interest groups are now at the table. A country nervously looking to a multi-year federal aid reauthorization program knows it will live with those decisions into the next century. Challenges to the donor/donee formula are formidable, but we urge you to remember that the alternatives to many rural western states like Idaho could be devastating. A huge, wide open geographic state with a smaller population base places Idaho at considerable risk to some of the proposed alternatives. What we must avoid is a plan that would divide the country into a patchwork of disconnected roads and bridges. Our citizens, the tourism industry, and the many users of our roads and bridges require the best system possible.

In summary, both AAA Idaho and the Idaho Highway Users, Inc. point to three priorities in the your consideration of ISTEA reauthorization: 1) Provide adequate funding for highway and bridge maintenance; 2) Increase investments in highway safety; and 3) Continue a strong, responsible, yet flexible federal role.

We appreciate the opportunity to share our positions on the issues surrounding reauthorization of the federal aid program. Thank you.