I am Deborah Redman from the Southern California Association of Governments, the Project Manager to a congestion pricing task force known as the REACH task force, and that stands for Reduce Emissions and Congestion on Highways.
Before I address the issue of market-based transportation pricing, I would like to respond to Senator Reid's request and tell you briefly about several initiatives of interest to the entire southwest area.
First, SCAG has initiated a southwest passage proposal intended to lead to integrated freight transportation infrastructure and development along the I-10 corridor, which connects major ports and intermodal facilities to ensure efficient movement of Pacific Rim and master related trade, along with local and regional trade and goods. We see the need for the regions and States, along with the private sector and the Federal Government to identify and enhance national trade corridors across the country.
Second, we are involved in an interstate clean transportation corridor project. This is a public-private partnership to accelerate deployment of alternative fuels and freight movement along corridors connecting the major non-attainment areas of California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. There are also system issues between McCarran Airport and the airport system in southern California, which are detailed in the written testimony.
Turning to congestion pricing, in 1994 SCAG and TransCal secured a pricing study grant from FHWA under ISTEA Section 1012(b), the value pricing pilot project, then called congestion pricing, which sought regional implementation of transportation user fees, including variable fees, for road use and emission reduction. Traffic and air quality problems continue to burden our regional economy to the tune of about $12 billion per year, and we are running out of options. We're already using the freeway shoulders for car pool lanes; we're already in the front lines of ITS deployment, and look forward to the mobility and air quality increases in performance that those strategies will give us.
Still, we can't build our way out due to environmental and fiscal constraints, as well as capacity limitations on many freeways. And because we need a practical and stable replacement for the gas tax, we have been led to consider a politically difficult solution -- transformation of the pricing funding system for transportation.
With the help of ISTEA's value pricing program the REACH task force conducted a two-year study, which called for active regional discussion and public involvement on specific proposals relative to market-based reform. The 75-member REACH advisory task force concluded that longer term full scale implementation of pricing did have significant potential to solve air pollution and mobility problems and should be evaluated and tested on an ongoing basis. In the short-term recommendations called for additional implementation of HOT lanes -- that is, high occupancy toll lanes where solo drivers are allowed to share express lanes with car pool drivers, with car pool drivers paying for that premium in savings and time.
This strategy is designed to build on the success of a number of currently operating HOT lanes, including the SR-91 in Orange County and the newly opened facility on the I-15 in San Diego. These facilities, according to our numerous polls, are supported by users and non-users alike, 65 to 70 percent support; our own studies reveal 62 percent of people support the concept and trends indicate increasing support as people become more familiar with the operations of HOT lanes. Other regions, including Houston and Lee County, Florida, also project partners, have implemented similar projects as a direct result of ISTEA support and involvement of the Federal Government.
However, even with a good base line support for HOT lanes, we need continued Federal involvement. Given the complex and controversial nature of new road user fees and vehicle emission pricing policies, and the implications with respect to requirements for transportation, air quality conformity and fiscally constrained regional transportation plans, we believe it is appropriate for the Federal Government to continue partnering with SCAG and other regional and State jurisdictions to advance analysis, testing and public dialogue on pricing.
Market-based reforms are not simply a local matter. Air pollution and urban congestion affect not only their immediate environment, but those in adjacent air sheds and people in economies which depend on the timely and efficient movement of goods in and through urban centers.
If the current successes are to expand to other regions and develop into comprehensive and effective pricing programs, the pilot project areas need the continuity of funding, programmatic support and technical expertise so ably provided by the FHWA during these past six years. ISTEA has brought a dozen regions to significant milestones on the road to transportation pricing reform -- don't leave us now.
SCAG strongly recommends that the program be reauthorized, as the Administration has proposed.