WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF JAMES SULLIVAN
CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE HEARING
ISTEA REAUTHORIZATION
April 7, 1997

INTRODUCTION

Good morning. I am James Sullivan, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on Connecticut's perspective as it relates to the Reauthorization of IST~EA.

SUPPORT FOR ISTEA 1991

Let me first of all state that the Intermodal Surface Transportation efficiency Act (ISTEA) which Congress enacted in December of 1991 was landmark legislation. It effectively changed the direction of federal surface transportation policy, from a policy of building the Interstate System to an era of transportation infrastructure system preservation, intermodalism, and system efficiency. We fully support this direction. In fact, the Department performed a strategic financial analysis in 91-92 which established safety, maintenance and system efficiency as its top three goals, emulating the direction set forth in ISTEA.

ISTEA required enhanced emphasis for public participation. This has ensured stakeholders involvement in the process, from the projects' earliest planning stages through their completion. The results have provided for better projects, addressing both transportation issues and local concerns. The expanded role for Metropolitan Planning Organizations in project selection and advancement has provided for more local input in addressing urban and rural transportation problems. When a project has proceeded through the planning process and is mutually agreed to by the state and MPO, it is virtually certain for success.

The funding flexibility provided by ISTEA has had a positive impact on Connecticut's transportation program by granting programming options that did not previously exist under the rigid rules of prior highway acts. ISTEA allows states and MPOs to consider more than one federal funding source when programming priority projects and allows funding flexibility between modes. The use of "advance construction" (AC), "partial conversion financing", and other innovative financing techniques has made it possible for states to proceed with early implementation of projects, rather than accumulating funds to cover the entire cost of projects. This has resulted in better management of our federal-aid apportionments and obligation ceiling.

An example of putting flexible funding into practice can be found in our $126 million bridge reconstruction project located on the New Haven Railroad Line, locally known as the Peck bridge. The State and the Greater ~Bridgeport MPO flexed $22.8 million of highway funds for this important transit purpose. A combination of funding categories were used: CMAQ, STP-Anywhere, Section 3 Discretionary, Section 9 funding and state funds. This improvement is nearly 90% complete and will improve the operations of the Metro North Commuter Service which accommodates some 98,600 travelers each day.

The Enhancement Program has proved to be very popular among local officials and grass root organizations. Connecticut has invested over $61.2 million dollars on enhancement type projects through the life of ISTEA. These projects primarily address pedestrian and bicycle travel. Two of the more prominent projects I'd like to share with you are:

Farmington Canal Linear Park: Cheshire, Connecticut

This project, utilizing STP Enhancement Funds, has restored a recreational and open space corridor along the abandoned ROW of the former Farmington Canal and the Boston and Main Railroad. This linear park, located along the historic Farmington Canal, which was built in 1828 and replaced 20 years later by a railroad corridor that was used continuously until 1982, links the center of the town of Cheshire to the Farmington Canal Lock 12 Historic Park. Enhancement monies were also used toward the acquisition and rehabilitation of the historic Lock keeper's house. Due to the popularity and use of this linear park, presently 5.6 miles long, further expansion is under design to extend it an additional 3 miles. This linear park now serves as a greenway for wildlife, wetland marshes, and native vegetation. Local residents enjoy the trail as a safe place to socialize, commute and exercise.

Merritt Parkway: Fairfield County, Connecticut

Enhancement funds were used to finance a landscape master plan for the parkway and restoration of the Route 8 and Route IS interchange to its 1938 aesthetic status. Subsequent funds have been set aside for a bridge conservation plan and for renovation and landscaping work at key entrances to the parkway. The Merritt Parkway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a State Scenic Road, and recently recognized as a Federal Scenic By-Way. There are 72 bridges on the Merritt, each unique in its aesthetic design. This project has helped ensure the county's continued desirability as a residential and employment area, because the route will continue to be a convenient transportation facility and the fragile rural character of the region will be better reflected in the parkway.

Though Connecticut has been a national leader in establishing an aggressive transportation rehabilitation program, ISTEA funding has been critical in helping to address Connecticut's transportation needs. The accomplishments achieved throughout the life of the Act have greatly advanced Connecticut's goal for a safe, efficient and well maintained transportation system. The combination of ISTEA funding, which provides about 55% of the capital costs, and the state's commitment of its own resources have helped Connecticut complete its Interstate System, rehabilitate and reconstruct many of our aging bridges, surface and rehabilitate hundreds of miles of state highway, and improve the urban and rural system of roads, as well as improve the rolling stock and facilities of our transit systems. While much has been accomplished, much more needs to be done. Our identified needs far exceed our current and projected resources. Without ISTEA and its flexibility, it is unlikely our gains would have been this successful.

REAUTHORIZATION OF THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ACT

The national perspective on transportation must continue to be advanced. Unlike some other states, Connecticut does not hold that national apportionments should be tied to the amount of money a state sends to Washington. Though we are a "donee" state in the transportation arena, Connecticut is the quintessential "nation donor state", receiving back from Washington only $.68 for every $1.00 of federal tax contributed. To base apportionments of federal funds on how much money a state sends to Washington is counter to the concept of Federalism and would ignore the relative needs of the states. We are not fifty individual states but are a nation composed of fifty united states.

Surface transportation's vital role in interstate commerce and national defense warrants a continued federal role and presence. The federal role in transportation must be maintained to ensure that a national focus remains on connectivity, safety, maintenance, effective planning and research. This federal role is essential to support national economic growth, global competitiveness, and sustainable quality of life. Federal funding should target those areas and issues of national concern and interest, i.e., the National Highway System, bridges, congestion, air quality, transit, mobility, quality of life, etc.

Distribution of federal transportation funds should be first and foremost, based upon system needs, the state's level of effort (its commitment of state resources), volume of usage, and the relative difference in the cost of doing business from one state to another. The needs based distribution effort of past highway acts must be continued in the new authorization. This is especially critical to the northeast states which have some of the more densely travel led facilities and which, through age and usage, have the highest demand for preservation and enhancement.

Let us not forget in our discussions concerning reauthorization, the essential needs of transit programs. We believe there is a continuing need for both capital and operating federal assistance for our transit system. Connecticut may be unique in the nation in its commitment to transit. Our State transportation fund finances nearly 98% of all operating deficit for both bus and rail transit in Connecticut. This represents 42% of the Department's operating budget or approximately $120 million per year. The State has reached the maximum level of transit subsidy it can support and any reduction in federal participation would directly impact services to those in the most need.

Let me also emphasize that individual states must come to the table and be financial partners with Washington. Connecticut's resident's commitment to safe and efficient transportation infrastructure is unparalleled. Our gasoline taxes which presently stand at 39 cents per gallon, is evident of that commitment. Though efforts are underway to reduce this burden through downsizing and efficiencies, the state will maintain its initiative to provide the travelling public and its economic generators with a first class transportation system.

As the debate on reauthorization continues and intensifies, I believe that continued and increased support for reauthorization of ISTEA, with modest improvements, will carry it to enactment. We should look to build on those aspects of the Act which worked well and are beneficial to both the national agenda and the states' interest. The fundamental structure of ISTEA is sound and should be preserved. State, regional, local and other stakeholders have invested heavily in making ISTEA work and those efforts should not be wasted as proposed by some advocates.

The core programs of ISTEA target the transportation needs of Connecticut and the nation and must continue in the next highway act.

-- The Interstate Maintenance Program designed to finance projects to rehabilitate, restore and resurface the Interstate System has made substantial impact on the condition of our highways. Continued and future needs are identified and much work needs to be done.

-- Nation Highway System funds have proved to be essential in maintaining and improving the designated NHS. This system includes all interstate routes and a large percentage of urban and rural principal arterials. It carries our highest concentration of traffic and requires substantial funding to maintain its safety and improve its operational efficiency.

-- The Surface Transportation Program (STP), with its set-a-sides and sub-government allocations, has proved to be beneficial to address needs on a wide array of transportation projects. As one of the most flexible funding categories of the federal programs, we have seen many benefits realized from a wide range of projects, including construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, restoration and operational improvements for highway and bridges, transit projects, rideshare projects, bikeways and more. Additionally, the STP program provides the resources to address locally identified priority intermodal needs.

-- The Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, as intended, has provided assistance for eligible bridges on our public roads. Although there remains much to do and needs continually arise, due in large part to this program, our system of bridges are in the best shape they have been in decades.

-- The Congested Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program (CMAQ) was design to direct funds toward transportation projects in Clean Air Non-Attainment area for ozone and carbon monoxide. The projects implemented under this program have helped contribute to our State making progress toward meeting the attainment of national ambient area air quality standards.

-- ISTEA of 1991 acknowledged contributions made by some states in constructing segments of the Interstate System without federal assistance, in the early days of the Interstate Construction Program, by authorizing the Interstate Reimbursement Program. Funds from this program have provided a funding source for many of the unfunded projects within the STP program. In Connecticut, the IR program has been instrumental in funding the reconstruction of a elevated portion of I-95 in Bridgeport which was in need of structural rehabilitation. This reconstruction of part of the same original interstate highway which was built without federal funds, would have been very difficult to finance and advance without the availability of the IR funding program.

Connecticut also supports the Priority Corridor Program in general, and the I-95 Corridor Coalition in particular. In the Northeast, as in many congested urban areas, technology can enhance the safety and capacity of the existing highway and transit systems. Expanding existing or building new infrastructure, in many of these urban areas, is not a viable option. We advocate a direct appropriation to I-95 or a commitment by U.S. DOT to support the I-95 Corridor Coalition.

While we support reauthorization of ISTEA, we also recognize that it is not perfect and support several proposed modest modifications advanced by us and others. A couple of changes we would like to see are:

-- Simplification of the administrative process as it relates to the Enhancement Program. The administrative requirements for enhancement eligible projects should not be the same as major high cost- capital projects. It has been estimated that the cost to administer these projects run about 17% of the project cost. It is suggested that this sub-allocation of STP funds be converted to a block grant type program to minimize administrative burden and cost.

-- The sub-allocation of Interstate Reimbursement Program funds through the STP category should be discontinued and TR should be treated as a core program. This program recognizes the prior financial commitment the State made in constructing the interstate segments prior to the establishment of the Federal Interstate Program. The State, therefore, should be the principal party in determining the allocation of these funds and for project selection.

In addition, as part of an extensive review and discussion undertaking with fellow ISTEA Works Coalition DOT representatives, better than 20 recommendations have been submitted which we believe will improve the administrative and procedural processes in ISTEA. This consensus was reached with the goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness in implementing the various provisions of ISTEA. I, together with my colleagues, trust these suggestions - will enhance the difficult task facing this committee during this reauthorization period.

We also support full access to highway trust fund revenues. Our State transportation system, like those around the country, continually show that infrastructure needs far exceed available funds. The nation's long-standing policy of linking federal transportation user fees such as motor fuel taxes and excise taxes exclusively to transportation purposes should be reinstated. The practice of placing an obligation ceiling on authorization should be eliminated.

In addition, we strongly support the continuation of a national rail transportation system. The dedication of 0.5 cents of the 4.3 cent diversion is critical in ensuring a broad based support of this system. With this dedicated resource, and administrative relief, Amtrak can become a self supporting system which will provide national benefits.

SUMMARY

In summary, let me say that ISTEA has been a positive initiative in developing a seamless, intermodal transportation system to serve the national, state and local needs. We believe that it should be continued with modest changes to its requirements and funding, it will adequately serve the transportation community and stakeholders into the next century. Federal involvement is critical to ensuring national objectives and connectivity of the system, and in providing equitable funding based upon need, usage and state level of effort.

The importance of transportation: in promoting economic development and increased productivity can not be over stated. Transportation policies and investments make significant contributions to the well being of the individual states and the country as a whole.

Effective transportation investments can increase productivity and enhance the standard and quality of life.

The location and condition of highways, roads, bridges, bikeways, sidewalks, and bus and rail facilities enhance economic health and development because they facilitate:

-- daily movement of people to and from work, school, and shopping;
-- distribution of raw materials and intermediate and finished goods;
-- access to recreational activities;
-- increase in productivity,
-- improvements in the standard and quality of life; and
-- a cleaner and safer environment.

Again, let me thank you for the opportunity to present Connecticut's perspective on reauthorization. Governor Rowland and my Department stand available to work with your committee in reauthorizing ISTEA and providing the appropriate level of federal assistance to partner with states in ensuring the continued improvement in safety, efficiency and operations of our intermodal transportation facilities.