STATEMENT OF CYNTHIA BURBANK, PROGRAM MANAGER
PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENT CORE BUSINESS UNIT
FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
ON TRANSPORTATION PLANNING AND SMART GROWTH
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on the important subject of transportation planning. Today, I would like to report to you on the status of transportation planning, and what FHWA is doing to assist States and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in fulfilling the planning goals of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
OVERVIEW: THE ESSENTIAL ROLE OF PLANNING
Transportation planning is the process of identifying transportation problems and looking for solutions that fulfill multiple national, State, and local goals. Statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes, governed by Federal law (23 United States Code (USC) sections 134 and 135; 49 USC sections 5303-5305) and applicable State and local laws, are required if Federal highway or transit funds are to be used for transportation investments in the State or metropolitan area.
The planning process must do more than merely list highway and transit capital investments. It must provide strategies for operating, managing, maintaining, and financing an area’s transportation system in such a way as to best advance that area’s long-term goals. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) rely on the transportation planning process as the primary mechanism for cooperative decision making at the State and local level. This means that local officials and others who anticipate using Federal transportation funds must be involved in planning. Transportation planning must be attentive to the public's needs and include sufficient opportunities for public input.
The planning process produces the information on which elected officials and policy makers will base their decisions regarding transportation improvements, and helps ensure better, more informed decision making. Transportation planners undertake comprehensive analyses and evaluation of the potential impact of transportation plans and programs and, at the same time, address the aspirations and concerns of the community that these plans and programs serve. Planners examine past, present, and prospective trends, and issues associated with the demand for the movement of people and goods at local, rural, metropolitan, statewide, national, and international levels. Public officials equipped with this information can make decisions that address key community objectives and tradeoffs, while reducing unanticipated consequences.
Transportation planning must reflect the desires of communities and take into account the impacts on both the natural and human environments. Transportation plans should help regions and communities set and achieve their goals. A comprehensive planning process that considers land use, development, safety, and security, also helps ensure that transportation decisions will be made in an environmentally sensitive way. The States, MPOs, and transit operators choose which projects will advance. The Federal role is to provide funds, standards, technical assistance, and planning models so that State and local decision makers are able to make the best transportation choices for their area within the funding available.
PLANNING UNDER ISTEA AND TEA-21
ISTEA made significant changes in the metropolitan and statewide planning requirements for highways and transit, requiring greater attention to public involvement, fiscal prudence, and multimodal transportation systems planning. In addition, ISTEA provided State and local governments more flexibility in determining transportation solutions, whether transit or highways. ISTEA instituted statewide planning and continued the metropolitan planning processes as the framework for making these decisions. As a result, much of the past 10 years has been devoted to adjusting to these changes and applying the new requirements. In most cases, the MPOs, State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), and transit operators have worked together in a cooperative way to implement the changes. The ISTEA reforms have resulted in more attention to developing financially sound transportation plans and programs and to involving the public and stakeholder interest groups in developing the plans and programs. The changes have enhanced and improved the integrity and effectiveness of the transportation decision-making process, but continued progress is needed.
To assist the MPOs, State DOTs, and transit operators in implementing the ISTEA changes, FHWA and FTA have focused on conducting training courses, providing technical assistance, supporting peer exchanges, identifying best practices, and preparing case studies.
The changes initiated by ISTEA were carried forward by TEA-21 with some further refinements. The financial discipline in the development of plans and programs introduced in ISTEA was continued, with an added requirement that financial estimates be developed cooperatively between the State and MPO.
By statute, metropolitan transportation plans must address a minimum of a twenty-year planning horizon and be updated on a schedule identified by the Secretary (currently three years in non-attainment areas and five years in attainment areas). By statute, Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) address a three-year horizon and must be updated at least every two years at the State and metropolitan level. State plans are updated on a cycle identified by the State. In non-attainment areas, under the Clean Air Act, FHWA and FTA have sought, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to develop approaches to more effectively integrate air quality and transportation planning timeframes and processes. This is a continuing challenge, which will arise in reauthorization.
Section 1308 of TEA-21 directed the Secretary to eliminate the separate requirement for a Major Investment Study (MIS) and integrate the remainder of the process into the environment and planning processes. Although regulatory changes have not been completed, FHWA and FTA have fostered and supported experimentation with alternative approaches, as mutually developed at the State and local level.
While ISTEA and TEA-21 strengthened the role of MPOs and local governments in transportation planning and programming, States continue to have the primary role, responsibility, and authority—albeit in a framework of consultation and cooperation with MPOs, local governments, and transit operators.
Since the passage of ISTEA and TEA-21, States have become more involved in comprehensive transportation planning, including the development of multi-modal transportation plans. As a result, many States are now engaged in activities, such as rural freight issues, which previously received little attention. Because the statewide planning process is continuing to evolve, many States are looking at ways to restructure their transportation planning and programming processes. They are determining which decisions should be made at the State level and which can be decided at the rural or metropolitan level.
INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY BUILDING
FHWA and FTA have jointly developed specialized training courses and new tools and procedures that address the emerging needs. Also, FHWA and FTA have sponsored peer exchanges that have allowed States, MPOs, and transit operators to share best practices.
FHWA and FTA, in a collaborative effort with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO), and the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), have launched the Metropolitan Capacity Building (MCB) Program—an initiative to strengthen MPOs. The program is targeted not only for transportation professionals, but also the elected officials who make transportation decisions. Collecting, synthesizing, and disseminating examples of successful innovations by States, MPOs, and transit operators, the Capacity Building initiative provides multiple mechanisms for getting critical information to decisionmakers. Moreover, it helps spread innovation in decisionmaking by publicizing the new techniques and strategies developed by State and local officials. This initiative has supported peer exchanges focusing on transportation modeling and fiscal constraint. A new course on metropolitan planning has been developed to provide public officials and staff with an overview of planning process expectations and options. A public officials briefing book has been prepared, directed specifically to helping elected officials understand their role and responsibilities, as well as the overall planning process. Additional activities are in development and will be disseminated over the coming year.
In addition to the involvement of the MPO, State DOT, and transit operators, TEA-21 made it very clear that new parties should be coming to the planning table at both the metropolitan and statewide levels. TEA-21 added a requirement that freight shippers and users of public transit be provided a reasonable opportunity to comment on transportation plans and programs. Among the most important parties to come to the planning table are local officials, and TEA-21 emphasized the importance of bringing non-metropolitan officials into the process. Most states have procedures for engaging local officials throughout their planning and programming processes. FHWA and FTA are working hard with States and MPOs to improve or otherwise enhance their efforts to bring non-metropolitan local officials, freight shippers, and users of public transit to the table and involve them in planning and programming.
FHWA and FTA have advanced several initiatives, including safety conscious planning, implementation of the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Architecture requirements, freight planning, work zone safety, and operational improvements. These efforts have contributed to congestion mitigation and enhanced safety consideration.
TRANSPORTATION PLANNING AND SMART GROWTH
Today, we frequently hear the term “smart growth”—a term that means different things to different people. FHWA views “smart growth” as a set of State and local policies and programs designed to protect and preserve valuable natural and cultural resources and make efficient use of existing infrastructure, while accommodating economic development and population growth. “Smart growth” policies link transportation projects with desired land use patterns in order to make more efficient use of infrastructure and reduce environmental impact. Land use and transportation have a symbiotic relationship. How development occurs can greatly influence regional travel patterns and, in turn, the degree of access provided by the transportation system can influence land use distribution. Transportation affects land use just as do affordable housing, good schools, and low crime rates.
State and local governments have the responsibility for establishing growth policies. Transportation agencies respect those policies and work with the State and local requirements. Smart growth can mean State and local land use strategies to increase population and housing densities and make transit more viable, and it can also mean managing and operating existing highway, transit, and other transportation modes to maintain or improve performance for each mode without adversely affecting neighborhoods or urban centers. The goals for smart growth include knitting transportation improvement projects and public/private investments so that they merge as seamlessly as possible into the community; supporting the provision of mixed use development, where feasible, so that transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and ferry boats are viable options to driving; and accommodating the flow of freight and passengers throughout the country so that the economy can continue to grow.
Smart growth does not mean pitting transit or any other mode against highways. We recognize that it is impractical to completely build our way out of congestion in our most congested metropolitan areas. But that does not mean that we think that new roads and improvements to the existing road network should be eliminated. It is not an issue of highways versus transit. It is an issue of expanding transportation choices and providing a balanced intermodal transportation system that allows for the efficient and economical movement of people and goods. In some areas that may mean more transit and in other areas it may entail significant roadway improvements, and in most areas it probably means both. It is up to State and local officials to decide how best to address their unique set of circumstances, and it is the Department of Transportation’s role to help them best implement their decision.
While FHWA and FTA strongly believe that land use decisions are State and local decisions, and should remain that way, we do believe that there is much to be gained from more coordination among State and local planning, zoning, and housing authorities, and environmental and transportation officials, in reaching those decisions. We also believe that there should be more dialogue between local decision makers and transportation professionals on the connections between land use and surface transportation—including, for example, more dialogue between airport sponsors and metropolitan planning organizations. Such dialogues would allow us to learn from each other and produce better transportation outcomes.
FHWA’s role in promoting “smart growth” is to provide technical assistance and training to our State and local customers concerning the linkages between transportation and land use. Along with FTA, we will work cooperatively with other Federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the EPA, to assist us with transportation-related issues, such as affordable housing or brownfields, to provide as much assistance as possible in the form of research, technical expertise, and training to local and State governments. At the same time, we will be mindful that the people of this country hold freedom of mobility as a cherished individual right.
In addition to the Metropolitan and Statewide Capacity Building Program mentioned above, our efforts to help State and local governments make smart decisions about growth include support for the Transportation Enhancements Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot Program (TCSP), and research in areas such as value pricing, modeling, and land use.
The TCSP program was created by section 1221 of TEA-21, as a competitive discretionary program to stimulate innovative strategies for using transportation investments to achieve economic growth, while simultaneously protecting the environment and ensuring a high quality of life. TCSP projects funded in fiscal year (FY) 1999 and FY 2000 are demonstrating results that include: developing new analytical tools to assess the impacts of transportation and land use alternatives on mobility and economic development; expanding the range of partners involved in transportation and land use planning; and demonstrating design practices that increase travel options and improve the character of local communities. For example, TCSP grants are being used in Mono County, California; Centreville, Delaware; and Cleveland, Ohio to investigate design changes that can improve safety and pedestrian access, while still maintaining traffic flow, where high-traffic roads run through community centers. A TCSP project in Oregon will survey the impact on travel patterns of telecommuting centers being developed in rural Oregon by the Oregon Department of Energy.
TCSP was authorized in TEA-21 at $25 million per year. The response to the program has been positive--between FY 1999 and FY 2002, we received approximately 1,332 applications totaling $906 million in response to Federal Register Notices. With the pending announcement of FY 2002 TCSP awards, there will be a total of 420 TCSP grant awards.
A significant number of TCSP projects in FY 2001 and 2002 were designated in Congressional committee reports. While many of these projects might not have been selected in a competitive process similar to the one used to recommend the FY 1999 and 2000 TCSP discretionary awards, we can state that all projects that have received funds are statutorily eligible.
Although FHWA believes that a truly discretionary program, administered through a competitive merit-based process, would allow us to better maximize the benefits of the TCSP program, we are working aggressively to ensure that the funds provided for TCSP projects are used to advance the program’s goals as established in TEA-21.
TCSP outreach efforts by FHWA, including a comprehensive report on the first three years of implementation based in part on interviews with grantees, have elicited suggestions for improving TCSP in reauthorization. Suggestions include: award future TCSP grants through a competitive process; continue to emphasize learning and knowledge transfer; and maintain a focus on both planning and implementation.
ISTEA and TEA-21 have provided us a solid and balanced structure around which to shape reauthorization legislation and we will build on the programmatic and financial initiatives of these two historic surface transportation acts. To this end, we will apply the core principles enunciated by Secretary Mineta in testimony before this Committee in January, including:
In reauthorization, we want to work with this Committee and with our partners in the transportation community to find additional means of assisting States to strengthen and improve their transportation planning processes to better achieve not only their transportation goals but their other societal goals as well.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to responding to any questions you may have.