MAYOR OF BURLINGTON, VERMONT
on behalf of
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
UNITED STATES SENATE
Partners for America’s Transportation Future
January 24, 2002
Thank you Chairman Jeffords, Ranking Member Smith, and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss such an important issue to the nation’s cities. I am Peter Clavelle, Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Today I am pleased to be here not only as a Vermonter, but also as a representative of the National League of Cities.
The National League of Cities represents 18,000 cities and towns and over 140,000 local elected officials. NLC represents all cities, regardless of size – our largest member is New York City with a population of 8 million, our smallest member is De Graff, Minnesota with a population of 149. As the representative of the nation’s local leaders, NLC has a vital interest in the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21).
NLC’s Transportation Infrastructure and Services committee, one of seven standing policy committees, appointed a special TEA 21 Reauthorization Task Force which recently completed a year-long rewrite of our surface transportation policy in preparation for reauthorization. Our new policy was adopted by NLC’s full membership at our annual meeting in December 2001.
In addition, NLC has joined other groups representing local officials to comprise the Local Officials Transportation Working Group. The working group includes representatives of city and county elected officials, public works professionals, development organizations, and city/county managers. The working group was created to provide a unified voice of local government for the reauthorization of TEA 21. We look forward to working with the committee and our other federal and state partners throughout the reauthorization process.
In addition to representing NLC today, I am here of behalf on my city of Burlington, Vermont. With a population of 40,000, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city. I am currently serving my sixth term as Mayor, and just this fall I concluded a two-year term as President of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. I also serve on the Advisory Board of the United States Conference of Mayors.
The title of today’s hearing is “Partners for America’s Transportation Future.” The passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991, and its successor, TEA 21, in 1998, shepherded a new era of transportation partnership in this country.
First, it forged a new partnership among federal, state and local governments by empowering Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the transportation decision-making process. This elevation of the role of MPOs insured a more equal partnership between local and state governments in both the planning and funding decisions for transportation projects. This is a partnership that must be preserved and strengthened in the process of TEA 21 reauthorization.
The second category of partnerships created by these two landmark laws is among the modes of transportation to which the legislation allocates funding. The various modes— automobile, trucking, transit, rail, ferry, bicycle, and walking—were challenged to become truly intermodal. We began to pursue the vision of creating a seamless, uninterrupted system to accommodate the need to efficiently and equitably serve our communities by transporting both people and goods.
In Burlington and Vermont, transportation partnerships facilitated by ISTEA and TEA 21 have allowed us to build on a strong tradition of local planning. Working through the Chittenden County MPO we have accessed funds to manage our planning activities on a local level, bringing transportation planning efforts to the front porch and the neighborhood school gymnasium. We have also worked closely with our Agency of Transportation in assuming management of many of our transportation projects. The City of Burlington today is managing the revitalization of a neglected commercial street (North Street), improvements to our pedestrian mall (the Church Street Marketplace), the design and construction of a major roadway (the Champlain Parkway), the development of an intermodal transit facility, and the design and construction of a bike path.
These partnerships, local, state, and federal are vital to the success of the nation’s surface transportation program. As we begin to work on the reauthorization of TEA 21, we must continue to work together to protect the program and ensure that all levels of government, no matter how small, play a part in the process.
As we embark on the reauthorization process, we must take into account the current climate in Washington D.C. and the nation. These are tough economic times and in the aftermath of September 11th, local officials are shifting priorities.
One of the greatest successes of TEA 21 was the establishment of a direct link between gasoline taxes collected at the pump and federal transportation spending. Because of that landmark change in law, funding for the program was increased to its highest levels in history. The Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) mechanism guaranteed that even additional, unanticipated gas tax revenue must be spent on the program. TEA 21 was a strong signal from Congress and the Administration to the traveling public that the nation’s transportation system is an important priority.
Therefore, we find it very disturbing to hear reports that this year’s RABA levels may be much less than anticipated in TEA 21. We look forward to the President’s budget submission to Congress in the coming weeks and hope that a continued commitment to infrastructure investment is demonstrated.
NLC supports the current budgetary mechanism in TEA 21 and we pledge to work with you to protect the funding guarantees. We are, however, concerned about the trend in recent years to redirect transportation spending to specific projects through the appropriations process. NLC supports discretionary programs under TEA 21 and would advocate that the process remain open for all to apply and compete for those dollars.
Following the tragic events of September 11th, the nation’s local officials have been urgently reassessing priorities in their communities. In several NLC surveys of municipal officials conducted after September 11th, 52 percent were reevaluating their emergency preparedness plans. Respondents reported immediate shifts in city priorities to security issues, moving personnel to protecting transportation facilities, water supply facilities, nuclear power plants, schools, and government buildings. At the Burlington International Airport, we have more than doubled the number of police officers providing security.
In addition, the survey results show that fiscal conditions are worsening for many municipalities, with a 4 percent decline in revenue after September 11th and an over $11 billion decline nationwide. 43 percent of cities say they are “less able” to meet their financial responsibilities after September 11th.
In my own city, revenues are projected to increase by a very modest one percent for the next fiscal year. Simply to maintain our current level of municipal services will require a four-percent increase in expenditures.
Cities nationwide are shifting valuable resources to public safety expenditures; with over half (51%) of the cities reporting they are increasing spending on public safety and security. The majority of cities surveyed reported they would reduce spending in other areas to meet the new public safety funding gap. This means cities may have to postpone or cancel some needed transportation projects to shift funding to security. This March, Burlington voters are being asked to approve a six-cent increase in their property taxes to maintain and improve fire and police services.
We want to highlight this trend to underscore the need for protecting the valuable gains of TEA 21, while considering how transportation security issues could be part of the next reauthorization bill. The shifting of local revenue to a public safety related budget is unavoidable. The question becomes, what will be the role of the next federal surface transportation program in homeland security? Will the federal government be able to offer greater assistance to cities to meet their needs?
A recent survey of local officials conducted by Public Technology, Incorporated, a non-profit technology organization supporting local governments, found that:
· 62 percent of respondents (local officials) indicated that congestion is a major political issue in their community; and
· 64 percent of respondents claim that transportation has a significant impact in their community and their citizens’ quality of life.
NLC members identified congestion as a major concern when they created the TEA 21 Task Force to review NLC’s surface transportation policy. The Task Force spent last year developing new policy priorities for the reauthorization of TEA 21. The themes of funding, flexibility, and intermodalism, permeated the discussions about congestion and the future of the surface transportation system.
As previously mentioned, NLC supports the current budget mechanism developed in TEA 21, which directly links transportation user fees to transportation spending. We call for all transportation taxes, including those levied on gasohol and alternative fuels, to be deposited into the highway trust fund. To that end, we are supportive of the Highway Trust Fund Recovery Act, (S. 1306), sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus.
NLC supports the federal – state financial matching relationships that currently exist and opposes any reduction of the federal financial commitments. States and localities that want to provide greater financial resources than the minimum requirement, such as a transit new start project, should receive higher priority for federal funding.
In addition, we support innovative financing programs and techniques such as tolls, State Infrastructure Banks (SIBs), and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). These programs support the development of public – private partnerships and provide creative ideas for meeting the infrastructure needs in our cities.
NLC supports local flexibility to design, manage, and operate cities’ transportation systems. No “one size fits all” surface transportation program will be able to meet the needs of the traveling public in the diverse regions of the country. Local officials are on the front lines and therefore better able to develop strategies to deal with transportation challenges in their communities. ISTEA and TEA 21 embodied these themes and we look to the committee to continue this commitment through the reauthorization process.
Many programs in TEA 21 have supported localities’ innovative solutions to congestion and gridlock. Whether a positive change in the system comes from an added lane on the highway, a new bus route, a bike path, a pedestrian walkway, a telecommuting program, or something as simple as better traffic signal timing, communities are thinking of new ways to increase quality of life by reducing daily commute times.
To continue to provide the most options to local governments, NLC supports the continuation of the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program (CMAQ), Transportation Enhancements program, the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot Program (TCSP), and the Intelligent Transportation System program. These programs have made a huge impact on localities and had a positive effect on quality of life.
In Vermont, the Transportation Enhancements program is so popular that we have programmed 133 percent of available funds. In Burlington, we have benefited from several of the programmatic innovations contained in ISTEA and TEA 21. We have utilized the Enhancements program to launch the revitalization of an historic commercial center along North Street. We’ve implemented street lighting upgrades and streetscape improvements. We’ve benefited from TCSP funds for improvements to the Church Street Marketplace. Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funding has enabled us to try new approaches to solve downtown parking and transportation problems. We have also made key additions to our local and regional bicycle-pedestrian system, providing bike shelters and placing bike racks on buses.
In addition, NLC believes that to maintain economic viability, congestion mitigation programs must be available to cities and towns. A comprehensive, federal funding program to address congestion would foster project innovation, enhance intermodal planning, promote savings in infrastructure investment, and increase the livability and economic viability of communities across the country. NLC urges the committee to consider the development of a congestion mitigation program that recognizes that congestion is a local issue and provides direct funding to cities and regions of all sizes to address related problems in their communities.
NLC believes that a congestion mitigation program may help alleviate future air quality issues in many areas. We recognize that many metropolitan areas are currently not in attainment under the Clean Air Act. In addition to a metropolitan congestion program, we remain strongly committed to a federal funding program, like CMAQ, for non-attainment areas to address emissions from mobile sources.
Additionally, NLC supports streamlining the federal transportation project delivery process to help reduce unnecessary delays in implementation, which will allow for more effective and efficient use of federal funds. We look forward to working with the committee and the Administration to achieve a positive change without harming the environment or sacrificing citizen participation in the process.
It is essential that the nation’s transportation system be seamless, with complimentary and supportive relationships amongst all modes. Both freight and passenger transportation should be facilitated by the right mix of multi-modal connectors, minimizing the disruption associated with movement through high density areas, especially at peak times such as “rush hour”.
NLC strongly supports federal programs, which fund different transportation modes such as the federal transit and rail programs. Passenger rail – commuter rail, inter-city rail, high-speed rail and MagLev – provides communities with other options to consider as part of a transportation and smart growth plan. In my small city, commuter rail service has been instituted.
We support funding to both preserve existing transit systems and for New Starts. In addition, we support a change in the law to allow states and localities to use TEA 21 dollars for inter-city passenger rail. We support the development of a national high-speed rail network. NLC joined our local and state partners in supporting the High Speed Rail Investment Act, (S. 250), which is pending before the Senate Finance committee.
Federal policies should encourage “closing the gap” of independent modal elements of the transportation system, with the goal of ensuring that efficient connections are available for the movement of people and goods. Accordingly, NLC supports the development of intermodal facilities and would recommend that projects shown to improve the efficiency of the connecting modes of intermodal facilities should be recognized as a matter of national significance. Specifically, we would ask the committee to examine the intermodal system and determine if a specific funding program may be needed to help alleviate congestion.
In Burlington we will break ground this fall on an intermodal transit facility that will provide seamless connections for regional transit, passenger rail, bicycle, and lake ferry services. This facility and all of its interconnected modes will make our waterfront accessible to greater a number of visitors—without overwhelming it with automobiles.
In conclusion, the nation’s local elected officials stand ready to work with you throughout the reauthorization of TEA 21. We understand the delicate balance among the priority objectives all of the partners from the federal, state, and local levels testifying before the committee today. The National League of Cities is committed to working with our partners to help develop the next surface transportation program. We value our seat at the table in this process and accept the responsibility of planning and implementing innovative transportation strategies to meet the needs of our citizens.
It is clear to us that congestion remains one of the nation’s top complaints and is affecting quality of life. In addition, safety and security have become top priorities in this new post-September 11th climate. We believe the federal government can strike a balance between protecting our citizens and enhancing their quality of life. We continue to strive for an innovative, intermodal, and multi-modal transportation system.