Statement of Mayor Brent Coles
To the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
January 24, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, I am Brent Coles, Mayor of Boise, Idaho.
I appear today on behalf of The U.S. Conference of Mayors where I serve as the Conference’s immediate past president and member of the Executive Committee. The Conference of Mayors represents more than 1,000 cities with a population of more than 30,000.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and other Members of this panel for holding these hearings today, as we approach the next phase of “Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century” or TEA-21.
On September 11 the world witnessed an attack on America that was unimaginable. The attacks instantly revealed the importance to our national security of a balanced, multi-modal, resilient, and secure transportation system. While our transportation agencies and businesses struggled heroically to deal with the tragedy, many travelers did not make it home for a week. Securing our transportation system is viewed as a prerequisite to eliminating the anxiety that has accelerated the nation’s economic downturn and to achieving economic security for the nation.
Fortunately, we have tools to deal with this crisis, provided by visionary federal transportation laws known as ISTEA and TEA-21. TEA-21 provided the resources necessary to make investments in our transportation network that enabled immediate and quick emergency response.
In the weeks since that attack, mayors across the nation have mobilized the local resources provided through TEA-21 to protect their citizens in the event of further terrorist activity. The national security benefits of ISTEA were hardly anticipated when the bill was passed ten years ago, but the events of 2001 demonstrated the critical importance of this law. As they always have done in times of crisis, mayors assumed visible leadership roles, both in their cities and throughout their metropolitan regions. They have engaged in critical examinations of the local, state and federal resources, as well as the security infrastructure that exist to do this.
Now, as the nation recovers from the tragedy of September 11, America’s mayors stand ready on the domestic front lines at assist in every way possible. We are the “domestic troops” in the war on terrorism, as Conference President Marc Morial of New Orleans has stated. The wealth of resources provided by TEA-21 has most certainly strengthened our ability to do this.
When Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr, the Conference’s Transportation and Communications Chair, testified before the Subcommittee last April, his statement highlighted a number of issues pertaining to TEA-21. I will speak to these issues and others in more detail in my testimony.
As a starting point, I want to emphasize a statement by Mayor Barr, which captures the Conference’s broader view on TEA-21. He said, “TEA-21 certainly provides the tools and the laboratory, but it doesn't guarantee success. This is up to local elected officials working with the governors and state transportation officials to use the tools you have provided.”
We commend this Committee and others in Congress and the Administration, for providing us with the opportunity under TEA-21 to meet our surface transportation challenges. Mr. Chairman, I know that in your capacity as Senator of Vermont, you are one of the pioneers of the concept of transportation-oriented development. Transportation touches every aspect of our modern lives. We thank you for your leadership in this area.
I am here to provide context for our views on where we are today with the implementation of TEA-21. Many of the issues highlight the importance of cities to the success of the TEA-21 partnership.
First, I would like to call your attention to several emerging issues that have considerable bearing on the Committee’s review of TEA-21 implementation.
First, let me talk about the Conference’s work on developing new information on the role of city/county metro economies in fueling U.S. economic growth. Since 1999, we have released annual data, prepared by Standard & Poor’s DRI, which measures the Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) figures for the nation’s city/county metro areas.
As the focal points of economic activity, metropolitan areas are vital to the nation’s continued economic development. The contribution of metro areas to the national economy has increased over the last decade, a trend that is expected to continue over the next twenty-five years.
If they were counted as a single country, the gross product of the five largest U.S. metropolitan areas ($1.59 trillion) would rank fourth among the world’s economies, trailing only the U.S ($9.96 trillion), Japan ($4.6 trillion) and Germany ($1.87 trillion). The importance of metro area economies can also be illustrated by their size relative to the output of U.S. states. The gross product of the 10 largest metro areas exceeds the combined output of the 31 smallest states. In the study, we found that 47 of the top 100 economies in the world are U.S. city/county metro areas.
The size of metro area economies illustrates their importance to the nation. Mr. Chairman, the implications of this information for federal and state policy-makers are far-reaching. There is no doubt in my mind that the resources provided by ISTEA and TEA-21 have played a significant role in the economic vitality of cities and metro regions. The Conference stands ready to work with you and this Committee as you craft future surface transportation policy.
In anticipation of this discussion, we recently surveyed a group of mayors, principally those serving on the Conference’s Transportation Committee, to solicit their general views on how the TEA-21 is working. Let me provide a quick review of the responses from 40 mayors who completed the survey.
Nearly one-half of the mayors indicated that under TEA-21, their state had committed additional funding or planned to commit additional funds to local projects of particular priority to the city or region. When we asked if their metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) had set any targets for fair share funding under TEA-21, one-half of the respondents said yes.
Based on the survey, it appears that states are reaching out to local governments under TEA-21. Seventy percent (70 percent) of the respondents indicated that their governors or state transportation officials had contacted them about new funding available under TEA-21. However, only 40 percent of mayors have been asked to participate in a state process to decide funding priorities for TEA-21 dollars.
When asked to indicate the single most important surface transportation priority in their city or region, the mayors’ top three responses were System Preservation at 35 percent, Congestion Relief at 20 percent and New Rail Projects at 15 percent. The remaining 30 percent of the responses included alternative transportation, new freeways, freeway expansion, transportation access to brownfield sites, safety, bridge repair and major road widening. Mayors were asked to write the response, rather than choosing from a list.
I do not think mayors can overstate the importance of infrastructure to the economic health of our cities and regions and transportation infrastructure is clearly one of our highest priorities.
Though suburban sprawl may conjure up visions of LA or Phoenix, the rugged, southwest corner of Idaho also faces significant traffic and air quality problems stemming from rapid growth. During the past decade, Boise, Idaho had the second highest growth rate in the country.
For the first time, our residents began to think seriously about transportation issues. Our legendary “rush-minutes” lengthened and people began to experience longer, less tolerable commutes. Policy makers began to look at ways to protect our quality of life from the impacts of sprawl. Our highly conservative region began to discuss ideas like transit oriented development, protection of open space, and commuter rail.
Four years ago, we formed a working group called the Treasure Valley Partnership. The Partnership consists of mayors and commissioners from general purpose governments in two counties. This group embodies the collaborative principles set out in TEA-21. As a Partnership, we have brought together business, community groups, and local government to make new connections between transportation and land use. I believe that our entire process of governance in the region has been improved and policy decisions are made in more informed and strategic manner, so that all citizens are better served.
The Partnership began to look seriously at what our region will look like at full build-out. For the first time, we put our comprehensive plans side by side to see if they are consistent with each other. Our planning staffs have begun to talk more and cooperate more. Our transportation plans have more regional buy-in.
The Partnership has directly benefited from TEA-21. Working in collaboration with Idaho Smart Growth and our MPO, we obtained a $500,000 grant for a visioning process that has engaged the entire region in a discussion of sprawl and traffic, and their link to land use. The money has been leveraged with other grant funds to conduct pilot projects which model the conclusions of the broader study.
Based on the principles of TEA-21, the City of Boise purchased more than 18 miles of railroad track and right-of-way that was about to be abandoned by Union Pacific Railroad. We used general fund property tax dollars for this purchase, even though the track is located entirely outside our corporate city limits. We raised private funds to purchase Boise’s historic train depot. We did this to preserve the infrastructure that will be needed someday for commuter and passenger rail service in our region.
The residents of our two-county area went to the Idaho Legislature for the authority to establish regional transit programs. Then, voters overwhelmingly approved creation of a regional transit authority. We have yet to be given a dedicated funding source by the Legislature, but Boise City has provided funding to hire an executive director and we are allowing the regional transit authority to assume operation of our bus system.
This is progress that would not have occurred without the guidance and encouragement provided by ISTEA and TEA-21. There is more to be done, but we believe we are on the right track.
Now, Mr. Chairman, last Friday I was informed of the potential $9 billion dollar shortfall in TEA-21 allocations to the states for FY 03. If the shortfall is passed onto states, the funds allocated under TEA-21 in FY 03 would be less than the base amounts promised to states for highways and transit. As you might imagine, this would have serious repercussions. The State of Idaho, for example, would lose more than 25 percent of our federal transportation funding. California would lose $741 million dollars and Texas would lose $626 million. It’s estimated that nationwide we would lose an estimated 144,000 jobs by FY 04.
I know that this is new information and that the impacts of the shortfall have yet to be fully explored. I pledge to you the assistance of the Conference of Mayors as you work toward resolution of this issue.
Mr. Chairman, the issues I have discussed today affect all of our cities. Our cities as neighborhoods -- protecting quality of life -- and our cities as regions -- competing in a global economy – must have transportation funds as tools to carry out our responsibilities within the regional context. In our region, adequate funding and air quality constraints continue to hamper our potential success. You have the opportunity to permit us to respond better to both our responsibilities to enhance quality of life and increase competitiveness in a world economy.
The nation’s mayors believe in the ISTEA partnership, and look forward to the opportunity to build upon this success under TEA-21.
Mr. Chairman, as you move forward on TEA-21 Reauthorization, you can count on the mayors’ active participation and support. Thank you for this opportunity to present our views.