STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE MICHAEL JACKSON
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
Hearing in Montpelier, Vermont
Mr. Chairman and Senator Smith, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee to address the renewal of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and rural transportation issues. Your leadership in the reauthorization process has been and will continue to be crucial.
Very few things have as great an impact on our economic development, growth patterns, and quality of life as transportation. Although the challenges are different, this is as true in rural areas as it is in urban areas. A safe and efficient transportation system is crucial to promoting community prosperity.
With the enactment of TEA-21’s predecessor, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), we established new principles in the implementation of the nation’s surface transportation programs — building partnerships with local and State officials to advance the strategic goals for transportation capital investment.
Those principles include: flexibility in the use of funds; a commitment to strengthening the intermodal connections of the nation’s transportation system; expanded investment in, and deployment of, new information technologies for transportation services; and a heightened sensitivity to the impacts transportation has on our quality of life and on the shape and character of America’s communities.
TEA-21 built upon the programmatic initiatives of ISTEA and, through its financial provisions, provided State and local governments and other transportation providers with greater certainty and predictability in transportation funding. It achieved this by reforming the treatment of the Highway Trust Fund to ensure that, for the first time, spending from the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure improvements would be linked to tax revenues.
The programmatic and financial initiatives of these two historic surface transportation acts provide us with a solid and balanced structure around which we can shape this reauthorization legislation.
In crafting a surface transportation reauthorization bill, we must maximize the safety and security of all Americans, even as we enhance their mobility, reduce congestion, and grow the economy. These are not incompatible goals; indeed, the lessons of TEA-21 demonstrate that these values reinforce each other: it is possible to have a transportation system that is safe and secure, efficient and productive.
These are only a few of the issues that we must work together to address as we develop a successor to TEA-21. The Department of Transportation looks forward to working with both Houses of Congress, State and local officials, tribal governments, and stakeholders in shaping the surface transportation reauthorization legislation.
In a hearing in front of this Committee in Washington earlier this year, Secretary Mineta set forth certain core principles and values that will inform the Department’s reauthorization efforts:
v Assuring adequate and predictable funding for investment in the nation’s transportation system.
v Preserving funding flexibility to allow the broadest application of funds to transportation solutions, as identified by State and local governments.
v Expanding and improving innovative financing programs to more effectively leverage Federal dollars and support intermodal investments.
v Increasing the accessibility of the transportation system so that all Americans can enjoy its benefits.
v Making substantial improvements in the safety of the Nation’s surface transportation system.
v Ensuring an efficient infrastructure while retaining environmental protections that enhance our quality of life.
My testimony today will focus on these core principles, all of which will benefit rural communities.
Adequate and Predictable Funding
The financial mechanisms of TEA-21 – firewalls, Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA), and minimum guarantees – provided greater equity among States in Federal funding and record levels of transportation investment. Although we will be proposing technical fixes to smooth out the wide RABA fluctuations we saw in TEA-21, the linking of highway spending to tax receipts is a sound principle and should be maintained.
Equally important is funding flexibility, first allowed in ISTEA and continued in TEA-21. Flexible funding allows States and communities to tailor their transportation choices to meet their unique needs and has enabled State and local decisionmakers to consider all transportation options and their impacts on traffic congestion, air pollution, land use patterns, economic development, and quality of life. We will continue to support vigorously broad transferability of Federal funds within core program categories. As certain States and metropolitan areas have begun to focus more on the operations and management of their transportation systems, this flexibility has proven extremely valuable to them.
ISTEA and TEA-21 were both landmark accomplishments in the history of American transportation. We should not forget, however, that the explosive growth in revenues into the Highway Trust Fund over the last six years that yielded overall program growth of approximately 40% was not only caused by a growing economy. Two early 1990’s gasoline tax increases that were re-directed from the General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund contributed significantly, as well. In today’s constrained budget environment, therefore, we must look to innovative financing programs to play a much larger role.
We can and must make the Federal dollar go farther by expanding infrastructure financing options and engaging the private sector. The United States lags behind many of its international counterparts in the implementation of successful public-private partnerships, especially with respect to large-scale intermodal projects. This reauthorization is an excellent opportunity to change that. We envision more projects like the recently completed Alameda Corridor in California that dramatically improves access in and out of the busy ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Rapidly developing freight bottlenecks will impact the entire country and must be addressed in reauthorization. A more efficient system of goods movement will benefit rural consumers and business as well as urban ones.
One success story in the innovative finance arena is the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program created under TEA-21. TIFIA has already served an important role in the development of intermodal facilities, border crossing infrastructure, highway trade corridors, and transit and passenger rail. To date, eleven projects have been selected for TIFIA assistance. The Federal Government has provided $3.7 billion in credit assistance supporting transportation investments worth $15.7 billion. Expanding the eligibility of the TIFIA program to cover an even broader range of transportation infrastructure projects should increase its impact even more.
Other financing tools such as State Infrastructure Banks (SIBs), GARVEE Bonds and traditional tax exempt financing will hopefully continue to grow in importance. We need to begin knocking down some of the barriers that currently diminish the willingness of States and the private sector to heavily invest in our country’s infrastructure.
One of the great legacies of ISTEA that was continued in TEA-21 was to provide for an open, transparent and inclusive transportation planning process at both the State and metropolitan levels. Here in Vermont, State and metropolitan planners have done an excellent job in addressing the diverse transportation needs of its citizens, including rural residents.
In the Hartford, Vermont, Hanover/Lebanon New Hampshire area, where the local economy is one of the most robust in New England, and growing traffic congestion and parking shortages are threatening to slow economic growth, the Advance Transit program has partnered with local communities and employers to provide free bus service on all of its routes and park and ride shuttles to encourage alternatives to single occupant vehicle use. The program has been a tremendous success. Ridership for 2002 is expected to exceed a half million passenger trips, nearly double what it was just three years ago. The benefits to low income riders have been recognized as well.
To encourage States to address rural needs, the Department created the Rural Capacity Building Initiative (RCBI) as part of its three-pronged Institutional Capacity Building Program. The other elements are Metropolitan Capacity Building and Statewide Capacity Building. The Initiative is providing training, technical assistance and outreach for rural transportation planners. In 1998 and 1999, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a series of 10 rural planning workshops, including one here in Vermont. The workshops gave State transportation officials the opportunity to swap success stories and lessons with their counterparts from other States, as well as borrow from the vast experience of our FHWA staff.
Over the past year, the Department has significantly its increased focus on rural planning, with FTA and FHWA jointly sponsoring and distributing the July 2001 publication, "Planning for Transportation in Rural Areas." In addition, in May 2002, FTA joined FHWA in holding a workshop focused on rural transportation issues and the benefits of participating in Statewide planning processes. Today, I am proud to say that FTA and FHWA are engaging in a stronger partnership in advancing other Statewide and Rural Capacity-Building initiatives, building upon successes achieved in the metropolitan arena.
Other rural initiatives include the Rural Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program established by the Department. This program focused on rural crash prevention, emergency services, tourism/traveler information, rural transit, rural traffic management, weather and operations and maintenance. For example, efforts underway have yielded significant benefits from the use of ITS for rural transit such as reductions in pickup times; reductions in passenger wait times; improved contractor monitoring and improved driver and passenger security.
A coalition of eight States – including New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine – plan to have a 511 Traveler Information Telephone Number in operation by the end of 2002. The 511 number will allow the public to have easy access to information about travel conditions and options. In rural areas, this information will include weather-related roadway conditions, as well as major travel disruptions from work zones and traffic incidents.
Weather and road information is critical to surface transportation operations, especially in northern States and rural areas. Technologies such as collision warning systems, sensors, GIS mapping, 360-degree radar obstacle detection devices, auditory warnings, and external light warning systems can significantly benefit drivers in low-visibility situations.
More than a quarter of a million people have been killed on America’s roadways in the past six years, 41,000 deaths each year. There are also more than 3 million police-reported injuries annually. Fifty-eight percent of traffic fatalities occur on rural roads. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicles miles of travel in rural areas is more than twice that of urban areas. Adding to the rural safety problem, emergency response times in rural areas are 1.5 times those in urban areas.
TEA-21 introduced new programs, greater flexibility and increased funding to meet these challenges. States were able to make badly needed safety improvements to their infrastructure using their Surface Transportation Program (STP), Interstate Maintenance, and National Highway System (NHS) funds. Safety concerns are now built into every interchange upgrade, intersection redesign, signing project and pavement improvement.
TEA-21 has given States and communities across America additional tools and opportunities to enhance the environment and quality of life for their residents. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program focuses on improving air quality. Under TEA-21, it provided more than $8 billion in funding for use by State and local partners to support traffic flow projects, cleaner fuels, improved transit services, and bicycle and pedestrian programs that reduce congestion and emissions and improve the quality of life.
The National Park Service has purchased buses to reduce congestion in several major National Parks. The Federal Lands Highway Divisions are using context sensitive design techniques and new technology to reconstruct or improve roads through environmentally sensitive areas within National Parks, National Forests, and wildlife refuges.
The National Scenic Byways program and the Transportation Enhancements program have helped States and communities improve the environment. Since the enactment of TEA-21, more than $1.4 billion in Transportation Enhancement funds have been obligated to local communities to implement community-focused, non-motorized activities that enhance transportation. Many more activities have been programmed and are awaiting implementation.
TEA-21 directed the Department to streamline environmental reviews. It is a major priority for the Department to assist States and communities build infrastructure more efficiently, while retaining critical environmental protections. Successful environmental streamlining requires fostering good working relationships across a number of organizational lines. These relationships allow for the development and establishment of reasonable and realistic schedules for advancing major projects. Working together in partnerships, combining a full range of Federal, State, and local officials and interest groups, will lead to reasonable ways to meet the Nation’s transportation needs, while being good stewards of the environment.
Exemplary streamlining initiatives are well underway here in New England. Vermont has led the Nation in demonstrating the hallmark of flexibility in historic preservation compliance without compromising safeguards. Senator Smith’s efforts initiated a successful partnering model in New Hampshire that has fostered the examination and exploration of improved and more efficient approaches to mitigation while adhering to deadlines.
This is a moment of great opportunity. As was true when Congress considered the landmark ISTEA and TEA-21 legislation, we have an opportunity to create our own legacy and to serve the needs of the American people in all regions. I am confident that, working together, the Department and Congress can preserve, enhance and establish surface transportation programs that will provide not only for a safer and more secure system, but one that is more efficient and productive and enhances the quality of life for every American.
One other thing that I am pleased to announce is that we have launched a website to take public comments about the reauthorization bill at www.dot.gov. We encourage private citizens to share their thoughts about this important legislation with us.
Again, thank you both for the opportunity to testify before you today. I look forward to responding to any questions you may have.