Dr. Ronald Kirby
Director of Transportation Planning
National Capital Region
Transportation Planning Board
Council of Governments
On Behalf of the
Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations
U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
May 15, 2002
1730 Rhode Island Ave, NW ¨ Suite 608 ¨ Washington, DC 20036
P: 202-296-7051 ¨ F: 202-296-7054 ¨ www.ampo.org
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am Ronald Kirby, Director of Transportation Planning for the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Washington, DC region. I am appearing today at your invitation on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) of which I am an active member, serving as vice chairman of its Management Committee and a member of its Policy Committee.
I want to thank you and the members of the Committee for holding this series of hearings to review critical issues surrounding the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
This act and its predecessor, ISTEA, rightfully recognized the importance of planning a metropolitan transportation system and gave me and my colleagues at 340 other MPOs increased responsibility to develop effective strategic long-range plans and comprehensive, multi-modal transportation improvement programs. With the 2000 census we expect that an additional 61 MPOs will be established to serve newly-designated urbanized areas, and that the geographic areas and populations served by existing MPOs will grow significantly.
While new responsibilities such as management and operations have been added to MPO requirements by TEA-21, the percentage of highway program funding for metropolitan planning has remained at the one percent level set in ISTEA. It is time to increase the takedown from the highway program and the amount allocated from the transit program. This will reflect a) the almost 20 percent increase in MPOs resulting from the 2000 census, b) the increasingly urbanized U. S. population coming under the rubric of existing MPOs, and c) the increased MPO responsibilities created by enhanced planning provisions and requirements. AMPO suggests the takedown be increased to two percent of the overall program.
I understand your interest is in exploring the lessons learned from the ten years of experience with metropolitan planning since the enactment of ISTEA in 1991, the adequacy of the planning tools available, the adequacy of resources to perform metropolitan transportation planning, and whether the right groups have been at the table during the development of plans and programs. I would like to provide you with a few initial thoughts: we need to retain key provisions in the planning process, increase the resources for plans and projects, and venture into new areas to improve planning and implementation of our metropolitan transportation systems.
I classify the tools for planning in three categories: 1) tools that are working effectively and we should retain, 2) tools that work effectively and we should expand, and 3) new tools we need to continue effective planning.
First, we should retain tools
that are working effectively
The requirement for a financially realistic plan and a
fiscally constrained program is the most effective tool provided by ISTEA and
TEA-21. This requirement eliminated
“wish list” plans and programs which did not identify enough funds for
implementation. This financial
constraint requirement gave credibility to the MPO plans and programs and
presented the public with a realistic view of what can be delivered in the way
of transportation projects and services.
It is imperative that this requirement be retained.
Any dilution of the fiscal constraint requirement may find us over-promising transportation improvements and losing our credibility with our customers. Citizens and users of our metropolitan transportation systems who rightfully complain about congestion and unreliability in parts of our system will not countenance papering over the problem with wishes for projects that cannot be delivered.
In addition to financial constraint, two ancillary tools in TEA-21 should also be retained: 1) the requirement for cooperative revenue forecasting among MPOs, states and transit authorities and 2) the requirement for an annual listing of obligated projects to be prepared by the MPO.
Along with financial tools, the overall planning approach established in ISTEA and TEA-21 should be retained. The requirement that long range plans be strategic in nature with broad community goals and specific objectives places the transportation agenda in a broader context, encouraging the linkage between transportation, land use, the economy and the environment in a metropolitan area.
When this approach is combined with early and extensive involvement of the community, the MPO has a solid basis for developing its long-range plan and transportation improvement program. ISTEA and TEA-21 transformed the long range plan from a twenty-year listing of transportation projects to a blueprint for community development which indicates the appropriate contribution transportation investment can make to that development.
In the Washington metropolitan area, these ISTEA and TEA-21 tools have, in the words of one of our elected officials, “forced us to ask the right questions.” Application of the financial constraint in the early-1990s resulted in a rather stressful prioritization of transportation improvements for inclusion in the long-range plan, and the initiation of a visioning process aimed at developing a broad consensus on regional transportation goals and addressing the critical funding needs we had identified. The Transportation and Community and System Preservation Program (TCSP) has allowed us to pursue previously unaddressed goals in our new vision regarding a system of regional greenways and circulation systems within regional activity centers, and to focus increased attention on these areas in the project selection process.
Secondly, we believe we should expand some of the existing tools that work effectively. Two tools have been effective and should be expanded: 1) ensuring that adequate planning resources are available to MPOs, and 2) making project funds available directly to MPOs.
As you may know, MPOs receive planning funds via a small percentage take-down from the federal highway authorization and a line item amount from the transit authorization. ISTEA set the percentage for the highway program at one percent, a reasonable figure given the increased responsibilities asked of MPOs and the understanding that involving the public in transportation decision-making would require appropriate additional resources. With the increased urbanization of America, AMPO believes that it is time to increase the takedown to two percent to serve an increasing number of MPOs and a growing percentage of our population in existing MPO areas.
Regarding funds to build projects, ISTEA and TEA-21 for the first time put funds in the hands of local elected officials to assign to projects developed cooperatively through the MPO process. Each MPO with more than 200,000 in population receives a portion of the Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds allocated to its state to expend on specific projects. These funds can be programmed based on the MPOs’ best judgment on the transportation needs of their metropolitan areas. The funds are made available by the states through “suballocation.”
The availability of these funds not only provides funding for vital local projects, but also encourages local officials to get involved in the transportation decision making for their region, since, as they say, there is “real money” on the table. Suballocation of STP funds has been an outstanding success for the one-third of the MPOs that have populations over 200,000, and needs to be expanded to the remaining two-thirds of smaller areas that still have pressing needs for their regions. AMPO suggests: 1) restoring the suballocation of the STP minimum guarantee funds and extending the suballocation of urbanized STP funds to all MPOs, and 2) suballocating CMAQ funds to MPOs in air quality non-attainment and maintenance areas.
Third, let us look at possible new tools to improve the effectiveness of metropolitan transportation planning.
In order to complement the financial constraint requirement and suballocation proposal, it would be helpful to require states to account annually for expenditures of NHS and other programs. This would allow for a clear and comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of plan implementation. In other words, “did we build what we planned?”
Once we have built facilities, and managed and operated the system, we should determine how effective we have been. MPOs need better data on the use of the metropolitan transportation system. AMPO suggests two tools to measure effectiveness: 1) invest resources in monitoring devices to track use of our transportation facilities, the so-called “Infostructure,” and 2) encourage the development of a performance-based management and operation element within MPO plans and programs. To give local officials the greatest flexibility in applying solutions to our metropolitan transportation needs, we recommend that the law make clear that NHS, STP and CMAQ funds may and should be used for projects that manage and operate the system.
Another area of transportation planning, freight planning, needs some new tools. While consideration of freight is a planning factor, it is time to give MPOs greater capability to develop and apply solutions to freight needs. AMPO proposes that the reauthorization bill broaden the eligibility of freight project funding, provide incentives to attract private investment, and allow port access and gateways to be eligible for the “corridors and borders” program.
Finally, we feel new tools are needed to streamline project delivery and air quality conformity processes. The MPO planning process offers untapped opportunities to identify environmental issues and incorporate them into the process of defining project alternatives. To take advantage of these opportunities, we propose that the reauthorization bill 1) require that both federal project-sponsoring and resource agencies participate in the MPO corridor planning process, 2) allow concurrent review processes, and 3) provide incentives for demonstrating innovative streamlining techniques.
Regarding air quality conformity requirements, we recommend that the law add two tools: 1) put the state air quality implementation plan (SIP) and metropolitan transportation conformity plans on the same time frame, and 2) focus the conformity process on the metropolitan transportation plan, not the transportation improvement program (TIP). We will have more specific proposals regarding air quality conformity in the near future.
In summary, I would like to emphasize the importance of planning in producing effective transportation systems for our metropolitan areas. In the planning, designing, building and operation of transportation facilities the most important leadership must come in the planning phase. With a solid plan developed through consensus you may be assured that we will have a transportation system that works.
Thank you for your time and the opportunity to speak before this committee.