Remarks Greg Krause, Executive Director,
Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County
Before the United States Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Western Transportation Issues and Reauthorization of TEA-21
My name is Greg Krause, Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today regarding Western Transportation Issues and the re-authorization of the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century.
The RTC serves the cities of Reno and Sparks as well as the unincorporated area of Washoe County. Our agency has three main businesses: long range transportation planning as the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, provision of public transportation services, and construction and repair of the regional roads. With this fairly unique combination of both planning and implementation of all modes of surface transportation for our community, I offer the follow comments regarding transportation needs in our community and reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century:
Before I address the future transportation needs of Washoe County, I would like to acknowledge the leadership that this Committee has displayed in developing national transportation legislation, resulting in major improvements in the capacity, quality and efficiency of the system. I would also like to acknowledge Senator Reid for his leadership and commitment to helping Nevada meet the transportation needs of a growing population in Washoe County. He has specifically helped Washoe County obtain funding for an Intelligent Transportation System and seventeen replacement vehicles for Citifare and CitiLift, and major funding for the new transit centers in Downtown Reno and Sparks, including over $14 million in discretionary federal transit funds in the last three years.
The RTC has completed a blueprint for the future, the 2030 Transportation Plan. Thousands of citizens, involved in hundreds of hours of meetings, helped formulate the 2030 Transportation Plan over a two year period. The 2030 Transportation Plan found that as our community grows from 320,000 people to over 540,000 in the next thirty years, we need to make major investments to repair our roads, increase their efficiency and capacity, and improve public transportation services. The 2030 Transportation Plan identified a funding shortfall of $716 million in roadway needs and $100 million in public transportation needs.
We are proposing a local solution to this funding shortfall. The proposal will be presented to the public as a Washoe County advisory ballot question in November 2002. It includes indexing local gas taxes to go up with inflation, indexing the development impact fees to go up with inflation, a 1/8 percent increase in the local sales tax, and increased efficiencies in roadway maintenance programs that will generate $50 million in savings over the next 30 years. The continuation of federal transportation funding at least at levels provided under TEA-21 will also be critical to our success.
Public transportation will play a key and growing role in our future mobility. A priority will be to construct new transit centers in Downtown Reno and Sparks. With design and right of way funding already secured, funding for construction will be our next priority. These new transit centers will include child care, retail and other services that make public transportation more convenient and attractive. Another public transportation priority will be the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor along South Virginia Street. We are currently preparing a preliminary feasibility study and cost estimate for this project so it may be considered for inclusion in the reauthorization legislation for TEA-21.
Streets and highways will also need major improvements. Several key projects include:
These are some of the key near term projects that will need to be addressed and will require substantial federal funds. The RTC has and will continue to partner with the Nevada DOT to ensure that these and other critical projects are implemented in a timely manner.
The following suggestions are offered to the Committee as you consider the reauthorization of TEA-21.
Index the Federal Gas Tax to Inflation
Gas taxes are a major source of transportation funding, and have served the transportation system well at the federal, state and local levels. The nexus between who pays the gas tax, how much they pay, and the benefits received has made this tax understandable and one of the more acceptable of taxes. The principal draw back of “flat” gas taxes is the steady erosion of their purchasing power over time due to inflation. The last significant increase in the federal gas tax rate occurred in 1993, and since then, this revenue has lost 22 percent of its purchasing power due to construction cost inflation. We are pursuing a local initiative to allow the local gas tax to inflate, within limits, with the consumer price index on an annual basis. I would request consideration of a similar inflationary adjustment for the federal gas tax.
Continue Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) Funding in Air Quality Maintenance Areas
The CMAQ program has been a critical funding source for public transportation and system efficiency investments that have a proven air quality benefit. For regions that are successful in achieving the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, CMAQ funding should continue so that we do not take a step backward in air quality.
Dedicated Funding for Bus Rapid Transit Start-Up
The success of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has been demonstrated both in the United States and abroad. BRT has provided the capacity and convenience of rail investments at a fraction of the cost. Where favorable conditions may develop for rail service in the future, BRT provides the opportunity for an evolutionary transition to rail by building ridership and a culture of transit use. BRT will not only provide a cost-effective solution for decades in Reno and other smaller communities, but will also protect the dedicated right of way today necessary to allow for rail investments, if that is the choice of future generations. In order for communities to have the chance to invest in BRT, it would be beneficial to create a dedicated funding source for this purpose.
Streamlined Federal Partnership/Stewardship Process
In the old days, only State DOTs were allowed to implement federal projects. However, as resources have declined and workloads increased at the State level, partnering between State and local entities in implementing federally funded transportation projects has increased. Great successes have resulted from this innovative approach, with local entities sometimes taking the lead within the team. The immense benefits of this approach have been diminished when local entities have been forced to certify not only to the federal government, but also to the State DOT, that all federal requirements have been met. It would be a fairly easy solution to simplify this duplicative process so that the local entity is only required to certify compliance with the federal government. Obviously, this authority should only be granted to local entities that have the capability to meet the federal guidelines, but the RTC, among many other local entities will perform even more efficiently in the administration of federally funded projects if oversight can be streamlined, with certification provided directly to the federal DOT.
Elimination of the Nevada Special Rule
The State of Nevada has had a special provision in ISTEA and TEA21 which has basically given the majority, approximately 65%, of the eligible Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding to the State DOT and the minority of funding , approximately 35%, to the urbanized areas. This is the reverse of the formula applied to virtually every other state in the nation. Ironically, Nevada has one of the highest percentages of population that lives within the urbanized area. While the State DOT has done a very good job of making investment decisions within the current STP allocation formula, the RTC is convinced that the priority setting process will be even more effective as more of the STP funds are prioritized by the MPO in each urbanized area.