Field Hearing on Reauthorization of the
Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and
Federal Lands Highways Program
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety
Bruce Warner, Director
Oregon Department of Transportation
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, for the opportunity to testify on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Federal Lands Highways Program.
The nation’s transportation system is critical – it drives the economy, moves people and goods, strategically links our homeland defenses, and helps shape our communities. When our transportation system is strong, our economy, our safety and our quality of life are improved.
There is a tremendous amount at stake as we near the end of one surface transportation bill, and begin debating the next. TEA-21 has been an indisputable success. In Oregon for example, our highways are safer (traffic deaths have fallen to a 40-year low), the condition of roads statewide has improved, and thousands of highway-related jobs have been supported each year. Congress should continue TEA-21’s funding guarantees, budgetary firewalls, and basic program structure in the next bill.
As Congress begins the process of reauthorizing TEA-21, the country faces new challenges, including a severe economic slowdown and a new era of combating terrorism at home and abroad. We also face:
· Aging infrastructure – The vast network of roads and bridges built after World War II is reaching old age all at once.
· Rapid growth – Growth threatens future economic prosperity and livability.
· Congestion – Bottlenecks on key freight routes hinder the movement of people and freight.
To face these challenges, it is clear that additional federal resources are needed to strengthen our transportation system. Transportation industry groups, states and some Members of Congress have proposed several ways to increase the size of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).
· Regain the interest on the HTF balance. Prior to TEA-21 the HTF earned interest on its balance, which was paid by the General Fund. Treasury estimates a $4 billion dollar loss to the HTF between September 1999 and February 2002.
· Raise the taxes on gasoline and heavy truck use.
· Transfer the 2.5 cents ethanol tax paid to the General Fund to the HTF.
· Require the General Fund to reimburse the HTF for the loss incurred by the ethanol tax exemption.
· Eliminate the ethanol tax exemption.
· Begin to index the tax on fuel so that the tax corresponds to fluctuations in the economy, i.e. The Consumer Price Index (CPI).
All vehicles should pay their fair share of the costs to maintain the nation’s highways and bridges. Regardless of fuel type all vehicles add to congestion and cause wear and tear on roads. Some have suggested that new user fees based on miles traveled or vehicle registration could supplement existing federal fuel taxes. These ideas need to be explored further and implemented, perhaps as a pilot program in the next authorization bill.
Additional funding is needed to increase authorizations for important transportation programs such as the Federal Lands Highways Program and increase annual highway apportionments to states in the next “TEA” bill.
The FLHP provides funding to improve roads that are within or provide access to federally owned lands. The continuation of a strong Federal Lands Highways Program in the next surface transportation authorization bill is of national importance and a high priority for western states.
In the State of Oregon, federal lands are integral to the economy. The federal government owns one out of every two acres of land. The total area publicly owned approaches 32 million acres - more than the amount of 35 other states combined. While timber harvests have declined, more people are still employed in the lumber and wood products industry than any other single manufacturing industry in the state. Recreational opportunities on publicly owned land play a vital role in Oregon's travel and tourism industry. Oregon is second only to California in the volume of passenger vehicle traffic on roads within federal lands.
TEA-21 continued the Federal Lands Highways Program established by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). The bill expanded eligible projects to include transit facilities within public lands, national parks and Indian Reservations. TEA-21 also added a new FLHP category for the preservation and improvement of roads within or providing access to National Wildlife Refuges. Currently under TEA-21 the FLHP is comprised of four categories: 1) Indian Reservation Roads, 2) Park Roads and Parkways, 3) Public Lands Highways and 4) Refuge Roads.
Each of the FLHP categories uses a different approach for allocating and distributing funding. Increased funding for the FLHP should be distributed proportionally among these categories.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Bureau of Indian Affairs jointly administer the Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) Program. Indian tribes select area projects. IRR funds used on state and county roads must be used as a supplement to and not in lieu of regular federal highway funding.
The National Park Service (NPS) and FHWA jointly administer the Park Roads and Parkway Program. The NPS selects area projects and program funds may only be used on roads under the jurisdiction of the NPS.
The Refuge Roads Program is administered by FHWA. Funds may only be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FHWA for the 3,260 miles of public roads that provide access to or are located within the national Wildlife Refuge System. Projects are selected from transportation improvement programs developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Two different processes are used by FHWA to administer the Public Lands Highways (PLH) Program. The Secretary of Transportation is directed to allocate 66 percent of authorizations for Public Lands Highways according to the administrative formula used to allocate previous Forest Highways funds and distribute 34 percent PLH funds on a "needs basis" (i.e. discretionary grants).
The Western Federal Lands Highway Division (Western Federal Lands) of FHWA has primary responsibility for managing the PLH funds allocated to western states in accordance with the Forest Highways administrative formula. In Oregon, projects are selected for funding by a committee with representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Oregon Counties and Western Federal Lands.
Under the discretionary component of the program, FHWA normally solicits grant applications from states each year. Increasingly, however, Congress is earmarking PLH funding in annual transportation appropriations bills – about 20% of PLH discretionary program funding in FY 2000, 80% in FY 2001, and 100% in FY 2002.
The next surface transportation bill will determine the future of the FLHP, including: 1) the overall authorization level, the number of program categories, and how funds are allocated.
TEA-21 increased authorization levels for the FLHP by over 60% - from $447 million in 1997, the last year of ISTEA, to over $700 million a year. A similar size increase is needed in the next bill. The Western Governors Association and the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO) have adopted resolutions in support of increased funding for the FLHP in the next authorization bill.
Public lands are not equally distributed around the nation and thus states with larger amounts of publicly owned lands have greater needs than states with smaller amounts. FLHP funding should be allocated:
· Mainly to states with at least 3% of the nation’s total public land.
· The current formula used to allocate funding under the Forest Highways component of the Public Lands Highways Program should be maintained. It is based on the extent and use of public lands in each state - timberland areas, harvest volumes, recreational visitor days, traffic volumes, etc.
· To prevent earmarking of funds in annual appropriations bills, the discretionary component of the Public Lands Highways Program should either be rolled into the existing formula component or distributed directly to states by a new formula. The new formula could focus funding on a specific problem facing states with large public lands, such as funding culvert replacement or other transportation related work that is required to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and Western Governors Association have taken the position that no new categories should be created within the Federal Lands Highways Program. This position was in part a response to a proposal that would establish a new national road system made up of 60,000 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads, funded from the Highway Trust Fund. If adopted, the proposal would create within the Federal Highway Program a new system of roads larger than the Interstate System. The states support additional funding for the U.S. Forest Service from the General Fund.
Other Reauthorization Issues
There are many other important issues that will be decided during reauthorization of TEA-21. The following are ODOT’s comments on a few of them.
In Oregon we face a particularly pressing challenge - many of the state's bridges built during the Interstate era are beginning to show signs of cracking. Over 300 bridges have been identified as needing repairs or replacement due to severe cracking at a cost of over $600 million. If the problem is not addressed soon, there will be economic impacts as weight limits are imposed and freight is diverted off the Interstate System, often through small communities, detouring as many as 100 miles per trip. The state alone cannot fix a problem of this scale. Additional federal bridge funding will be needed in the next authorization bill.
National Corridor Planning and Development Program (NCPD)
In the next bill, NCPD funding should be increased and focused on eliminating freight bottlenecks in key trade corridors, especially at regional hubs where many modes of freight converge. In Oregon, the I-5 Portland/Vancouver Trade Corridor is a prime example of a congested freight hub – where two Class I railroads, two Interstate highways, two ports, barge traffic, a high-speed rail corridor and an airport meet – that is a crossroads for regional and international trade. The current NCPD program is under funded and unfocused. With grants averaging $4-5 million, and little oversight to ensure funds are going to true trade corridors, the program as currently authorized is not targeting critical freight bottlenecks as is needed.
In response to Section 1309 of TEA-21, ODOT has developed and implemented a coordinated review process for highway construction projects. This improved method for state and federal permitting agencies to review highway projects is up and running in Oregon. Known as "CETAS" (Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement on Streamlining), it establishes a working relationship between ODOT and ten state and federal transportation, natural and cultural resource and land use planning agencies.
The next bill should support state-led efforts to both protect the environment and streamline the review process for transportation projects by encouraging agencies to participate in collaborative stewardship/streamlining efforts through:
· Incentives – to get resource protection agencies and transportation agencies at the federal and state level working together. With limited resources, many agencies find it difficult or impossible to participate in collaborative stewardship/streamlining efforts because they must take staff away from their daily duties.
· Research and technology – can provide tools to make it easier for agencies to implement stewardship/streamlining initiatives. For example, GIS mapping of natural and cultural resources gives transportation departments information in a format that they can easily incorporate into their ongoing planning, operations, maintenance and construction methods.
· Innovative permitting – the permitting process can be improved through innovating permitting techniques. For example, resource agencies are beginning to approve programmatic permits for routine transportation activities, saving time and money that can be used for mitigation and projects. Federal agencies need to be encouraged to develop new programmatic approaches to permitting. Advanced wetland and conservation banking for transportation projects should be sanctioned.
The TCSP program has proven to be extremely popular among states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and other units of local governments. Demand for funding has far exceeded available funding. Like other discretionary programs, annual appropriations bills have earmarked increasing amounts of the program's funding. This trend has undermined the purpose of discretionary programs - to implement federal policy goals by awarding federal grants to projects that demonstrate they support those goals, based on an objective and rigorous grant application process administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The program should be restructured and its funding increased to: 1) better support program goals by providing incentives to states, and 2) prevent earmarking of the program in future annual appropriations bills. The TCSP program could be improved by:
· Establishing the TCSP as a permanent Federal-aid highway program.
· Re-establishing an effective discretionary program.
· Adding incentives to encourage states to implement the goals of the program.
· Increasing the annual authorization level for the new program to $250 million.
In 1999, BLM listed all of its 43,000 miles of roads as “administrative” and therefore no longer “public” road miles. This despite that fact that BLM roads are open to the public and many are paved. The classification of public road mileage is extremely important to western states because it is a formula factor for the allocation of motor carrier and highway safety program funding. The Western Governors Association and WASHTO have called on the U.S. Department of Transportation not to exclude BLM road miles from public road mileage certified by states until a study is undertaken to review the criteria and methods used to determine the classification of roads as “public”. The study should be done in cooperation with the western states.
Mr. Chairman, a strong transportation system is vital to the future of the United States. Reauthorization is an opportunity to strengthen the transportation system and build upon the successes of TEA-21 and ISTEA. To do this, additional federal resources are needed. States simply will not be able to overcome the many challenges we face alone.
We do not need to re-create the wheel this reauthorization cycle. The basic program structure is sound and proven programs such as the Federal Lands Highways Program are generally working well. Some changes need to be made, such as ensuring discretionary program funding is targeted to projects that support the program’s objectives. The funding guarantees and firewall provisions established in TEA-21 will need to be protected. New revenue sources will have to be explored.
Finally, it is crucial that state highway apportionments increase substantially as they did under TEA-21. Oregon’s cities, counties, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, transit districts and many other jurisdictions benefit when the state’s annual apportionment increases.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer any questions.