Statement of Mary E. Peters, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration

            United States Department of Transportation

Before the Committee on Environment And Public Works

Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure

United States Senate

Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2004 Budget of the Federal Highway Administration

February 27, 2003

 

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of President Bush's Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 Budget proposal for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  We are looking forward to working with this subcommittee and with Congress to achieve the goals outlined in the FY 2004 budget request -- a budget request that provides the foundation for the Administration's reauthorization proposal for surface transportation programs.

 

Funding levels in the 2004 budget reflect the difficult choices currently facing both the Administration and Congress.  The President's budget seeks a balance in addressing domestic needs, meeting our international responsibilities, and protecting against terrorist attacks at home.  The requested $29.3 billion obligation limitation for the Federal-aid Highway program  establishes a prudent basis for a sustainable highway program, provides for responsible program increases over the six-year reauthorization period, and continues the traditional linkage of highway spending and trust fund revenues.  When the President's six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal outlined in the FY 2004 budget request--including highways, highway safety, transit, and motor carrier safety--is compared to the six years of  record-level investments under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) for these programs, the proposal reveals an overall increase of 19%.

 

Transportation is essential to America's security, economic prosperity, and quality of life, and our highways and freight connectors are the critical links in the Nation's intermodal transportation system.  With today's global economy, it is more important than ever to have the infrastructure necessary for seamless transitions between modes of transportation, so that people and cargo can move effectively and efficiently.  Moreover, highway infrastructure investment is an excellent investment for the Nation in normal times and, in a recovering economy, can play an important role in economic revitalization.  The President's FY 2004 Budget request proposes a responsible and substantial investment in our Federal-aid Highway Program.

 

 

PRIMARY GOAL: SAFETY

 

While maintaining our high-quality highway network and improving its operation presents a significant challenge, the greatest challenge facing the Department of Transportation, and specifically the Federal Highway Administration, is making our highways safer.  On release of the fiscal year 2004 budget request, Secretary Mineta commended the substantial resources proposed for transportation safety improvements and reaffirmed safety as his top priority for transportation.  Secretary Mineta has urged all of us at the Department to focus on a simple but profoundly important goal:  Saving Lives.  This has been a key consideration in developing both the 2004 FHWA budget request and our reauthorization proposal.

 

Forty-two thousand people are killed annually in traffic accidents—that is 115 people killed each and every day, including about thirty Americans under the age of twenty five.  We must, and we are, finding new opportunities and developing new technologies for saving lives.  And, we are aggressively advancing the activities and projects that we already know prevent accidents, and that reduce fatalities when accidents do happen.  For example, thousands of lives could be saved if every vehicle occupant would only buckle-up.  The President's budget request will make a meaningful investment in a comprehensive safety program--roadway, driver, and vehicle--to strengthen our partnership with States and the public for these vital safety efforts.

 

 

SIMPLER AND SMARTER PROGRAMS

 

Secretary Mineta has further challenged the Department to create not only a transportation system that is safer for all Americans, but transportation programs that operate smarter and are simpler to implement as well.  While safety must be a consideration in every transportation investment, efficient movement of people and goods is the purpose of our surface transportation system.

 

At FHWA we will work to achieve a safer surface transportation system by placing the greatest emphasis on reducing accidents and saving lives.  First and foremost we will be safety advocates.  We will fulfill our mission of improving mobility through more efficient project delivery.  By simplifying and consolidating programs and, in some areas, through increased flexibility for States, needed safety and mobility projects can be delivered sooner.  By focusing on improved system performance and increased program accountability, smarter investments can be made for increasing both safety and mobility. 

 

The FHWA FY 2004 budget request includes the budgetary foundation for the Administration's proposal to reauthorize the Federal-aid Highway Program for the next six years.  I would like now to highlight for you some of the priority areas in our funding request and, in the process, share with you some of the principles that guided our 2004 budget proposal and are central to our reauthorization proposals as well.

 

 

SAFETY

           

Flexibility.  First, while the basic framework for national transportation systems may be established at the Federal level, we believe that local problems are best solved at the local level.  We will continue to encourage State and local agencies to adopt a strategic approach to address highway safety when setting priorities among projects, and we believe that State and local authorities should have increased funding flexibility to invest their safety dollars where they have determined that needs are greatest and there is the greatest potential for accident and fatality prevention.  This is the formula for smarter program investments, not only in safety but for mobility as well.

 

Data Improvement.  Because crash data is the foundation for making better decisions to achieve more cost effective safety improvements, we will continue to encourage general improvements to State accident data collection and analysis systems, including a targeted analysis of causal factors at high-crash locations.  Better data will mean smarter investments and lives saved.

 

Comprehensive and Collaborative.  A comprehensive and collaborative safety program is a smarter program.  FHWA has been working closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to ensure that under this budget, and in our reauthorization proposal, we have designed comprehensive and complementary Federal safety programs.  These collaborative efforts can translate into consolidated and simpler processes for State and local agencies to obtain and effectively invest Federal safety funds.  These efforts also provide a way to coordinate successful techniques from all aspects of safety and have the greatest impact on reducing highway deaths and injuries.

 

Infrastructure Investment.  Investments for safety cut across program lines in our budget request.  Improvements in system conditions and operations benefit safety as well as mobility, and States may, and do, use Surface Transportation (STP), Interstate Maintenance (IM), Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation (HBRRP), and National Highway System (NHS) funding for safety-specific improvements.  Construction programs contribute to safety by improving unsafe roadway design and operations, improving the condition of bridges, and removing roadway hazards.  Signing and pavement improvements can enhance the safety of existing and new facilities for all users of the highway system.  Safety can be built into every interchange upgrade, intersection redesign, or new facility through safety conscious planning and design.

 

Research and Technology Investment.  Transportation research and technology is crucial to the future of our highway system.  FHWA is proposing to step-up its investment in  transportation research and technology (R&T) programs for FY 2004, requesting a total of $404 million.  R&T benefits all of our programs, including safety, in a variety of ways. 

 

Infrastructure R&T is focused on “the Infrastructure of the Future”--breakthrough technologies to reduce the need for repairs and replacement of our highway pavements and bridges.  It is a fresh, bold approach to fulfill the need for a safe, efficient, effective, and reliable highway infrastructure.  The program will emphasize the concept of “Get In, Stay In, Get Out, and Stay Out,” for the development and deployment of highway infrastructure with significantly improved life cycle cost, major extensions in life, and substantial extensions of the maintenance and rehabilitation cycle.   The Infrastructure R&T effort will be concentrated in the technical areas of asset management, bridges, and pavements to achieve its goal. That goal is to develop and deploy the tools and technology to reliably produce 50-year performance pavements, 100-year performance bridges, and a holistic asset management process for infrastructure investment and re-investment decision-making.  The program will include our partners and stakeholders to provide direction and input throughout the R&T process.  Breakthrough technologies such as pre-fabricated bridges and pavements will be used to improve highway condition while reducing lane closures and congestion. Safety,  mobility, and user satisfaction will be improved through development and deployment of better technologies for durability, smoothness, low noise and safe surface friction levels, and ability to withstand natural hazards and terrorist threats. 

 

Safety R&T funds will help us identify opportunities for safety improvements, provide States with tools to better focus their safety investments, and permit development and deployment of safety technologies.  In FY 2004, FHWA is focusing its safety research and technology program on three high accident areas:

 

(1)  Roadway departures.  Activities to address this problem include refinement of an Interactive Highway Safety Design model, improvements for driver visibility, and increased crashworthiness of road and roadside safety features.  Initiatives for  FY 2004 include development of a countermeasure evaluation tool to prevent two-lane rural road crashes, work to improve the retroreflectivity of pavement markings and highway signs, and promoting increased installation of skid-resistant pavements, center-line and edge-line rumble strips, and improved roadway safety hardware.

 

            (2)  Intersections.  A comprehensive intersection analysis program will identify safety problems and opportunities, and implement cost-effective countermeasures.  Initiatives planned for FY 2004 include implementation of the National Intersection Safety Agenda, deployment of leading-edge traffic signalization technologies and practices, safety training for State and local personnel, evaluation of techniques to promote speed reduction at intersections, safety evaluations of intersection treatments, and refinement of roundabout designs to enhance safety for all users including pedestrians with disabilities.

 

            (3) Pedestrians. The FHWA works in cooperation with NHTSA on developing and evaluating comprehensive countermeasures and appropriate tools and technology to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, including pedestrians with disabilities. Countermeasures and tools range from integrating pedestrian and bicyclist issues in the planning, design, operations, and maintenance of roadway facilities, to implementing key recommendations from our partners and customers.  New initiatives for FY 2004 include automatic pedestrian/bicyclist counting devices, modeling of decision-making at intersection crossings, and investigation of the implications of reduced vehicular sound on pedestrians with visual impairments.

 

In addition, the FHWA conducts a number of safety research projects which contribute to multiple objectives, including: work on speed management to encourage wider adoption of safe travel speeds appropriate for road and travel conditions; safety management to ensure that resources are allocated to assure maximum returns in reducing the severity and frequency of crashes; work on human-centered systems to incorporate human factors considerations into all aspects of highway design; work zone safety improvements; and a variety of safety outreach efforts. 

 

Funding requested for the Department's Intelligent Transportation Systems program will not only advance our core mission of mobility, but will support technological solutions for safer vehicles, drivers, and roadways.  The 2004 ITS program would continue the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative and the Commercial Vehicle Operations Program, and continue the development and implementation of technology for systems reliability and congestion reduction.  Funds requested for the System Management and Information Program will increase the availability of real-time information about travel conditions, benefiting both safety and mobility.

 

Also funded under R&T, our training and education programs focus on delivering the skills the transportation community needs for timely implementation of the many new technologies as they become available.

 

 

FUNDING RESOURCES

 

The 2004 budget proposal for highways builds on the successes of prior legislation and will maintain guaranteed funding, budgetary firewalls, and Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) adjustments that link highway spending to Highway Trust Fund receipts.  These guarantees and adjustments will be refined in our legislative proposal, but we believe the concepts are important to retain to provide State and local governments with the certainty and predictability in transportation funding crucial to their programs, and to better align highway spending with highway use. 

 

To further assure that every dollar collected into the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund during the 6-years covered by the reauthorization period would be obligated and eventually spent, the President's Budget for fiscal year 2004 links highway program funding levels for each year to the current projections of Highway Account receipts for that same year, rather than the method under TEA-21 which linked funding to prior year receipts.  

 

The 2004 budget also proposes, to augment Trust Fund receipts, that all revenue from gasohol taxes be deposited directly in the Highway Trust Fund, rather than the current practice of diverting 2.5 cents per gallon to the General Fund.   If enacted, this one change would add more than $600 million of available funding to the Highway Trust Fund for each year of the authorization cycle.  All of this additional funding would go into the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund.  This is an important step toward meeting our Nation's transportation needs during a period when finding additional resources for highways will test our ingenuity.

 

The President's budget request does not propose any new gasoline taxes. 

 

The President’s budget also proposes a new program--the Infrastructure Performance and Maintenance Program--intended to quickly address congestion, traffic bottlenecks, and pavement conditions.  The proposal would add an additional $1 billion per year over the 6-year reauthorization period in obligation authority above estimated receipts.  The President's budget request will have the effect of spending at a level that keeps the Highway Trust Fund balance relatively constant and sufficient to meet program outlays.  This proposal has been carefully evaluated and we believe it is prudent and responsible for the Nation at this time.

 

We will continue to encourage the States to employ innovative financing tools for more private sector investment in infrastructure and to better leverage our Federal transportation dollars.  The 2004 budget requests funding to continue the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act program (TIFIA) at the 2003 level.  Innovative financing has proven especially useful to advance the intermodal projects that are so important for efficient movement of freight.

 

FREIGHT MOVEMENT

 

Effective freight transfer networks are crucial to our economy.  In addition to encouraging States to use innovative financing methods and core program funds to address freight gateway and freight intermodal connector needs, we will work with other DOT  agencies on more effective planning, improved data, multistate coordination, and infrastructure and operational improvements for these networks.

 

Freight movement carries many homeland security ramifications which must be properly integrated into an overall freight movement network to avoid adversely impacting  operational efficiencies.  Some of these concerns would be addressed with funding requested for ITS research and deployment. This research will focus on container security and the development of a “smart container” that will reduce the vulnerabilities that have been previously identified in the supply chain, and complement other container security initiatives in which the Department is involved such as Operation Safe Commerce.  Joint tests are being proposed with partnering nations.

 

Proposed investment of $47 million in FY 2004, for cross-border safety inspection infrastructure at our southern international borders, will not only address highway safety and national security concerns, but should improve the flow of freight at border chokepoints. This investment will be the last installment of a three-year effort totaling $150.3 million. 

 

 

SYSTEM CONDITION AND PERFORMANCE

 

As mentioned above, our proposal unveils a new $1 billion Infrastructure Performance and Maintenance initiative specifically aimed at addressing immediate highway needs and at projects that can be implemented quickly.  Totaling $6 billion over the authorization period, this funding will target projects that address traffic congestion and bottlenecks, and improve pavement conditions.  The idea is to promote projects that result in immediate benefits while avoiding long-term commitments of funds; that is, projects that can be undertaken and completed within a short timeframe.  States would be required to obligate funds in the first half of each fiscal year.  Funds not obligated during this period would be withdrawn and redistributed to States with projects ready to go.

     

Only highway projects for system preservation, preventive maintenance, or operational improvement that are already eligible under the Interstate Maintenance Program, the National Highway System program, and the Surface Transportation Program would be eligible.  It is anticipated that these projects would improve highway system condition and performance.  Safety will benefit as well from these system improvements coming online quickly.

 

 

PROGRAM AND FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP

 

Stewardship requires that we ensure that the nation's resources entrusted to us are used to wisely solve our nation's transportation problems.  Stewardship requires that we continue to find ways to meet our highway responsibilities to the public by efficiently delivering the very best in safe, secure, operationally efficient, and technically advanced highway facilities, while complementing our nation's many other vital public and community needs.  It requires unquestioned corporate and individual integrity.  This is a priority for the Department and the Federal Highway Administration.

 

With the funds requested for FY 2004, FHWA will specifically focus on process improvements to ensure that challenging transportation solutions are provided as promised--on schedule and within budgets.  We will work with the States to ensure new and expanded approaches to integrating the planning, environmental review, and project delivery processes, along with greater emphasis on program level and major project management oversight.  We have requested additional administrative resources, including staffing, for these purposes.

 

Oversight.  The availability of adequate administrative resources is necessary to ensure that the American public is getting the full value from its investment of highway user fees, by providing the level of oversight and stewardship necessary to deliver the Federal-aid Highway Program in an efficient and effective manner.  It should be emphasized that the cost to taxpayers for the stewardship of the Federal-aid Highway Program is about one percent of the cost of the programs that the FHWA oversees.   We believe this represents responsible taxpayer value.  The funding requested for FY 2004 will permit FHWA to hire twelve additional employees dedicated to oversight of major projects (projects of over $1 billion in cost), providing at least one project oversight manager for each mega-project.  In addition, we will work with States to ensure financial and project plans are adequate and in place before a project is started and that performance can be evaluated, in an effort to maximize each Highway Trust Fund dollar spent.  With the administrative funding requested, we further propose to improve the security of our critical information systems and upgrade our information technology infrastructure. 

 

An oversight program will be established which is responsive to all areas related to financial integrity and project delivery.  Risk assessment tools will be used to focus on critical program areas and resources will be allocated accordingly.

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

 

            FHWA is committed to fulfilling its environmental stewardship responsibilities.  Continued progress in streamlining the delivery of transportation improvement projects will improve safety and ease congestion, but must be balanced with the need to protect communities and the environment.  Funds requested for 2004 will allow us to continue to work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce on-road mobile source emissions.  Through Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funding we will advance transportation projects that reduce emissions--projects that also reduce traffic congestion. 

 

Support for air quality and climate research will advance our understanding of the relationship of surface transportation to the emerging areas of fine particulate emissions, toxic air emissions, and regional haze.  With this knowledge, the transportation community can develop mitigation tools and technologies to reduce such emissions.

 

Each year over 900 million people visit National parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.  Through our Federal Lands Highways program we are providing funding to maintain and responsibly improve access to these areas.  Because a substantial maintenance backlog has built up in our system of Park Roads and Parkways, the President's budget requests a $135 million funding increase, for a total of $300 million for FY 2004, to improve National Park Service roads.

 

NHS, STP, and Federal Lands funds can support programs that reduce the social and environmental impacts of transportation improvement projects.  FHWA will promote strategies that emphasize environmental values at the systems planning level, as well as the project level.  We will seek to improve our ability, and that of our partners, to design and manage programs and projects that protect and improve the ecological quality of the larger watershed in which Federal-aid highway projects are located.  Wider use of watershed and ecosystem level approaches that enhance, restore, and preserve aquatic and upland ecosystems will serve to maximize benefits while expediting the environmental review process.

 

Environmental Streamlining.  Efficient environmental review processes will continue to be a priority.  The President's budget will advance efforts to cooperatively establish realistic project development timeframes among the transportation and environmental agencies.  Working together to adhere to those timeframes requires greater resource commitment, but is critical to success.  An example of what can be achieved through early inter-agency coordination and big-picture, corridor decisionmaking early in the planning and review processes is the tiered environmental review for the 200-mile I-70 project in Missouri, which is expected to be completed in approximately four years rather than the six to seven years often required for complex corridor studies.  

 

In order to meet the intent of the President's Executive Order on Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Reviews, we will intensify efforts currently underway that focus on solidifying interagency partnerships.  To this end, we have already identified seven priority projects for closer attention, including the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway in Vermont.  This highway's status as a priority project ensures that resolution of project issues is treated as a high priority for both agencies, resulting in expedited reviews and increased communication between the agencies.

 

 

EMERGENCY RELIEF

           

Another key component of the FY 2004 budget that impacts safety, security, and mobility is a proposal for increasing mandatory Emergency Relief (ER) funding from $100 million per year to $200 million.  Historically, the $100 million per year authorization for the ER program has been inadequate to fund all the requests, and supplemental appropriations have been provided by Congress when large backlogs developed.  The proposed increase will enable FHWA to respond more quickly to the urgent needs of the States and local communities.  For example, ER funding permitted FHWA to provide an initial allocation of $3 million to Oklahoma just a week after a barge accident last year caused the collapse of  the I-40 bridge.  This initial funding and a followup allocation of $11.9 million, provided the Oklahoma State Department of Transportation resources to minimize interruption of a critical Interstate route, and to provide for reconstruction.  The current estimate of remaining ER needs related to the I-40 bridge catastrophe is $15.2 million.  Our 2004 budget request to double the annual authorization level for ER will allow us to continue to meet such needs.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Within today's constrained budget environment, President Bush’s 2004 budget request makes a very substantial commitment to ensuring a safe and efficient Federal transportation system for all Americans.  The funding requested in 2004 will help improve transportation safety; enhance national security; maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure, and increase its operational capacity; reduce environmental degradation; and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.  Secretary Mineta and all of us at the Department of Transportation look forward to working with Congress to enact the President’s FY 2004 budget in order to provide a viable transportation system to support a strong America.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.