U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   08/14/2003
 
Stuart Foster
Attorney
Oregon Transportation Commission Chairman
Foster, Purdy, Allan, Peterson & Dahlin LLP

TEA-21 Reauthorization.

Thank you Senator Wyden and Members of the Committee for this opportunity to discuss the State of Oregon’s priorities for the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). I am Stuart Foster and I am the chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC). The OTC is comprised of five citizen volunteers—appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oregon Senate—which sets policy directions and approves transportation funding decisions for the state. I am also a resident of Medford and a small business owner.

I would like to acknowledge what has been accomplished in Oregon with the federal funds we received under TEA-21. In the first three years of TEA-21 alone, we built 78 modernization projects totaling $164 million, 186 paving projects totaling $288 million, and 296 bridge projects totaling $153 million. We have improved pavement conditions statewide after years of decline; helped revitalize downtowns in rural communities such as Joseph and Lakeview; and, brought traffic fatalities down to the lowest level in over forty years. This is tremendous progress in just a five year time period.

On behalf of the Commission and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), I want to thank this Committee for its part in crafting TEA-21. This legislation has truly made a difference in this state. I also want to point out that it was Senator Wyden who led the charge six years ago to increase Oregon’s share of formula funding when TEA-21 was being written. He was successful, and as a result, Oregon received 50 percent more funding than we received under the previous bill. Thank you Senator Wyden.

Looking ahead to the reauthorization of TEA-21, the state has developed a position paper on the reauthorization of TEA-21 together with the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities. The recommendations in the position paper were delivered to each of Oregon’s Congressional offices and I have submitted a copy with my written testimony for the record. Our number one priority is to increase Oregon’s annual highway formula funding because:

· These funds make up the largest portion of funding in the bill.

· The state shares these funds with local governments.

· The state invests these funds wisely—an inclusive public process determines how funds are spent.

There are three compelling arguments why Oregon should have its formula funding increased in the next bill. First, the Federal Government must help solve Oregon’s $4.7 billion bridge problem. The problem is simply too large for the state to solve on its own. Without federal help, more bridges will be weight limited, effecting not just the movement of freight within the state but nationwide.

Second, experts forecast that freight traffic in the Pacific Northwest will outpace the national average. The state’s aging transportation system and congested freight corridors such as Interstate 5 will not be able to accommodate this growth without greater federal investment. Third, Congress should recognize the effort that the State of Oregon has made to address the bridge problem and growing congestion. The Governor and State Legislature recently enacted a state funding package that when bonded will generate $2.5 billion for local and state transportation projects. $1.9 billion is dedicated to repair and replace deficient bridges and $100 million is dedicated to projects that improve freight mobility.

The position paper also highlights several other priority recommendations for reauthorization. They include:

- Increase overall funding for highways and transit programs.

- Maintain TEA-21’s funding guarantees and firewall provisions.

- If funding is earmarked for “High Priority Projects”, the Delegation should focus its efforts on fully funding requests that are eligible, feasible, reasonable, timely and widely supported.

- Continue TEA-21’s basic program structure.

- Give states the flexibility to use federal funds for rail capital improvements.

- Adequately fund passenger rail services.

- Strengthen research and innovative finance programs that improve freight mobility.

Prior to adopting the position paper, the Oregon Transportation Commission and our local partners spent considerable time discussing the issue of “High Priority Project” earmarks. It is important for the Committee to understand how these earmarks impact states and local communities. There are three thoughts I want to leave you with. First, when earmarks partially fund a project and the project sponsor (i.e. a local government) does not have funding set-aside to make up the shortfall, other projects that have been vetted through a public involvement process are delayed or canceled to free up funding for the earmarked project. Second, when funding is earmarked for a project that has not been evaluated by a state or regional prioritization process, those that “play by the rules” are penalized. Lastly, if funding is earmarked for a project that has not cleared most federal and state environmental requirements, construction will not begin for many years, thereby losing the immediate economic benefit to the state of funding projects that are ready for construction.

Based on our experience with TEA-21, we strongly urge you to fully fund requests that are eligible, feasible, reasonable, timely and widely supported. The OTC worked very closely with Area Commissions on Transportation (ACTs) to develop a list of projects that meet these standards. Funding has been set-aside for these projects so they will be built if we receive close to the amount of federal funding requested in the next authorization bill. And most importantly, these are projects that can be constructed over the life of the next bill. This Governor and Commission want to do everything we can to put Oregonians to work now, when good paying jobs are desperately needed.

Now that I have discussed the state’s priorities for reauthorization, I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of collaboration. The OTC and ODOT are continually working to improve the way we work with our federal and local partners to ensure that we maximize the use of federal funds.

Federal law requires states to conduct 20-year long-range plans and a public process for selecting projects that will be funded with federal dollars. Each state must publish a document every two years, a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which shows which projects will receive funding. In Oregon, the general public, cities and counties, metropolitan planning organizations, regional governments, and representatives from the business community participate in this planning and funding prioritization process.

In recent years, we have begun implementing significant new initiatives to strengthen this collaborative effort. For example, we have formed a stakeholder group that is reviewing how the state selects projects for federal funding. We have established a multi-agency agreement with federal and state resource agencies on environmental stewardship and streamlining, known as the Collaborative Environmental and Transportation Agreement on Streamlining (CETAS). We have encouraged all regions of the state to form Area Commissions on Transportation.

ACTs are regional advisory committees to the Oregon Transportation Commission. Local governments, transportation providers (transit operators, ports, etc.) and private stakeholders in each region of the state are invited to meet regularly to prioritize projects and make funding recommendations to the Commission. They work closely with ODOT regional staff. Most ACTs encompass a two to three county area (see attached map). The idea is simple yet innovative for a state transportation agency—give local communities from all parts of the state greater access to federal funding and transportation policy decisions.

Mike Burrill and Sue Kupillas who are testifying later this morning can give you feedback on this region’s experience with the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation (RVACT). From the state’s point of view, ACTs have brought more people to the decision-making table, which is leading to better decisions.

What does this discussion about collaboration have to do with the state’s priorities for the reauthorization of TEA-21? As this Committee considers how federal formula funds will be allocated among the states in TEA-3, we want to make sure you aware that federal funding entrusted to ODOT is spent collaboratively and all Oregonians benefit. It is another important reason to support increasing Oregon’s share of federal highway formula funding and fully funding the list of projects approved by the OTC and submitted to the Oregon Delegation for High Priority Project funding.

This concludes my remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions.