before the
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
April 7, 1997

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) holds great promise for the tri-state region. It will allow us to improve and repair our existing infrastructure, and to finance investment in new transportation links and alternative modes. Its reauthorization and strengthening will result In a more efficient transportation network, fiscally sound transportation expenditures, a network that serves more people, especially pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, and a cleaner environment.

The principal argument advanced by our states to justify a need-based funding formula is that our states have an older infrastructure, a more extensive transit network with more users, a severe air pollution problem, and worse traffic congestion. Thus, we have a greater need for funds to deal with these problems. To understand the need is to understand how critical ISTEA is to the region.

For example, one of three transit trips In the nation Is taken here in the New York region. Yet, the system still consists of many independent, unlinked lines, which could be streamlined through construction of just a few miles of rack. This would attract new riders and cut pollution. Such construction is enormously expensive, however. At the same ~time level and quality of service has suffered as the Metropolit~an Transportation Authority tries to balance its maintenance needs and capital construction plans, while asking riders to pay a record 76 percent of the cost of the ride (farebox operating ratio) , and 88 percent If the subway system is considered alone. (Other metropolitan transit users pay less than 50 percent.) Level and quality of service must be maintained- and improved- even as new links are built. In New Jersey, important rail links have been constructed with federal aid, such as the Kearny Connection which enable direct, express service from parts of New Jersey to midtown Manhattan, thus attracting new riders. More such links, such as the Secaucus Transfer and the Newark-Elizabeth Light Rail line need to be put in place. NJTransit's carrying capacity, especially into New York City at Penn Station, is stretched to the limit now. More trains cannot be added. Transit usage is increasing everywhere in the region. Declines in level of service will reverse that heartening trend. Where additional capacity is needed, it should be in a form that carries the most people and promises the greatest return on the investment. In this region, extra transit capacity is needed. Continued and expanded funding for transit, for "new starts," and for the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) category is vital to our continued progress.

The flexibility provisions of ISTEA are important to transit funding. Although neither state has flexed National Highway System monies to transit, $140 million has been flexed to transit in New Jersey over ISTEA's life from other categories. In downstate New York, $660 million has been flexed to transit needs ($590 million in New York City).

The needs of our roadways and bridges are great as well. ID its 1995 Long Range Plan, NJDOT found that one-quarter of the state's bridges were structurally deficient. Thirty-one percent of county bridges are structurally deficient. Thirty percent of state-owned roads were rated "fair" or worse. Our region's needs are great. New York has 19,000 bridges, about 8,000 of which are state-owned. Since 1988, New York has made great strides in improving the condition of both bridges and pavement, but 31 percent of state-owned bridges were still structurally deficient, as recorded in its 1995 Long Range Plan. Forty percent of its highways were rated "fair" or lower. Local bridges and roads were in even worse shape. Funds are needed for bridge replacement and rehabilitation as well as preventive maintenance and repair of pavement. Experience shows that deferring needed repair of highway and bridge infrastructure costs more in the long run than careful management of the existing infrastructure.

The reauthorized ISTEA law ought to strengthen its emphasis on maintenance and preservation of the existing road and bridge system. This could be done by extending the maintenance programs to include regional and local highways and bridges. Funds should be measured against the goal of reaching a state of good repair.

The ten percent "safety set-aside" in the Surface Transportation Program (STP) is also critical to reducing injuries and fatalities in this region, and in fact, ought to be strengthened. In New York, nearly 2,000 people are killed in car crashes annually; in New Jersey, the figure is 6,000 killed and seriously injured. Perhaps surprisingly, pedestrians make up about one-quarter of the victims in New Jersey each year, and over 50 percent in New York City. Many are children and the elderly. An aggressive program is needed to stem the tide of fatalities and injuries- which result in even greater expenditures on the part of local and state government in tort judgments. Pedestrian safety infrastructure costs money, although, per life saved, it is a very cost-effective investment. We would prefer to see ISTEA refocus states' attention on infrastructure investments, such as traffic-calming, rather than re-engineering roads to allow higher design speeds. Where pedestrian safety is a problem, as here, states should invest more in pedestrian safety measures and their expenditures be measured against reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities.

Enhancements funds have allowed us to begin to realize the national and regional goal of substituting walking and bicycling for trips under 5 miles that are now accomplished by car. These short trips cause a disproportionate share of pollution because of the effects of "cold starts" and tie up traffic unnecessarily. With our denser development, making short trips by bicycle or on foot is possible, but attractive only if the infrastructure supports and does not impede such trips. Providing that access, or removing obstacles thereto, costs money. If the Enhancements category is not maintained in ISTEA, money for these projects will be swallowed up by the greater transit and road needs. New York has obligated virtually all of its Enhancement monies, and in both New York and New Jersey, there is a long list of pedestrian and bicycle projects unfunded- because there are too many good projects and there is not enough money.

The expenditure of funds -- or earmarking of funds -- for a new wave of highway capacity expansion projects in this region would be unwise. These expenditures contribute to the worsening of air quality, loss of open space, sprawl development and the decline of our central cities through increased traffic congestion, crumbling roads and bridges, lost economic opportunities and population migration. We do not perceive expansion of highways as desirable in this region. Unlike system preservation, maintenance, safety, enhancements and public transit needs- this region stands in no better position than other regions with respect to spending on new highways.

A disturbing trend in all three states is that new highway projects which would not pass muster under federal transportation and environmental regulations, are being built with relatively unencumbered state dollars. New York and New Jersey arc spending or planning to spend billions of dollars of their overall transportation budgets on a new wave of highway widenings or new alignments. These highway capacity expansion projects are unnecessary and counterproductive. Straightforward application of ISTEA's Major Investment Study provision to the corridors in question would confirm our view.

The purpose and promise of ISTEA can be better met by closer adherence to the principles of the current statute, not by wiping out funding categories for safety, air quality, and pedestrian and bicycle projects. In reauthorizing ISTEA, Congress needs to strengthen, not weaken, its provisions. In fact, incentives should be created to ensure that our states with severe air pollution and traffic congestion are moving in the right direction. This is especially so with respect to monies to be devoted to system preservation, bridge repair, public transit, air quality, pedestrian access and safety, and bicycle improvements.

The metropolitan planning concept upon which ISTEA's planning is based should be retained and strengthened. In particular, citizens must be guaranteed a vote on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). The MPO for the downstate New York region- the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council- should be Independent from NYSDOT and its voting membership should be recast to be more reflective of the population in the region.

Finally, we are very supportive of the Congestion Management System (CMS) program which continues to be retained in transportation management areas with severe air pollution, such as this region. The CMS program requires states to identify and weigh alternative investments to new highway capacity, and even where such projects are built, to implement mobility and demand management strategies deemed reasonable. This is a prudent use of scarce ,dollars to alleviate congestion. We also favor reinstitution on the Congestion Pricing Pilot Program for states that desire to use variable road pricing to manage peak hour demand. In the long run, pricing will help states avoid expensive road widening projects and lessen their need for federal road aid.

We cannot move the transportation network into the 21st century unless planning cuts across modes and disciplines, and we certainly will not cut traffic or air pollution unless a multi- modal approach is used. New York State DOT's Long Range Plan (developed under ISTEA) identified a top priority as cutting the estimated increase in solo commuting in half. It said:

To achieve this, transit commute ridership needs to increase 20 percent, carpooling to work 50 percent, and bicycling and walking to work 15 percent. These increases are to be achieved through more cost- effective management of transit and highway programs... (at 58).

ISTEA's innovative and flexible approach to funding categories should be maintained. Using a block grant approach will result in fewer transportation choices and more car and truck traffic. ISTEA Works.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign Is a consortium of the region's leading transit advocacy, planning, citizen and environmental groups. Our mission is to create an efficient, economically sound, socially just and environmentally benign transportation system.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.