Testimony Before
United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
on Environmental Programs and Statewide and Metropolitan Planning Aspects of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)
by Lawrence D. Dahms Executive Director
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) San Francisco Bay Area
Washington, DC March 19, 1997

Good Morning, Chairman Warner, Senator Baucus, Senator Boxer and members of the Committee. I am Lawrence Dahms, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the metropolitan planning organization for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. I appreciate the opportunity to review our experience and views on reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA.

The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area is a diverse region, a microcosm in many ways of the diversity of this nation. We are urban, suburban and rural. We have intermodal facilities, a population of 6 1/2 million people, clean air challenges aid an active disability community that continues to seek implementation of the ADA. We have 26 transit operators, new and old highways and world-class bridges in serious need of repair. Recognizing that the federal government has an interest in keeping one of the strongest economies in the nation moving, how can one federal law address this range of challenges? ISTEA has been about as close as you can get.

Let me preface my comments by telling you that MTC supports a reauthorization that preserves ISTEA's basic program structure. MTC's resolution guiding our reauthorization advocacy is attached. Many local jurisdictions and partners in our region including business and environmental groups have adopted similar resolutions. We urge your Committee to build on the foundation so effectively established by ISTEA.

One of the great strengths of ISTEA is its flexibility to respond to the needs of each region. Through the flexibility of ISTEA's Surface Transportation Program (STIP), the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) and the Transportation Enhancements Program, MTC has been able to put together a program of projects that is reflective of the region's needs. Over the past six years, working with our local and regional partners, we have programmed over 500 projects with the $500 million in flexible funds that have come to our region -- everything from a joint intermodal terminal at the Port of Oakland and BART rail car rehabilitations to expansion of MTC's popular freeway service patrol tow trucks and various highway and local street improvements throughout the region.

Though the projects financed by ISTEA are important, I'd like to focus today on one aspect of ISTEA that gets little notice through it has great value.

Who would believe that such phrases as

"A State shall coordinate..."

"The metropolitan planning organization in cooperation with the State and affected transit operators shall develop..."

"All projects...shall be selected by the metropolitan planning organization in consultation with the State..."

could produce powerful results in the implementation of ISTEA? To coordinate, to cooperate, to consult -- all are ordinary terms that should be expected to characterize the civilized relationships of States and local governments. When combined with the delegation and flexible funding choices also embodied in ISTEA, however, these words did indeed produce perhaps unexpected results.

This overarching thrust of ISTEA, to encourage productive partnering by many who may not have worked well together before, came just in time. For it recognized that in today's pluralistic society the State acting on its own is unable to deliver some projects or programs as it could just a decade or two ago. With the help of local officials, however, brought together in the form of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), challenging but important programs can still be advanced. To illustrate, consider just how the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and sometimes the California Highway Patrol (CHP) have partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in productive enterprises.

-- MTC manages the freeway call box program, placed on Caltrans' right-of-way, with the phones answered by CHP dispatchers. There are 3,000 phones and 600 calls answered per day.

-- MTC manages the freeway service patrol (FSP), which clears up incidents on Caltrans' freeways, with the cooperation and assistance of the CHP. There are 50 tow trucks patrolling 218 miles of freeway. An average of 370 incidents are responded to within an average of eight (8) minutes every work day.

-- MTC manages the TravInfo program, providing real-time traffic information to any of the Bay Area's three (3) million commuters who can dial 817-1717 at anytime of the day. The TravInfo control center is located in the Caltrans District 4 office, immediately adjacent to its Traffic Operations System center. MTC's contractor -- Metro Traffic Control -- enters 300 to 600 incidents per day into its auto call system, which in turn handles approximately 2000 calls per day.

-- MTC has been instrumental in financing and in administering vital contracts required to implement the Caltrans Traffic Operations System referred to above.

-- MTC was required to intervene at two critical points in the design of the last Bay Area Interstate link --1-80 heading north east from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Thanks to MTC's assistance, this $300 million construction project is now well advanced. When complete, it will offer one of the most effective exclusive bus and carpool services in the country.

-- In the most recent example, MTC has been asked to recommend the best design for the new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The State has determined that it is more prudent to construct a new span than retrofit the existing bridge to withstand the next major earthquake. While the State Legislature and Governor are still debating just how to share the approximate $2 to $2.5 billion cost of the full Transbay earthquake retrofit package, MTC's process for design selection is moving ahead in full cooperation with Caltrans and another State agency -- the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

As little as ten years ago such partnering with the State was unheard of. Now it is essential welcomed and productive.

Vital coordination and cooperation extends to our Bay Area transit operators as well. It was MTC that brokered the regional rail agreement in 1988. The $3.7 billion program is 2/3 funded by State and local revenues. A large down payment of $568.5 million of the federal share was authorized in ISTEA. An additional authorization is needed in the next bill. While the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) and the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) have the lead responsibility for delivering the two rail extensions vying for federal funds, it is MTC that has had the challenge of sustaining the broad State and regional commitment that has now endured for nine years.

In another transit agency collaboration, MTC and ten (10) of the regions 26 transit operators are developing TransLink, a regional transit pass that will provide access to any of their systems. Here again, MTC has the lead in designing and delivering the system.

Flexible ISTEA funding has been vital to MTC's partnership with the 100 cities and nine counties in the region. For example, $65 million has been invested in upgrading and synchronizing the signals at 2,700 major intersections in the region. A small part of this investment paid for the four traffic engineer consulting firms MTC has retained to assist our smaller cities in implementing this program. MTC's parallel program, the pavement management system (PMS), is the tool used to optimize maintenance expenditures by 2/3 of our 109 local governments. In a unique partnership, we have joined with the State of Oregon's Association of Counties, making our PMS system available to them in return for a computer program upgrade they were able to do for us.

While not all of these initiatives are solely the result of ISTEA prodding, it has been a significant catalyst. The common thread running through all of the projects cited above has been the multi- agency cooperation that is essential. MTC took the lead in forming the Bay Area Partnership of the 30 leading transportation agencies in January 1992 immediately after ISTEA was signed by President Bush. We have made the task of nurturing that partnership our number one priority ever since. And, it is working.

We like ISTEA because of its several provisions that encourage, even require, such commitment. That is why we are here urging you to tune -- not toss -- ISTEA, a phrase I believe former FHWA Administrator Tom Larson first coined.

Last year, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster visited the San Francisco Bay Area and challenged us to offer suggestions regarding how to strengthen metropolitan planning organizations in their partnerships with the 50 States and others across the country to assure federal transportation investments produce the desired results. A copy of our response is attached for your consideration as you evaluate ways to improve the planning process.

I will be happy to answer your questions and to elaborate on any of my examples.

January 7, 1997

The Honorable Bud Shuster, Chairman
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-3809

Dear Chairman Shuster:

We remember well your hard-working tour of the San Francisco Bay Area and its major transportation facilities last June. We were pleased to demonstrate, among other things, the central role the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) plays in coordinating the activities of the region's transportation partners. This prompted you to ask for suggestions regarding how to strengthen metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in their partnership with the 50 states and others across the country to assure federal transportation investments produce the desired results.

First, however, there must be sufficient federal revenues to invest. We thank you for beginning to build the foundation for the budget debate in 1996 when you secured a strong vote by the House in support of directing trust fund revenues to transportation investments. We understand that your leadership will be tested again as the budget battle continues in 1997, and that you must be able to win that battle. If not, some of our suggestions regarding program structure will become insignificant. Thus, we will work with the California Congressional delegation to support you ill those efforts.

Presuming a significant revenue package, how can MPOs be encouraged to live up to their responsibilities? The key probably lies ill most states discovering, as I believe California already has, that strong MPOs can work to their advantage. A strong MPO will organize local input, and in so doing, provide a positive context within which essential state and regional transportation decisions can be made and carried out. An MPO is not relevant, however, without authority. ISTEA defined shared state/MPO relationships that can be improved upon, first in allocating program revenues, and second in defining planning objectives. In the following paragraphs we offer three suggested changes designed to encourage MPOs to hold up then end of the bargain in these critical partnerships with the states.

1. Require Equitable Allocation of ISTEA Program Revenues

Each state should be given the authority and responsibility to adopt, in cooperation with its MPOs, a formula for the distribution of all transportation revenues to each MPO area.

Current ISTEA law requires that the Governor and MPO jointly approve the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). By establishing a formula distribution, a budget would be established thus making these joint decisions more relevant and equitable. A county minimum provision that has been a part of California law for almost two decades demonstrates that this is a workable approach. (The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is responsible for assuring that over the course of each four-year period at least 70% of State Highway Funds are distributed to each county based on population and lane miles.)

2. Focus on Transportation Systems

We urge reinforcement of the current ISTEA planning provisions that require State and MPOs to "identify transportation facilities...that should function as an integrated (metropolitan/state) transportation system, giving emphasis to those facilities that serve important national and regional transportation functions." During the interstate-era there was a system focus that pulled the nation together in support of a national transportation program. Now the loss of system focus risks relegating the federal role as simply a tax collector. Returning revenues to their sources becomes the loudest objective, whereas delivering on the federal interest in effective transportation systems gets lost in the noise.

Section 103 (b)(1) of Title 23 defines the purpose of the national highway system. However Section 133 establishing the surface transportation program lacks a purpose statement. A parallel statement defining the purpose of metropolitan transportation systems and their integration with the national highway system should send a strong message to states and MPOs alike.

We suggest the following legislative language: The purpose of the surface transportation program is to provide a flexible funding source for operating, improving and integrating the metropolitan transportation system identified pursuant to subsection (g) of Section 134, the state transportation system identified pursuant to subsection (a) of Section 135, and the National Highway System designated pursuant to subsection (b) of Section 103.

3. Make a direct connection of the federal interest to planning guidelines The 16 planning factors inquired of MPOs and 21 factors required of states in current ISTEA are admirable, but of limited usefulness. The number of factors is so large that they tend to be used as passive checklists rather than as the driving criteria to be used in deciding how best to invest. We propose legislative language that links planning to a more limited set of clearly defined federal interests. Legislative language we would suggest as a replacement for the planning factors is attached.

Further, the state and MPO planning activities should reinforce one another. As it now stands, ISTEA requires each MPO to prepare and update long-range plans and each state to do so as well, essentially covering the metropolitan area twice. The MPO plan should cover its geography. The State plan should insure the interregional linkages between metropolitan areas. As partners, each should assist the other wherever relevant. As a practical matter, this duplication has not occurred in California because the MPO plan is project specific and the State plan is limited to policy and strategy statements. But, an opportunity has been lost. States and MPOs would be encouraged to take their partnership more seriously if required to anticipate in their plans essential interregional linkages.

To conclude, under Tom Larson's leadership, the Federal Highway Administration helped Caltrans and MTC establish a working Bay Area Partnership. It is our mechanism to make sure the full range of interested agencies have a voice in transportation decisions. Perhaps ISTEA II can encourage the replication of our partnership model in other parts of the country.

The ideas above are sure to have detractors, partly because many states appear not to recognize that strong MPOs can work to their advantage. Paradoxically, some large city mayors and transit operators believe their MPO's to be dominated by state, suburban or rural interests. These mayors and transit operators may even ask Congress to mandate their representation on MPO boards. Yet, there is little evidence that they have attempted to remedy the problems at home. The MPO governance question brings to mind Churchill's quip about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the rest!

Thank you again for the time you and your staff have given to our transportation projects. Again, we will work in support of your efforts to increase transportation revenues in order to deliver a healthy ISTEA II, and look forward to working with you and your committee in that interest.


Lawrence D. Dahms
Executive Director

Attachment: Language proposed to replace the existing Title 23, Section 134(f) and 135(c) discussion of "Factors to be Considered"

Performance-based Considerations In developing transportation plans and programs pursuant to this section, each state and each metropolitan planning organization shall incorporate performance-based consideration of the direct and indirect effects of transportation actions, including effects in the following identified areas of national interest. It is expected that considerations appropriate to the state level and those appropriate at the metropolitan level will differ, but will complement each other. The identified areas of national interest are:

-- National Transportation Linkages - It is in the national interest to ensure that safe, adequate and effective transportation linkages be provided within metropolitan areas; between metropolitan areas surrounding rural areas; between various metropolitan areas within the same state; between states; and around international destinations as part of a multimodal national transportation system.

-- Strong Economics and Strong Communities - It is in the national interest that states aid metropolitan transportation systems support healthy regional economies to serve as the economic building blocks of the nation, and that the development and transportation activity supported by such economies be consistent with state, regional and community land use and development plans. It is also in the national interest that state and metropolitan transportation systems support safe access to jobs, housing, education, recreation and other important social and economic activities and that state and metropolitan transportation systems contribute to addressing the unique economic and community needs of central cities, other older urban areas, suburban areas and rural communities.

-- Environmental Quality - It is in the national interest that state and metropolitan transportation systems help achieve national environmental objects and maintain and improve overall environmental quality.

-- Resource Management - It is in the national interest that state and metropolitan transportation systems make effective and efficient use of resources through preservation of existing facilities and promotion of modes of transportation and forms of development that are fiscally sound and efficient in the use of natural resources when considered over the life of the investment.

Re: Reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act


WHEREAS, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act expires September 30, 1997 and the 105th Congress must reauthorize federal surface transportation programs and;

WHEREAS, ISTEA made major progress in moving decision making closer to people affected by transportation spending with almost $500 million in flexible ISTEA funds allocated to 500 projects throughout the Bay Area and;

WHEREAS, ISTEA marked a shift from the end of the Interstate era to a new era emphasizing highway and transit system preservation, increasing the efficiency of existing networks, and improved intermodal integration, now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission endorses the following principles to guide the reauthorization of ISTEA.

1. Support a continued federal role in transportation and oppose efforts to repeal or reduce the federal gas tax;

2. Support ISTEA's basic program structure, such as the Surface Transportation Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and the Transportation Enhancements Program, and oppose block grants or revenue sharing;

3. Focus federal-aid funding on integrating and managing the various public and private elements of the transportation system;

4. Maximize federal investment by dedicating transportation taxes for transportation purposes and encouraging greater private sector investment;

5. Fully fund implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act with additional federal resources that protect existing transportation funds; and, be it further

RESOLVED that the Executive Director shall forward a copy of this resolution to our representatives in Congress and the United States Secretary of Transportation.


This resolution was entered into by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission at a regular meeting of the Commission held in Oakland, California on February 26, 1997.