Statement of Hank Dittmar
Executive Director Surface Transportation Policy Project
Environmental issues in Surface Transportation Reauthorization
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Environment and Public Works Committee United States Senate
March 19,1997

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to join you today to discuss transportation and environmental issues, particularly the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding program. I am Hank Dittmar and am Executive Director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a non-profit coalition of over two hundred national and local groups whose mission is to ensure that transportation policy and investments support the economy, the environment and people and communities. Among the environmental groups represented on our Steering Committee are the Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. Two other coalition members are testifying today to discuss scenic and enhancement programs -- Meg McGuire of Scenic America and Hal Hiemstra of Rails to Trails Conservancy.

The reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) may well be the most important piece of environmental legislation to be passed by the Congress in 1997. Federal investment in transportation is as critical to environmental quality and quality of life as it is to economic competitiveness -- and the American people want all three goals to be met. The ISTEA legislation crafted by this Committee on a bipartisan basis in 1991 sought to meet the challenge of improving mobility and accessibility while protecting and improving the environment. The Committee should build upon that solid foundation in 1997 by preserving and enhancing ISTEA's environmental provisions, especially the successful Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.

Transportation and the Environment

Federal transportation investment affects environmental quality in many ways. The contribution of the transportation system to our nation's air pollution problem may be the most well documented of these environmental impacts. Although the country has made considerable progress through the Clean Air Act in decreasing the amount of pollution automobiles emit per mile, the continuing growth in driving is threatening to wipe out these gains. Cars and trucks emit 65 percent of carbon monoxide emissions and 47 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions. A study of 500,000 adults in 15 cities found that residents of regions with the most polluted air were 15 to 17 percent more likely to die prematurely than residents of cities with cleaner air. And evidence increasing points to small particulates in exhaust, particularly diesel exhaust, as a prime cause of children's respiratory problems.

With respect to energy usage, almost two-thirds of the oils we use goes into cars and trucks. A decade ago, most of this oil was produced domestically. From 1980 to 1995, the amount of our nation's oil we imported rose from 27 percent to over 50 percent. Americans consume five times as much fuel as the average Japanese citizen and three times as much as the average European. Our consumption of foreign oil is the single largest component of our trade deficit.

Other environmental implications of the transportation program include global climate change -- a problem drawing increasing international attention. In 1994, fully a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States came from our transportation system. Road construction has direct environmental impacts as well -- on water quality due to runoff, on the loss of farmland and open space, habitat and biodiversity. Truly federal transportation policy is a critical component of national environmental policy. In creating a performance based planning process that incorporated environmental concerns and in dedicating funding to transportation environmental programs, ISTEA began the dual process of protecting the environment and improving mobility and environmental quality. This reflected a change in perspective and a recognition that citizens wanted both a good transportation system and a clean environment. ISTEA sought to fulfill both goals.

We Can't Build Our Way Out of Congestion

The 1991 law recognized another fact -- that an increasing body of evidence demonstrated that it was not possible to build our way out of congestion by adding new roads or widening roads. As Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution concluded in his book Stuck in Traffic, ". . . building new roads or expanding existing ones does not reduce the intensity of peak hour congestion to any extent, particularly in rapidly growing areas, because commuters will quickly shift their routes, timing and mode of travel." A recent national study in Great Britain supported Mr. Downs' conclusion. New evidence from researchers at the University of California concludes that adding road capacity may in fact induce new trips on the entire road network, finding that for each 1 percent increase in road mileage, there is a .9 percent increase in travel on the entire network. These studies are disturbing, as congestion in our metropolitan areas is not only annoying to those trapped in traffic jams, it represents a huge drain on our economy. The Texas Transportation Institute estimates economic losses due to congestion at $48 billion annually.

If road construction is prescribed neither for improving air quality or reducing congestion, then it becomes imperative for the nation to invest in alternative solutions. 1991's ISTEA law sought to do just that -- by allowing the flexible use of highway funds and by dedicating $1 billion per year into a new program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program (CMAQ). This program was designed to provide resources to states and localities who were working to meet the challenges of the 1990 Clean Air Act, thus funding a federal mandate. The funding could be used to implement programs and projects which helped bring non-attainment areas into compliance with federal air standards. Such programs included transit, alternative fuel programs, demand management and ridesharing programs, traffic management, Intelligent Transportation System activities and other transportation control measures under the Clean Air Act. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program has succeeded in helping our nonattainment areas meet clean air challenges and it should be preserved and strengthened in this year's reauthorization.

Air Quality Benefits of CMAQ

Early on in the program's implementation, we at STPP were critical of the progress of some states in funding CMAQ programs and concerned that many of the projects would have minimal or even negative effects on air quality. Many of these problems have been addressed as states have learned to work with the new program and as the Federal Highway Administration has refined its program guidance. In FY 1995, for example, about 90 percent of CMAQ funds were obligated by the states, compared to 42 percent in FY 1992. Similarly, the number of projects subjected to an analysis of their air quality benefits has increased dramatically since the inception of the program, according to a joint FTA/FHWA program review published in December 1996.

CMAQ funds have been invested in a wide variety of beneficial projects which provide air quality benefits while providing alternatives to added capacity on the road network. Over forty percent of CMAQ funds have gone to transit projects. According to the Department of Energy's Clean Cities program, over $275 million of CMAQ funds has been programmed or obligated for alternative fuel projects, either clean transit projects or clean fleet applications. The clean transit investments are particularly promising, as they provide a mobility solution, an air quality contribution, and help to create a market for clean technologies all at the same time. In Boise, Idaho, for example, the city 22 new clean buses equipped with bicycle racks. Other funded projects include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, ridesharing and reverse commute programs, and projects to encourage pedestrian oriented development around transit facilities.

We remain concerned that an inordinate amount of funding has gone into traffic flow improvements. Although these activities are clearly eligible as Transportation Control Measures under the Clean Air Act, signal timing projects offer at best a short term air quality enhancement. Evidence increasingly indicates that traffic flow improvements may even worsen air quality at higher speeds. With so much of air pollution coming from the starting of the car, projects which seek to relieve congestion by smoothing traffic rather that by replacing trips tend to be less effective than many had hoped. STPP is also concerned that some projects which actually worsen air quality have been approved by states. In North Carolina, for example, it appears that $23 million of CMAQ funds was used to build an outer loop highway in the Charlotte area, clearly an ineligible activity. Road widening projects can be funded under virtually every other ISTEA category. They should not be permissible under the CMAQ program.

Assuring Long Term Benefits

Even as too much CMAQ funding in the early years was focused on short term improvements that may in the long run lead to worsened air quality, it appears that the focus on demonstrating short-term benefits may bias evaluation against projects which have longer term benefits. Transit projects which make higher density and mixed use development economically feasible do not score well when analyzed over a three or five year time frame. Studies do indicate, however, that vehicle miles of travel decrease by 25 to 30 percent when residential density is doubled -- a finding with dramatic potential for improving air quality. A reauthorized CMAQ program should clearly state that programs and projects should balance both short and long term objectives.

Additional Funding Needed for New Areas

Reauthorization of the CMAQ program should also recognize that areas which have done a good job cleaning their air continue to have a need for CMAQ funding. Areas which have been redesignated from non-attainment status to maintenance status continue to have an obligation to stay in attainment, and this will require continued CMAQ resources. Maintenance areas should continue to be eligible for CMAQ funding and they should be included in allocation formulas and factors at a lower level than non-attainment areas. CMAQ funds should also be extended to areas which may be affected by the new air quality standards proposed by the Administration. Newly reclassified non-attainment areas -- both for ozone and particulates -- should be eligible for funds and existing areas should continue to receive existing funding levels. Thus CMAQ funding should be increased, both now and at the time when the new standards come into effect. STPP supports the Administration's recommendation for an increase in CMAQ funding to $1.3 billion per year.

Administrative Simplification Is Needed

A final suggestion for improvement in the program relates to program administration. It is our observation that many promising air quality strategies are not being pursued in nob-attainment areas because the task of getting approval for either nontraditional projects or small projects is so daunting. CMAQ funding is thus focused upon large capital projects with small air quality benefits or on traffic flow improvements with at best short term gains. As a result, CMAQ funds are concentrated into projects which transportation agencies have traditionally funded, resulting in the criticism that the program has small air quality benefits. The joint FWHA/FTA program review of the CMAQ program recommended that legislative relief was needed to ensure that these transportation control measures not be subjected to the same federal requirements as large capital projects receive (design review, contracting oversight, etc.). Congress should permit smaller, non construction projects to be certified by the state as meeting requirements of Title 23 without federal review or oversight in advance.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program has proven its worth. It is highly flexible, popular among those who have used it in non-attainment areas, and provides funds to localities to implement a federal mandate. The program should be continued, its funding increased and various provisions enhanced and streamlined. Many other aspects of ISTEA also benefit the environment -- the focus on improved decision processes and enhanced local control, the emphasis on consideration of social and environmental issues and the dedication of resources to rehabilitating the existing system and funding alternatives to the single occupant vehicle.

ISTEA recognized that it is possible to have a healthy transportation system and a healthy environment. In hopes that we can continue to make progress toward that goal, the STPP coalition has released A Blueprint for IS TEA Reauthorization, which includes 25 recommendations for keeping what's good in ISTEA and improving it. We've also documented 110 ISTEA success stories in our book Five Years of Progress. Both of these documents have been provided to you by mail, but we have additional copies today.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to join you today. I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.