Statement of James L. Kolstad
American Automobile Association
ISTEA Reauthorization
May 7, 1997

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am James L. Kolstad, vice president for Public and Government Relations at the American Automobile Association. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to bring you AAA's views on reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). As you may know, AAA is a federation of 99 independent clubs across North America with nearly 40 million members.

I want to review AAA's positions on ISTEA safety initiatives and then turn briefly to other aspects of ISTEA reauthorization.

The safety of the motoring public is AAA's primary concern and 42,000 highway deaths, 6 million accidents and $150 billion in cost annually% strongly suggest it should be a high national priority. The reauthorization of ISTEA presents the opportunity to address this issue aggressively.

We have reached the point in this country in which safety is directly affecting mobility and our economic well-being. The fact is people make decisions on where to live, where to work, where their children will go to school, where to shop and where to recreate on the assumption they will be able to get there safely and efficiently by automobile. So access to good roads has become fundamental to our way of life.

Today, all levels of government invest $35 billion annually in highways and bridges. Compare that number with the Federal Highway Administration's figures on annual highway and bridge capital needs for the period 1998-2002: $53 billion to maintain current conditions and $72 billion to improve conditions. You can see why AAA is concerned. The sad fact is that with any funding proposal being considered by Congress, the nation will still be billions short to just maintain the status quo.

Being "pro-safety" seems like an easy choice. We have never heard a Member of Congress say he or she is opposed to safety. But neither have we ever heard a Member of Congress say their number one concern is funding safety improvements.

AAA believes it is time to not only "talk safety", but to "fund safety."

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there are many projects that would have a direct and positive impact on safety. For example: Widening lanes and bridges which are too narrow; removing dangerous obstacles in close proximity to the edge of thousands of miles of roadway; repairing roads with dangerous shoulders or no shoulders and increasing the radius on curves that are too sharp. (1 have provided a copy of the AAA Foundation's study to the Committee and request I be included in the official hearing record. I also ask that the attached AAA safety brochure be included in the hearing record.)

In short, roads built to higher standards have much lower crash rates. Improvements to lower-grade roads produce cost savings that exceed expenditures by nearly three-to-one.

Yet these are the kinds of highway improvements that are being deferred or ignored in every state because full investment of Highway Trust Fund revenues is continually thwarted by budget games. AAA calls upon Congress to increase significantly the Highway Trust Fund investment in highway safety improvements such as those we have described. This is an investment of their gasoline tax dollars that AAA members desire and expect.

Another safety improvement FAA endorses is improving the safety data collection in this country. The nation needs adequate data to make the proper policy decisions on what safety improvements will produce the most benefits. For example, only fatality data is being used today with any degree of uniformity. Yet, less than two percent of all crashes involve a fatality, so the bulk of the problem goes unaddressed.

Another kind of data problem is that states have more data and access to data than they are willing to use. So we somehow must provide incentives to states to use data to make sound judgments and we need to broaden the data base. We need to establish links to state and national driver licensing data, state Global Positioning System (GPS) data (used to identify high accident locations), citation, arrest and conviction data, and health care data (to identify the number injured, cost and severity). But federal funding is needed to make it happen.

AAA believes the Transportation Enhancement program may provide a funding option. We support creating an eligible category in the TE program to provide funding for safety improvements, such as safety information systems.

AAA believes safety is a much higher priority than some projects currently funded by the TE program. We believe even more strongly that states should have increased flexibility to invest in safety improvement projects from the TE account.

Now to other provisions AAA strongly supports in ISTEA reauthorization.

First, funding levels for highways and bridges should be significantly increased. An increase in funding could be facilitated by taking the Highway Trust Fund "off-budget," as Congressman Shuster's bill H.R. 4 would do; by investing the unspent balance in the Fund on transportation; and by redirecting to the Highway Trust Fund the 4.3 cents per gallon motor fuels tax now going to deficit reduction.

AAA is pleased that fifty-seven Senators--ten from this committee--have signed the Warner/Baucus letter to Budget Committee Chairman Domenici requesting an annual investment of $26 billion in highways. Unfortunately, even with this additional revenue, the nation still faces a substantial shortfall to just maintain existing conditions.

AAA also believes that a strong but responsible federal role in transportation policy and financing must be maintained. The preservation of a national transportation system is in everyone's interest. That's why we have serious concerns about proposals to "turn back" or "devolve" federal taxing authority to the states.

When we say a responsible federal role is necessary, we mean the federal government must commit to investing all of the revenues in the Highway Trust Fund. In addition, unfunded mandates and sanctions not directly related to the safety or to the integrity of transportation programs should be eliminated. For example, we applaud the goals of President Clinton's recently-unveiled safety package, which include increased seatbelt use and enactment of primary enforcement laws. But we oppose sanctions -- which seem to be the President's method to achieve these goals. The better approach is to offer incentives to states.

Of course, the key question is: where do we get money for these incentives. Much of the money can be found by agreeing to the $26 billion funding level recommended by 57 Senators, taking the transportation trust funds off-budget, transferring to the Highway Trust Fund the 4.3 cents per gallon gas tax now going to the general fund, and appropriating the full amount authorized for each of the next six years.

Another area of concern to AAA is the potential for increasing truck size and weight. AAA surveys find that heavier and larger trucks are strongly opposed by our members. We oppose any Congressional change in the size and weight limits of trucks and support the continued "freeze" on longer combination vehicles (LCVs).

AAA also opposes toll roads as a general principle, believing that to the maximum extent possible, all highway facilities should be toll-free. For more than 80 years, the underlying principle of the federal-state highway program has been developing and preserving this nation's vast network of quality, toll-free highways. Tolling the existing federal-aid highways--including the Interstate System -- would represent a major change in course. Instead of a pay-as-you-go highway network based on fuel taxes already collected from motorists, responsibility for funding highway maintenance and construction would be loaded onto future trips of highway users. In other words, "build now, pay now, and pay later!"

Mr. Chairman, our nation is in an era of limited federal resources. We must recognize that choices, intelligent choices, must be made to achieve what is most important to the public. The vital signs of our transportation infrastructure signal a system in trouble. An investment in this infrastructure protects lives and leaves America's leaders of tomorrow -- our children -- with a fighting chance of keeping America the strongest nation on earth. Thank you.