ISTEA Reauthorization
April 7, 1997

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Bill VanDyke, and I am a freeholder for Bergen County, New Jersey. I am also chairman of the Board of Trustees of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, or NJTPA.

The NJTPA is the metropolitan planning organization or MPO for northern New Jersey, which encompasses 13 counties and 5.8 million people. It is the fourth-largest MPO region in the Nation.

Today I'd like to relate to you one of the success stories of ISTEA -- that is, the expanded authority entrusted to MPOs, which has given the NJTPA and over 300 MPOs across the Nation the ability to create a new, more-open, and accountable transportation planning process, one that for the first time gives local elected officials and the public an effective say over transportation decisions.

In practice, ISTEA empowerment of MPOs has meant that, rather than rubber stamping the capital plans developed by State DOTs, MPOs became full partners in selecting projects and determining Federal funding allocations among them.

The local elected officials on the NJTPA board responded with enthusiasm to the new role and authority granted them by ISTEA. At our monthly meetings, these representatives of the people now show up in person rather than sending surrogates, despite their busy schedules. They also participate in our three standing committees which recommend actions to the full board.

I might say that a goodly number of them are here today at this session.

This role for local elected officials such as myself has made all the difference. We county executives, freeholders, mayors, and councilmen are in daily touch with our constituents. We are their voice and we know the issues.

By serving on MPO boards we can ensure that funds are allocated cost effectively to the highest transportation priorities in our region in a way that simply cannot be done by planners and project engineers sitting far away in State capitols.

Our annual negotiations with State transportation agencies over project priorities are conducted in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.

The partnership fostered by ISTEA also extends to the cities and counties represented on our board, which are referred to as our "subregions."

The NJTPA facilitates and supports the planning activities of its subregions by providing funding, tools, training, data, and technical expertise. Through our innovative local lead and scoping programs, subregions are now eligible to receive Federal capital dollars to prepare their own priority projects for eventual implementation.

Previously, many projects favored by subregions sat on the shelf, often for years, awaiting attention by NJDOT staff, who are engaged in other priority work. Now counties and cities can turn to the MPO to get their priority projects moving.

The NJTPA has also pushed the envelope in using technology to improve transportation planning. In addition to in-house computer modeling, the NJTPA has equipped subregions with geographic information system, GIS, technology to carry out often sophisticated analysis of local mobility needs.

The NJTPA is also working with two ISTEA-funded national transportation research centers, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, to prepare an innovative computerized project information system called TELUS -- which is an acronym for Transportation Economic Land Use System -- that will provide the public and local officials with a user-friendly means to retrieve a wealth of project information. The system will transform the TIP into a dynamic information tool.

So, by enabling MPOs to take these and other initiatives, ISTEA is working extraordinarily well from our perspective. Perhaps a surprising thing is that we have made ISTEA work in a region that is economically complex, densely populated, and heavily traveled.

Each year we are faced with what seems like an overwhelming number of needed projects competing for each Federal dollar we have available, along with a host of local interest groups arguing from where and how we should make our investments.

The MPO process put in place by ISTEA has allowed us to effectively broker competing interests to arrive at a regional consensus that, while it may not please all parties, ensures steady progress in improving regional mobility.

For the upcoming ISTEA reauthorizations, the lessons are clear: the framework established by ISTEA for empowering local officials through MPOs and for targeting funding based on national and regional needs has been highly effective and should be sustained and strengthened. Drastic mid-course changes in our Nation's transportation policy could threaten our impressive achievements in building efficient, balanced, and well-managed transportation systems in the metropolitan regions, where the majority of our Nation's population and productive capacity resides.

Simply stated, ISTEA works. Don't change it.

I thank you very much for allowing me to testify.