Testimony of Thomas Walker
Executive Director, Wisconsin Road Builders Association
American Road and Transportation Builders Association
to the Hearing on Environmental Programs and State and Metropolitan Planning
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Room 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building
March 19,1997


I am pleased to be here with you this morning. My name is Thomas Walker. am Executive Director of the Wisconsin Road Builders Association, a state affiliated chapter of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) represents 4,000 member organizations in the nation's transportation construction industry, including construction contractors, professional engineering firms, heavy equipment manufacturers, and materials suppliers. Our member companies employ more than 500,000 people in the transportation construction industry in the United States.

Prior to joining WRBA last May, I was employed for almost 10 years in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. For much of that time, I served as Executive Assistant to the Secretary, with responsibility for Departmental policy development and planning. In that capacity, I played a major role in developing Wisconsin's Clean Air Act compliance strategy, and oversaw the development of Wisconsin's first multimodal transportation plan, in response to ISTEA. I also served as the Administrator of the Division of Planning. I am currently a member of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Clean Air Task Force and the TRB Committee on Statewide Multimodal Planning.

Without question, the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) is the single most important legislative issue this year for the transportation construction industry. The content of the new ISTEA will determine the future not only of our industry, but shape the nation's mobility and help determine the competitiveness and productivity of our national, state, and regional economies.

Within ISTEA, planning and environmental issues will be a major determiner of investment policy. We applaud the Committee's interest in taking a close look at both the policy and process issues involved.

Value of State and Local Planning

First, let me strongly endorse ISTEA's emphasis on state and metropolitan planning. By improving the planning process, we can find better solutions to the mobility challenges we as a nation face.

would like to share with the Committee a few key conclusions I reached in my work at Wisconsin DOT and use them to help amplify key ARTBA recommendations.

Limits to Modal Shift Documented

The first point I would like to emphasize is how limited is the potential for modal shift from highways to passenger rail, urban transit, and other alternatives to driving.

Wisconsin's statewide multimodal passenger plan includes ambitious new intercity bus service as well as both conventional and high-speed rail passenger service. If implemented, these would clearly improve mobility and travel choice. But they will barely impact forecasted auto travel. Without these rail and transit improvements, intercity auto trips are forecasted to grow 22%. With them, auto trips will still grow 21.2%.

The corridor with the highest potential for high speed rail, between Milwaukee and Chicago, has been recently studied in depth. Currently, it is served by 6 daily round trip Amtrak trains, traveling at conventional speeds. One alternative studied included 14 round trips daily, offering virtual hourly service at high speed, cutting travel time by 50%. As a result, rail passenger ridership in the corridor would grow by 400%. However, that is still a very small percent of corridor travel. Motor vehicle travel on the adjacent 1-94 corridor would still grow by 56%, just slightly less than the 59% growth forecasted if there were no improvement at all in rail passenger service. And additional highway capacity in this critical corridor would still be required.

The conclusion we reached is that improvements in rail and transit service are important. They improve access, and add choice. But they cannot substitute for feasible highway improvements, because they produce remarkably small modal shifts. Highway travel growth in a single year will usually more than outpace the modal shift forecasted for the entire 20-year planning period.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is the MPO for 7 southeastern Wisconsin counties, six of which comprise a severe ozone non- attainment area. Its updated 2010 plan, completed in 1994, called for a 70% increase in transit miles of service, comprising a 40% increase in transit service hours. This major investment will primarily improve job access, but is nevertheless forecasted to generate only 14% more transit trips and have virtually no impact on regional modal split. Consequently, the MPO plan also includes significant new investments in highway capacity, needed to avoid gridlock and keep the region economically competitive.

Is Wisconsin unique? Hardly! At the Department, we looked at MPO plans around the country, especially those containing major commitments to transit system development. Even in metro areas like Portland and San Diego, whose plans call for a very ambitious doubling of transit trips, modal shifts will be minimal. For each new transit trip, there will still be more than 10 new auto trips.

In short, the highway-transit trade-off assumed in much of ISTEA is simply not there in most cases. Investments in alternatives to highways are important, but cannot substitute for or come at the expense of continued highway investment.

For these reasons, ARTBA strongly encourages the removal from federal planning requirements any bias against highway capacity projects. States and MPO's should have the full flexibility to plan for mobility solutions that work regardless of mode.

We also encourage the repeal of the MPO financial feasibility requirement. Limiting plans to current revenues precludes good planning. MPO's should be free to develop multimodal plans that require expanded investment levels, and then use those plans to persuade all levels of government to respond with appropriate resources. If the Committee believes some limit is appropriate, then we suggest that a requirement for state and MPO endorsement of the plan's financial element should suffice. If these public agencies are willing to endorse new revenues, should federal rules prevent them from taking that leadership role?

We also encourage the elimination of the Major Investment Study requirement in most cases. If an MPO determines through its comprehensive planning process that a highway or transit capacity solution is needed, and that selection is endorsed by both the state and transit operator, that should suffice. ISTEA planning rules place far too many hurdles in the way of highway capacity projects, through seemingly endless alternative analysis, wasting both time and financial resources.

Transportation and Air Quality

Let me now turn to air quality issues.

When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, it included the requirement to evaluate and include Transportation Control Measures, or TCM's, in State Implementation Plans. ISTEA funded TCM's by creating the CMAQ program.

The basic assumption was that reduction in auto usage would be a critical element in air quality attainment and maintenance.

Since 1991, we have learned a great deal more about ozone formation, the effectiveness of various ways to reduce ozone precursors from the mobile sector, and the real potential to reduce vehicle travel growth.

would like to recount our experience in Wisconsin. Our base 1990 VOC inventory included 160 tons of VOC's on hot summer days. Due to the combination of new tailpipe standards, Stage II vapor controls, enhanced inspection and maintenance and reformulated fuel, we have reduced mobile sector VOC's from 160 tons daily to about 66 tons today, with projections of a continuing decline to about 30 tons in 2007, despite VMT growth. That 81% reduction is due almost 100% to technology, not a modal shift.

Last year, the MPO and state Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources evaluated the full range of Transportation Demand Management strategies and concluded that full implementation of the regional transit plan and other strategies, would produce a year 2007 benefit of only 0.3 additional tons, beyond that which technology would otherwise produce.

By comparison, the year 2007 benefit of the 49-state car proposed by U.S. auto manufacturers would reduce mobile sector VOC's by another 10 tons daily, and VOC's would continue to decline through at least 2020.

What then, should we conclude?

First, how significant is the transportation conformity requirement to achieving ambient air quality standards attainment? If the potential for significant modal shift through transportation program choices is minimal and if the relative air quality benefits of behavior change strategies is minimal, should the requirement be continued at all? Should it be narrowed to apply only to very large urban areas, where there is some modal shift potential? Does rural conformity make any sense? How about in small metro areas?

Should CMAQ Continue?

Is the underlying premise for a CMAQ set-aside still valid? Will CMAQ investments contribute significantly to air quality attainment? In southeastern Wisconsin, our MPO has calculated that, of the 94 tons reduction in mobile sector VOC's, CMAQ funded projects contributed about 100 - 200 pounds (not tons!), or about one one-hundredth of one percent, per year and at a very high cost per ton of VOC reduction. Might not the public be better served by redirecting CMAQ funding into highway and transit projects in all states, not just those with non-attainment areas? Should CMAQ be funded from the Highway Account at all?

If Congress believes that additional mobile sector emissions reductions are appropriate, then ARTBA is recommending that Congress mandate the production of the 49-state car, precisely because it would be extremely effective in reducing emissions that dwarf the air quality benefits of CMAQ.

Repeal Highway Funding Sanctions

When the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 were passed, Congress included two types sanctions, stationary source offset requirements and withholding of highway funds, to compel states to comply with the Act's requirements. Highway funding sanctions are not only are not needed to reduce atmospheric pollutants from mobile sources, they are counter productive.

Loss of highway funding, ironically, can delay highway projects that improve traffic flow and reduce emissions. Thus, application of highway funding sanctions can exacerbate air pollution problems that the sanctions are intended to help solve.

Highway funding sanctions can be imposed for conditions over which non- federal authorities have no control, such as ozone transport from other jurisdictions. And they can be imposed for Title V violations that have nothing to do with transportation.

We hope that Congress will reconsider this onerous provision, especially in light of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent proposals to tighten the nation's air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter. Depending on the standard ultimately chosen by EPA in its final rule, the number of new nonattainment areas could double or triple. In fact, we believe that at least 800 counties across the nation will be placed in nonattainment status for at least one of requirements proposed. And this estimate probably is low since many rural and smaller urban areas currently do not have ozone or PM monitors. Many of these presently unmonitored areas are likely to show violations of the new standards once monitoring begins. In addition to these new areas, existing nonattainment areas would find themselves facing even more difficult goals.

The fact of the matter is that the mobile sector has contributed most of the reductions in ozone precursor over the last decade. On a national scale, emissions from highway vehicles of carbon monoxide, VOCs and nitrogen oxides during the period 1986-1995 decreased 20%, 31.2% and 2.2%, respectively, despite a 32% increase in highway vehicle miles traveled during that period. Adoption of the 49-state car and its tightened tailpipe standards will assure that these trends continue, and at a cost far lower than any combination of TCM's.

Air pollutant reductions such as these have resulted in a concomitant increase in the quality of our air across the nation. The number of poor air quality days in the nation's 20 largest urban areas, for example, decreased by 60.7% from 1986 to 1995. Reductions in highway vehicle emissions during that time frame accounted for 86% of the overall reduction in carbon monoxide and for all of the reduction in VOC concentrations.

Thus, empirical evidence indicates that mobile sources have made and continue to make remarkable progress. Our nation does not need the disruptions of highway funding sanctions and the obstacles of transportation conformity to make progress on clean air.

Single Occupancy Vehicle Limitations

We recommend that Congress remove the requirement that projects which increase capacity for single-occupant vehicles in ozone and CO nonattainment areas be part of an approved congestion management plan. This requirement creates administrative burdens, increases cost and wastes time for no benefit. An MPO should have the flexibility to decide if and where highway capacity is needed, on its own authority, and include those improvements in its adopted plan.

Revised MPO Planning Process

Traditionally, and very appropriately, the MPO's primary focus has been on comprehensive urban mobility within the metro region. The state DOT's primary focus has been on intercity and inter-regional transportation through and between metro areas, including a major focus on commercial freight movement.

In each metro area, it is clearly in the national interest to encourage the close coordination of both objectives.

The metropolitan transportation plan must coordinate both objectives.

To assure this, I am suggesting that the Committee consider re-defining the metropolitan planning process as a joint state-MPO process. The final adopted plan should require the endorsement of both entities.

In ISTEA, Congress appropriately required the approval of the Governor for MPO TIP's, to assure that both objectives are balanced in the project programming process. Since programs must derive from plans, ARTBA urges that the Governor's approval also be required for MPO plans as well, since these will shape the long- term program in each metro area.

Intelligent Transportation Systems

To help curb air pollution resulting from traffic congestion, ARTBA favors highway- related solutions like construction of additional capacity to the highway system where appropriate, development of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), and implementation of traffic management solutions like ramp metering, increased real time signage, improved emergency road service, and better coordination of traffic signals.

Obstacles To Timely Project Completion Concerns

There also are several other environmental and planning issues about which we have concerns. While they presently are not issues directly on point for ISTEA reauthorization, let me just mention a couple of them, because the ISTEA reauthorization process may provide us with opportunities to address them.

We find it unacceptable that it frequently takes seven years or, in may cases much longer, to bring badly needed transportation projects on line. The environmental assessment process embodied in the National Environmental Policy Act needs to be improved. Federal agencies with standing need to be required to participate in the NEPA process within reasonable time frames and there needs to be a point for final resolution authority among competing public interests. The process also needs to be made more definitive, so that only legitimate issues are considered, rather than allowing the process to be used as a tool for stopping needed public projects by endless investigation and process-oriented litigation.

Let me relate a situation that occurred recently in Wisconsin that dramatically illustrates these points. In June 1995, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision on a major new interstate bridge over the St. Croix River, which links Wisconsin and Minnesota. That ROD was based on more than 10 years of formal EIS investigation. Overall, the project was studied for 30 years.

Without warning, just several weeks before bids were to be advertised, the National Park Service decided that necessary permits should be denied because the new bridge would have unacceptable scenic impacts on the value of the river. Until then, the NPS had numerous opportunities to raise objections within the EIS process and to be a part of evaluating solutions, but instead chose to remain silent until the eleventh hour.

At this point, the project cannot proceed, despite the fact that the existing bridge is an aging two-lane drawbridge that carries 17,000 vehicles daily. With forecast demand rising to 40,000 vehicles daily by the year 2017, the failure of the NPS to participate constructively in the environmental assessment process is unconscionable. Yet the current provisions of NEPA allow such situations to occur.

Other Environmental Planning Statutes. Similar problems exist with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, Section 7 of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and several other environmental planning statutes. There are many reasonable modifications to these statutes that could be suggested to improve environmental planning processes. For example, the Endangered Species Act should require consideration of economic values in listing decisions, critical habitat designations and development of recovery plans, and it should require landowner compensation for diminished land values due to listing decisions. The Clean Water Act should clarify in law the definition of wetlands and require recognition of wetland functional values in delineation determinations and calculations of mitigation requirements. It should limit the time frames available to the Corps of Engineers to process 404 permit applications and eliminate EPA's 404(c) veto authority over the Corps. And it should require landowner compensation for diminished land values due to Section 404.

Because this hearing is focused on the environmental aspects of ISTEA, I will not go into further depth regarding these matters. However, in light of the inability of Congress to address such issues in reauthorization of these other major environmental statutes, I believe the Committee should consider addressing such issues during the ISTEA reauthorization process.


While I only have time to cover some of the changes we think need to be made in the ISTEA reauthorization process, I think you can see that this is a vitally important and very active area for us. Thank you for inviting me here today. I will be happy to respond to any questions you might have.