By Leslie Wollack
Witnesses before a House panel last week testified on implementation of federal highway and transit programs authorized under the nation's surface transportation program adopted by Congress last year. MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, signed by President Obama last July, extended federal surface transportation programs until September 2014. The panel highlighted transportation timelines and project delivery, potential funding solutions, performance measures and expansion of the federal transportation credit program known as TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act).
The hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, "Implementing MAP-21: The State and Local Perspective," was chaired by Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI). MAP-21 extended transportation programs for two years at current levels at $52.5 billion each year. The bill made significant changes in programs impacting local governments, including consolidating more than 70 federal programs and giving more authority to the states in determining future transportation priorities and spending decisions. More information on the impact of the changes in MAP-21 can be found at http://www.dot.gov/map21 and http://t4america.org/resources/map-21/handbook/.
State and local government panelists applauded the bill for providing certainty following years of delay in passing a bill, numerous short-term extensions and questions over the level of funding for federal transportation programs. Local witnesses identified new performance measures, the focus on freight and safety, increased funding for the TIFIA program and emphasis on "state-of-good-repair" as key beneficial changes in the program. All the local government witnesses stressed the key role of transportation to economic development and the vitality of communities.
"Mobility, access and innovation in our cities and metropolitan regions are they key to the nation's economic success and the fundamental reason that we must continue to build and strengthen the local-federal partnership that is embodies in MAP-21,"said Edward Reiskin, Director of Transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Representing the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Reiskin testified that "It takes a lot of infrastructure to keep a city moving, regardless of how people may choose to get around. Keeping the city moving is what keeps the city and region's economy strong."
Richard Perrin, Executive Director of the Genesee Transportation Council, testifying on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, noted changes in MAP-21 that emphasizes the National highway System at the expense of the rest of the surface transportation system that may jeopardize the funding that goes to roads and bridges owned by local governments.
The hearing also focused on transportation funding and potential solutions for the decreased revenues flowing in the Highway Trust Fund. While many local governments are finding innovative ways to fund transportation programs, the federal program based on a federal fuel tax continues not to meet authorized spending levels.
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office testified that current funding in the Highway Trust continues to have shortfalls in revenue and will not meet its obligations by 2015. CBO recommended that Congress must either reduce transportation spending, increase taxes to generate more revenue or a combination of both. That would require an increase in the federal tax on gasoline of 18.4 cents per gallon, last raised in 1993, which faces strong public opposition. A Gallup poll released last week found that two-thirds of Americans oppose increasing gas taxes for roads, bridges and mass transit.
Transportation panel Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has identified reauthorization of MAP-21 and finding a solution to the national transportation funding problem as one of his key priorities and as the new panel leader.
Local officials need to play a key role in the upcoming debate on transportation authorization to ensure that their voice is part of the discussion over priorities and authority in how federal transportation dollars are allocated.