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Posts from the "Federal Highway Administration" Category

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Federal Bike-Ped Funding Sets New High, With Much More Room to Grow

ped_bik_funding.jpgGraph: FHWA [PDF]

Federal funding for pedestrian and bicycle projects reached a new high last year, according to a report released today by the Federal Highway Administration. In terms of dollars, federal investment in walking and biking more than doubled compared to the previous high, set in 2007, thanks largely to an infusion of $400 million in stimulus funds.

The share of all federal transportation spending devoted to bike-ped projects also rose to an unprecedented level -- all of two percent. Advocates for walking and biking applauded the trend while pointing out the potential for much greater federal commitment to active transportation.

"It continues to be an improvement, and it continues to be a tiny fraction of the money that's available to potentially be spent on biking and walking," said Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists.

Subtracting the $400 million one-shot in stimulus funding, Clarke noted, yields a less impressive year-on-year increase. And part of the increase in reported bike-ped spending might also simply reflect better record keeping by state DOTs, as agencies document the construction of sidewalks and bike lanes as part of larger projects, according to Barbara McCann of the National Complete Streets Coalition.

The spending figures come from an update on the state of walking and biking that the feds release every five years. The original National Bicycling and Walking Study, released in 1994, set two major targets: to double walk and bike mode-share, from 7.9 percent of all trips to 15.8 percent; and to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by 10 percent.

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Federal Transportation Law Expired Over the Weekend: What’s Next?

A new month begins today without rules in place to govern federal transportation programs, thanks to an objection by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) to quick approval of a short-term extension of existing law.

natchez_trace_parkway_sign.jpgThe Natchez Trace Parkway, where trail construction is set to stall today thanks to inaction on federal transport law. (Photo: TheFunTimesGuide.com)

The
consequences of the delay could include forced furloughs for nearly
2,000 U.S. DOT employees, according to an agency release this morning,
as well as a shutdown of federal funding for road, bridge, bike-ped,
and transit projects. The processing of money for stimulus construction
work and state-based road safety groups such as Mothers Against Drunk
Driving (MADD) are also set for an interruption.

Nevertheless, the situation remains fluid. House transportation
committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has secured a promise that
future Senate legislation will assuage his panel’s frustration with a provision in the pending jobs bill that would apply 2009 earmarks to $932 million in 2010 transportation grants.

That agreement helps pave the way for House passage of the Senate jobs bill,
perhaps as soon as Tuesday. If both chambers can agree quickly on that
jobs bill, which would extend the 2005 federal transport law until
2011, the flow of federal funding for local projects likely would turn
back on without senators having to break through Bunning’s one-man
filibuster.

"We hope Congress can move
this legislation as early in the week as possible so reimbursements to
the states can resume," John Horsley, executive director of the
American Association of State Highway and
Transportation Officials (AASHTO), said in a statement late Friday.

In
the meantime, Oberstar’s committee has released a rundown of how the
imperiled extension would affect U.S. infrastructure programs. Check it
out after the jump.

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State DOTs: We Back National Transport Goals — If We Get to Write Them

Congressional efforts to set national goals for the American transportation system are stalled for now, but the U.S. DOT said today that it is preparing for an eventual transition to a world where performance targets are the norm for transit, roads, bridges, and ports.

interstate_traffic.jpg(Photo: UVA)
"National goals should be set by U.S. DOT in collaboration with states and stakeholders," Federal Highway Administration executive director Jeffrey Paniatti said yesterday during a session of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference.

But how will Washington measure progress on transportation metrics such as safety, pollution reduction, and efficiency in states that are, as Paniatti put it gently, "starting from different places"?

Pete Rahn, the chief of Missouri's state DOT and past president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), had a simple answer: States should be in charge of the process.

"We believe there should be a state-driven performance management approach," Rahn told TRB attendees, in which "states establish targets which they can deliver given their unique circumstances."

At AASHTO, he added, "we don't envision a process in which the Secretary of the U.S. DOT will dole out a share of a target to each state ... U.S. DOT would establish targets and we'd certainly hope that the total cumulative balance of state targets would equal the national [goal]."

And if state-written targets don't meet national performance standards? "[T]hat means the national target is not realistic," Rahn said.

AASHTO's lack of interest in meeting transportation goals that are not written within their ranks could create a major headache for the Obama administration, should it pursue broader infrastructure reform that would hold state DOTs accountable for their spending.

Letting states craft performance measures internally would risk rigging the system to ensure that DOTs always meet their targets -- but if the federal government wanted to effect broader change on a state or regional level, such as lower emissions or fewer pedestrian deaths, where would it get leverage?

Both Paniatti and Rahn ruled out any attempt to threaten a loss of federal transportation funding if goals were not met, a tactic successfully used in the 1980s to set the national speed limit at 55 miles per hour.

In fact, Rahn fondly recalled his past work at a state DOT that successfully gamed the speed-limit system. "We chose to put our speed sensors in really sharp corners," he told the TRB audience, drawing sporadic chuckles. "That's why [the push for national transportation targets] has to be a project we work on together."

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Report: States Used $6.6B in Stimulus Cash on New Roads, Not Repair

Today is the deadline for state DOTs to allocate at least half of
the transportation money they received under the economic stimulus law,
and Smart Growth America marked the occasion with a study of what types of projects are getting that cash.

234824_0_0_1.jpgNorth
Carolina spent $5.7 million in stimulus cash repaving I-540, pictured
above, along with $4.4 million on bike-ped in the same county. (Photo: Triangle Biz Journal)

Distressingly
– but unsurprisingly — quite a lot is going to new roads rather than
repair of existing ones. Of the $26.6 billion sent to states under a
flexible transportation mandate, SGA found that $6.6 billion has gone
towards building new highway capacity.

Only $185 million of the flexible stimulus aid has been used on transit and non-motorized transportation, which was given about $8 billion in separate funding as well.

One
culprit behind this questionable use of taxpayer money, as SGA reports,
is a theme at risk of repeating itself during the upcoming debate over
broad transportation reform: the lack of accountability.

Most
states and localities reported the projects they selected for stimulus
aid only after the fact, allowing a privately run website to monitor
the process much faster than the Obama administration.

But inconsistent reporting is just the beginning of the problem, as SGA points out in its report:  

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STAA Tuned: Transpo Bill Leaves Funding Question Hanging

We now have in our hands the 775-page Surface Transportation Authorization Act, which was released yesterday by James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House transportation committee. It is, in many ways, a remarkable bill -- a blueprint for how transportation planning and infrastructure construction might undergo a significant shift away from the mindsets that have dominated for the past half-century. There is a lot to like in the bill.

Current spending levels, to say nothing of the increases proposed in the bill, will be impossible to sustain in the absence of a new source of revenue. This is a huge obstacle to passage.

As currently written, STAA would significantly strengthen the Office of Intermodalism and work toward making DOT planning "mode neutral" -- that is, not operating under the assumption that highways will always get first priority in planning and funding.

It would create an Office of Livability, focused entirely on seeking balance in mode choice by boosting transit ridership, bicycling, and walking. The bill seeks to streamline the process by which new transit projects apply for funding, and it allows federal officials to consider likely changes in land-use from transit construction in considering whether a project deserves funding.

STAA aims to empower metropolitan planning organizations. It seeks to depoliticize funding decisions and support private investment in infrastructure by creating national and metropolitan infrastructure development banks. It lays the groundwork for significant new investments in high-speed rail in America (though it cuts the definition of high-speed to 110 miles per hour or higher).

The bill includes a push to support "complete streets" and a national bike route network. It establishes increased transit ridership and reduced carbon emissions as explicit goals. And of course, the bill is targeted to allocate a lot more money than in previous reauthorizations, with a lot more money for transit (though transit's share increases only modestly).

But as my colleague Elana Schor noted yesterday, what's missing from the bill is as telling as what's included. The 775-page length may suggest excessive comprehensiveness, but in fact much of the bill is little more than placeholders. "[To be supplied]" is in ample supply, as is "[$]." Ideally, actual numbers would follow immediately after the dollar sign.

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House GOPers Propose Filling Trust Fund With Stimulus Money

As their committee's leaders butted heads with the Obama administration, a group of Republicans on the House transportation panel proposed to fill the $7 billion hole in the nation's highway trust fund with unobligated money from the economic stimulus law.

mariodiazballart_kup5.jpgRep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) (Photo: SW Broward GOP)

The bill, offered yesterday by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and eight co-sponsors, has almost zero chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Congress. But its appearance suggests that lawmakers whose sympathies generally lie with Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the House's transportation chief -- who is determined to pass a new federal bill this year -- are likely to be diverted by the immediate task of filling the trust fund by August.

In his endorsement of the Diaz-Balart bill, Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL) underscored the bipartisan appeal of Oberstar's quest for a new bill. Johnson lamented the business in his home district that would be lost if the Obama administration won its fight for a transportation funding patch:

As a member of the Transportation Committee as well as the Highway and Transit Subcommittee, I have been gearing up for the reauthorization for many months. Elected officials from throughout the District have spent time and energy preparing their plans and projects with me and my staff in anticipation of this important reauthorization. Now the administration is telling them to shelve it all.

The result of this ill-conceived decision will be the loss of jobs, critical infrastructure and economic development in [my] district and throughout the nation.

Let's forget for the moment that House Republicans voted against the stimulus en masse, which casts a dim light on their bid to take advantage of available economic recovery cash for highways. Here's why the Diaz-Balart proposal could have a significant political downside.

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A National Infrastructure Bank By Any Other Name …

The House transportation committee's new $450 billion bill provides for a national infrastructure bank intended to "maximize the limited resources available for our surface transportation needs," as the panel's early outline puts it.

This sounds a lot like the infrastructure bank proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and 35 other House members -- indeed, Streetsblog Capitol Hill noted the similarity yesterday -- but in fact, Oberstar's proposal is likely to look different from his colleagues'.

Details on Oberstar's infrastructure bank plan are expected to be filled in after his legislation is officially introduced early next week, a Democratic committee source said yesterday. Yet the transportation panel's outline notes one crucial difference: Oberstar's infrastructure bank would be "located within" his proposed new DOT office of intermodalism, while the bank backed by DeLauro and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) would be independent of the government.

Why is this significant? An independent bank, backed nonetheless by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury, would be free to make funding decisions without being swayed by political ties or the ability to gain from managing any particular transportation project.

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Obama’s Highway Chief: Wishy-Washy on Emissions?

Victor Mendez, nominated by the White House to lead the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA), spent more than an hour this morning
with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — but the most
illuminating moment in the hearing came as the clock was running down.

Victor_Mendez_1683.jpgFHWA nominee Victor Mendez testified before the Senate today. (Photo: transportation1.org)

Sen.
Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked the nominee a simple question: What does
Mendez, a former Arizona state DOT director and ex-president of AASHTO, think of recent legislation codifying "complete streets" principles and expanding the "Safe Routes to School" program on childhood bike and pedestrian safety?

Mendez, whose legacy in Arizona
centers on a massive Phoenix freeway project, wavered a bit. Both ideas
"fit neatly into what I believe is Secretary LaHood’s livability
concept," Mendez replied, describing Safe Routes to School as a good
thing for his state but not addressing "complete streets" directly.

Though
Carper was openly dissatisfied with the answer, he moved on to an even
simpler question: Given that previous hikes in auto fuel-efficiency
standards have ultimately led to more driving (and increased
congestion), does Mendez think that lowering carbon emissions from the
transportation sector should be a goal of the upcoming climate change
bill?

Theoretically, it should have been easy for Mendez to endorse that concept, especially on the same day that his future boss blogged on the benefits
of transit. But if the future highways chief encouraged decreasing
transportation emissions, then — horrors! — he might be open to the
transit sector’s plea for a share of the emissions allocations in the climate bill.

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