Illinois transportation advocates: Rep. Oberstar's bill a good start toward federal transportation investment reform; more work needed - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Illinois transportation advocates: Rep. Oberstar's bill a good start toward federal transportation investment reform; more work needed

This is a joint release from the Metropolitan Planning Council, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Illinois PIRG, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Transportation for America 

Core News Facts 

  • U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced a bill on Monday, June 22, 2009, that would reauthorize federal surface transportation funding for roads, bridges, and passenger and freight rail to the tune of $450 billion.
  • The current allocation expires at the end of September 2009.
  • Authorization of a new transportation bill occurs only once every six years. This bill, and the billions of dollars it will allocate, has the potential to redefine how the American people get around for generations, just as the highway system envisioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower more than 60 years ago still defines us today.
  • Rep. Oberstar estimates the bill would cost approximately $450 billion, but the federal Highway Trust Fund is headed toward bankruptcy for the second time in as many years. Most experts believe it will run out of cash by mid-August.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to begin exploring how to finance this bill in July.
  • Illinois members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Jerry Costello (D-12th Dist.), Timothy V. Johnson (R-15th Dist.), and Dan Lipinski (D-3rd Dist.) – will play a critical role in these negotiations because of their positions as members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 
  • Positive Features of the Bill 

  • Simpler, More Streamlined Programs. Consolidates the current 108 programs, eliminating or combining 75 of them.
  • Money Dedicated to Repairing Aging Roads and Bridges. Creates a substantial, dedicated funding stream for maintaining roads and bridges – the Critical Asset Investment Program – and would require transit agencies to show how they are maintaining their systems in a state of good repair.
  • Greater Local Control. More money to the metropolitan areas that have the thorniest transportation problems.
  • A Stronger Rural Voice. Rural areas get a bigger say in state-level transportation decision-making.
  • Transit New Starts Program. Eliminates the “cost effectiveness” index that makes reduced travel time the overriding criterion, streamlines project delivery.
  • Promotes Intermodal Planning. Gives substantial responsibility to a new Office of Intermodalism, which would integrate investments in multiple modes (promoting, for instance, simultaneous investment in a bus rapid transit route along a repaired highway.)
  • Unclear/Needs Improvement 

  • Livability and Public Health. The bill has strong overarching language on livable communities and health: Building neighborhoods where people have access to affordable living and travel options – you can walk, drive or take transit, you can find homes you can afford near transit stops and job centers. However livability can’t just be an office in the federal government; it needs to be part of how localities qualify for money.  The Office itself needs more money and authority. Health needs to be elevated as a goal, performance measure and criterion throughout the legislation.
  • Public Transportation. The increase from 18 to 22 percent of the total share of funding is moving in the right direction, but there is a potential that the 22 percent is a ceiling rather than a floor. There are several flexible pots of funding in the 78% of the non-transit funds, but they don’t have the proper direction and performance criteria to ensure they will be truly multimodal. It’s very positive that there is some flexibility to use dollars for operating expenses (the money to help run buses and trains and provide more frequent service) but the flexibility could be broadened as proposed under HR2746. 
  • Metro Mobility and Access program is a very positive step that supplies more financial resources to metropolitan planning agencies to tackle critical transportation issues.  While tackling congestion is important, there needs to be an equal emphasis on smarter approaches to managing travel demand including system operations and efficiency and transit-oriented development and better planning for linking where people live and access to the jobs and other destinations they need to travel to.
  • Clean Transportation and a Connection to Climate Change. Bill language gives a nod to having transportation do its part on climate protection, but there are no real teeth or accountability provisions.
  • Access for Vulnerable Populations. Programs for low-income, disabled and aging Americans are consolidated within the broader public transportation programs, but it’s unclear yet how high a priority these programs will be and how they will effectively coordinated. 
  • Critical Missing Elements 

  • Goals, Performance Targets and Accountability. Having individual programs that work better is certainly a step in the right direction, but having programs that work together toward achieving a set of national objectives – as outlined in HR2724 – is critical if we are going to be successful in moving to a truly integrated, intermodal national transportation system.(Illinois transportation advocates are pushing for the state to enact a similar approach to transportation investment by developing selection criteria based on statewide goals.)
  • Green Freight and Ports. The requirement of a freight plan inclusive of truck, rail, ports, etc., is positive. However, the actual funding appears to be aimed only at expanding highway capacity and there is no provision for cleaning up the nation’s trucks, trains and ports.
  • Smarter Land Use/Stronger Communities. Other than a few mentions of land use, the bill draft contains nothing substantive to provide incentives to coordinate land use, affordable housing and community development with transportation so people have more options to live closer to jobs.
  • Equity/Affordability. Overall of the four ‘E’s – economy, environment, energy and equity – equity seems to get the least attention in the bill as drafted.  There could be stronger overarching objectives and project level criteria to ensure benefits for low-income communities.  The concept of household cost and overall affordability of transportation also gets no mention in the draft bill – transportation is now the second highest household cost for families and the poor spend an exorbitant amount on getting from point A to point B.  At the very least this should be an overarching performance objective as suggested in HR2724.
  • Blueprint Planning.  While the concept paper released June 18 outlined a bold “blueprint planning” provision that would require visionary, scenario-based planning that integrates transportation, housing, land use patterns and builds in specific performance targets, the bill draft falls short of making this promise a reality.
  • Workforce Development. There is a placeholder in the draft for a workforce development, but no language yet to address the need to get low-income, women and minority workers into job training and career pathways into the transportation industry.
  • Sources

    James Corless, Director, Transportation for America
    “Chairman Oberstar and his committee members have done us all a great service in launching the discussion of updating our nation’s transportation program for the 21st Century. This year’s bill represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set America on a new course and it is essential that we get it right.” 

    Brian Imus, State Director, Illinois PIRG
    “The decisions made by Congress will have a huge impact on the future of public transportation in Illinois. There are expansion projects like the Red Line extension in Chicago and high-speed intercity rail linking Illinois and Midwest cities that will help address our dependence on oil and curb congestion in our cities. Fixing problems like these that commuters face everyday will only happen with a meaningful change in the way lawmakers in Washington, D.C., spend our transportation dollars.”, 312-291-0441, ext. 210 

    Kevin Brubaker, Deputy Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center
    "This bill proposes to provide 80 percent of the cost of high-speed rail investments, for the first time putting rail on an equal footing with highways. That's good news for jobs, transportation, and the environment.", (312) 673-6500 

    Jacky Grimshaw, Vice President for Policy, Center for Neighborhood Technology
    “For working families, those households earning $20,000 to $50,000 annually, transportation costs can equal or exceed housing costs. This limits their ability to find truly affordable housing in all parts of the region because transportation options are not universally available. The lack of transportation options disproportionately burdens the poor and moderate income families.”, 773-269-4033

    Peter Skosey, Vice President, Metropolitan Planning Council
    “Momentum is building to revamp outdated policies and entrenched structures that have led to federal mis-investment in communities across metropolitan Chicago and the nation. Rep. Oberstar’s bill is a sign that federal investment policy is moving away from investing in silos via arbitrary funding formulas toward supporting infrastructure that increases the capacity of our entire transportation system, while achieving interconnected goals such as reducing emissions, sparking new economic development opportunities, and connecting jobs, homes and transit.”, 312-863-6004

    Additional Local and National Resources

    Transportation for America’s official statement on Rep. Oberstar’s bill

    Transportation advocates in Illinois support not only federal investment reforms, but also state investment reforms. The state needs to develop investment criteria based on statewide goals, such as reducing traffic congestion, creating jobs, and providing people with more transportation options. Learn more at MPC’s Web site.

    Information on the cost of mis-investment in Illinois transportation infrastructure: 

    Getting on Track: Key Public Transportation Projects
    Illinois PIRG reports on the value of public transportation in Illinois.

    Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
    CNT illustrates that truly affordable communities need homes at a range of price points, as well as reliable, accessible transportation options. Their user-customizable maps also show that communities with greater density produce lower CO2 emissions. 

    Moving at the Speed of Congestion
    Metropolitan Planning Council reports that excess traffic congestion costs Chicago-area businesses, individuals and the environment $7.3 billion annually.

    Benefits of high-speed rail
    Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Web site features a webinar briefing on new developments and funding affecting the Midwest High-Speed Rail Network, and includes details on the benefits of high-speed rail.

    Transit State of Good Repair
    The Federal Transit Administration assesses the condition of the nation’s transit infrastructure, and begins to outline the steps necessary to bring it to a state of good repair. Chicago is among seven of the nation’s largest transit systems that are underfunded, confirming the Regional Transportation Authority’s concerns

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