Chrissy Nichols co-authored this article.
Late last Friday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) released Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which is the Senate highway portion of the next federal surface transportation bill. While we’re still a long way from the final passage of a reauthorization bill, and while this only reflects the bill’s highway component (revenue sources are under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee and transit falls to the Banking Committee - plus, the House has its own version), several components of MAP-21 are valuable and should be advanced, including flexing highway dollars for transit, performance measures, strategic planning, the creation of a national freight program, and expanding the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).
MAP-21 is a two-year authorization, with recommended funding set at $109 billion, the current level, plus inflation. That leaves a $12 billion gap between funding levels to maintain investments over those two years and the revenues that will be generated from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon U.S. gasoline tax. The Senate EPW Committee did not recommend a funding source to bridge the gap. MAP-21 consolidates the number of federal highway programs from 90 to less than 30, with core highway programs reduced from seven to five. There are no earmarks in the bill.
National goals, planning, and performance metrics
MAP-21 lays out the following national goals for the federal highway program:
- Safety: To achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.
- Infrastructure Condition: To maintain the highway infrastructure asset system in a state of good repair.
- System Reliability: To improve the efficiency of the surface transportation system.
- Freight Movement and Economic Vitality: To improve the national freight network strengthen the ability of rural communities to access national and international trade markets, and support regional economic development.
- Environmental Sustainability: To enhance the performance of the transportation
MAP-21 improvesstatewide and metropolitan planning processes to incorporate a more comprehensive performance-based approach to decision-making that tracks performance and, in some cases, holds states and metropolitan planning organizations accountable for improving the conditions and performance of their transportation assets by reducing funding. However, the bill falls short in that it does not mandate a scenario planning process. Scenario evaluation is vital in long-range land use and transportation plans. It allows several alternative futures to be created and compared, illustrating the consequences of different policy and investment decisions and defining a preferred regional scenario. As an example, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan is based on a preferred regional scenario.
MAP-21 builds on the success of the TIFIA program, which provides direct loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to surface transportation projects at favorable terms. Each dollar of Federal funds can provide up to $10 in TIFIA credit assistance - and leverage $30 in transportation infrastructure. America Fast Forward, as it is referred to in the bill, modifies TIFIA by increasing funding for the program to $1 billion per year (from the current $122 million), increasing the maximum federal share of project costs from 33 percent to 49 percent, allowing TIFIA to be used to support a holistic set of long-range projects instead of one project at a time (for example, the Los Angeles 30/10 initiative) and setting aside funding for projects in rural areas at more favorable terms. One drawback of MAP-21’s modifications is a change to TIFIA project selection criteria. The current TIFIA program requires the following: projects must have a dedicated revenue stream capable of repaying the original investment; senior debts gain an investment-grade rating; and the maximum size of the TIFIA loan is 33 percent of the total project cost. Regrettably, MAP-21 proposes to change the program to a first-come first-serve basis. It’s unclear why this change was made, but given the success of the current prioritization process of the TIFIA program, it should be reinstated.
MAP-21 authorizes $1 billion to fund the new projects of national and regional significance program, which sounds a lot like the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s (USDOT) current TIGER program. Under the projects of national and regional significance program, the federal government can fund up to 50 percent of costs for transportation infrastructure projects. Eligibility requirements include that projects must significantly improve the performance of the national surface transportation network; generate national economic benefits; increase access to jobs, labor, and other critical economic inputs; reduce long-term congestion; increase the movement of people and freight; improve safety; and leverage non-federal financial commitments. Other metrics for the program include constructability, innovative project delivery, collaboration, environmental protection, and use of innovative technologies. MAP-21 requires USDOT to conduct a transparent and competitive national solicitation process to select projects for funding.
Intelligent transportation systems
The bill allocates $100 million per year to develop and implement incentives forIntelligent transportation systems (ITS), including a competitive grant program. ITS, like the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) bus and train trackers that make transit more convenient for riders, and the Illinois Tollway’s I-PASS electronic tolling system, improve congestion and save time for users, by harnessing technology to maximize the capacity of existing highway and transit infrastructure through improved traffic flow, decreased delays, and up–to-the-minute information provided at a relatively low cost. At a 9:1 cost-benefit ratio, ITS investments have a greater return when compared with traditional transportation projects, which have a cost-benefit ratio of 1:2.7.
Unfortunately, MAP-21 does not have a Complete Streets component. Congress shouldintegrate Complete Streets principles into the legislation so that road networks are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone, whether young or old, on foot or on bicycle, in a car or in a bus. The bill also makes severe changes to major bike and ped programs, combining the Transportation Enhancement program, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails into an $833 million “eligible use” section of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ). That’s a $317 million cut from 2010 and, worse, the bill allows states to opt-out of bike and ped funding altogether, allowing funds to be used on new road programs that connect to transit, bike or ped environments.
What’s next in the Senate
MAP-21 is scheduled to be marked-up in the Senate tomorrow at 10 a.m. Senators will then offer amendments to the bill.
President Obama’s Transportation Infrastructure Plan (released Feb. 2011)
House Republican Plan (released Jul. 2011)
American Jobs Act Infrastructure Component (released Oct. 2011)