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ISTEA: where are we after a year?

Summary of ISTEA

ISTEA is a comprehensive transportation act providing authorizations for highways, highway safety, and mass transportation for the next 6 years. Total funding of about $155 billion will be available in fiscal years 1992-1997. The purpose of the act is "to develop a National Intermodal Transportation System that is economically efficient, environmentally sound, provides the foundation for the Nation to compete in the global economy and will move people and goods in an energy efficient manner." [(1).sup.1]

ISTEA has frequently been described as the most important legislation pertaining to transportation and national infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration. Undoubtedly, when fully implemented, ISTEA will significantly affect virtually every person living in the United States.

Intermodalism is the interface of highways, mass transit, rail, aviation, and shipping. It means that all different modes of transportation must come together to form a seamless transportation network wort will allow people and products to move from one mode to the other smoothly with minimal congestion or interruption. (2)

Most of the ISTEA funding is earmarked for surface transportation - primarily highways. Authorizations of $121 billion are provided through programs, generally administered by FHWA, that have been dramatically restructured from previous highway law. (1)


ISTEA offers a comprehensive approach to transportation problems - an approach that breaks with all precedent. It represents a change in how we do surface transporation in the United States of America. ISTEA is revolutionary because it places new emphasis on intermodalism and it affords greater flexibility to States and localities to be the primary determinants of how transportation priorities are set and how transportation monies are spent.

It is important to recognize that ISTEA requires that institutional changes take place - that old ways of doing business give way to a flexible intermodal approach that preserves the environment, enhances the safety and quality of our infrastructure, and promotes mobility. This new approach represents a paradigm shift in transportation programming where the central element moves from a concept of a "one size fits all" approach to a more flexible intermodal approach.

Change takes time; however, FHWA is aggresively moving forward to implement all the mandates of ISTEA. In spite of the massive rearrangement of programs, in fiscal year (FY) 1992 and with only 9 months available after ISTEA adoption, we had the largest obligation of transportation funding in our history - approximately $19.6 billion.

During the past year, we have had numerous outreach efforts involving State and local governments, transit operators, industry groups, environmental and citizen groups, private interest groups related to transportation, officials of toll facilities, and academic institutions. Indeed, hundreds of events have occurred in all 50 States covering all aspects of the ISTEA. In addition, we have communicated on numerous occasions with all the governors, assuring them of our cooperation in making full use of the ISTEA authorizations.

The following initiatives are critical to the success of this landmark, surface transportation legislation.

ISTEA Funding

In the year since enactment, a total of $16.9 billion of ISTEA-authorized highway funds have been obligated. The combination of this increased funding with the new intermodal flexibility provided in ISTEA will focus resources on those projects that provide us the most "bang-for-the-buck" in terms of moving people and products. Transfers in FY 1992 from highways to transit total $302.4 million.


While increased funding is a major element of ISTEA, I must also stress ISTEA's promise for greater innovation. Over history, transportation innovation has paced major societal advances. Now - after too long a period of underemphasis on research and innovation - ISTEA is bringing progress:

*The United States is gaining Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS) global leadership in IVHS technology and in public/private applications. (The Act established an IVHS Program, authorizing approximately $660 million over the 6-year authorization period. The IVHS Programs will include research, development, and operational tests of innovations and technologies that will enhance the mobility, efficiency, and safety of the Nation's surface transportation system.) (3) Major new international private markets are in the offing.

*Through global technology sharing, we are gaining technologies ranging from seismic design to pavement materials and design.

*Breakthroughs appear imminent in air quality sensors, global position satellite application, and other technologies to be transferred from the national labs.

*Highway Trust Funds are being used to support the high-speed rail transportation programs.

*Opportunities for innovative financing through tolls and public/private partnerships have been made available to States.

Reduction of Accident Rates on Highways

Transportation safety is the Department's highest priority. In 1991, approximately 41,500 people were killed in traffic-related accidents - an intolerable loss of human life. In the areas within our jurisdiction, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is working hard to reduce fatalities, injuries, and property damage caused by vehicle-related accidents. We are pleased to report that the fatal accident rates (per 100 million miles of travel) for combination vehicles, medium and heavy trucks, and all other vehicles have been continuously declining since 1980. Along with our colleagues in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we are encouraging the development and implementation of programs in each State that have a high potential to reduce accident rates on our highways. We hope to contribute to this by enhancing safety through a number of broad-based initiatives, such as improved safety management systems mandated in ISTEA, the commercial drivers license program, stricter drug and alcohol enforcement, deployment of IVHS technology, designation of high-speed rail corridors to eliminate hazards of rail crossings, and an enhanced Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Secretary Card officially created the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as an independent operating administration within the Department. The Bureau is being organized around the major activities identified in Section 6006 of ISTEA. The Bureau is working closely with other parts of the DOT and other Federal agencies to prepare an inventory of existing data resources, conduct the multimodal commodity and passenger flow surveys, design the Transportation Statistics Annual Report, represent the transportation community in planning for the year 2000 census, develop a data element dictionary for DOT, initiate the Section 6008 study with the National Academy of Sciences, and examine the data implications of ISTEA management systems.

National Highway System

The National Highway System (NHS) will be the keystone of our surface transportation network, now and for the foreseeable future. Identification, designation, and improvement of this system are essential to our economic vitality, and, more abstractly, to national unity. This is not a continuation of the Interstate era; the NHS will build on that system and will promote an even greater economic and social unification of our society than what has developed since the Interstate System was defined a half century ago. I can do no better than to cite Thomas Jefferson, as he is quoted by Merrill D. Peterson in "Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation:"

By these operations, new channels of communication will be opened between the states; the lines of separation will disappear; their interests will be identified; and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties. Roads and canals would knit the Union together, facilitate defense, furnish avenues of trade, break down local prejudices, and consolidate that "union of sentiment" so essential to the national polity...

FHWA has issued guidelines for developing a national highway system with port, airport, public transportation, intermodal facilities, and border-crossing connectivity. This connectivity is absolutely a primary function of whatever the highway system becomes for the future. Significant progress is being made to improve border crossings with Canada and Mexico. We are working on a specific project in New Mexico that would be a multimodal air, rail, and truck crossing point to accelerate crossings into Mexico.

Let there be no mistake, the NHS will not succeed unless the concept is widely endorsed. We are on track to meet the ISTEA directions of this critical program.


As legislated by ISTEA, DOT established a new independent Office of Intermodalism within the Office of the Secretary, headed by the Associate Deputy Secretary of Transportation, that serves as a high-level focal point for intermodal transportation planning, both within DOT and the transportation community.

The marketplace is already moving in the intermodal direction. Our most effective, most competitive transportation companies today are integrated intermodal operators. Our surface transportation programs should be similarly evolutionary. ISTEA provides the mechanism we need to seek flexible, market-driven solutions to our intermodal transportation problems. It does so through the visionary emphasis it provides on intermodalism, by requiring active State and local participation at every stage in the formulation of policies tailored to local needs, and in the final decisions about funding priorities.

DOT wants to make certain that our institutions, regulations, and policies at the State, local, and Federal levels facilitate further movement in overcoming obstacles to intermodalism. We intend to support and pursue the efficiencies inherent in intermodal systems as a key to well-functioning and competitive American markets.


ISTEA is customer oriented. It provides funding flexibility to the States to spend transportation dollars on those programs, projects, and modes that are significant to the States and local governments, while focusing the Federal effort on the National Highway System. Americans want and deserve as much choice in meeting their transportation needs as can be provided. Simply put, the transportation priorities of Idaho differ from New York's priorities. Diversity among sections of our country has made this Nation great; however, this creates a significant challenge when designing a national transportation program. I believe our Nation will suffer unless we permit the States to pursue the maximum flexibility provided in ISTEA. Flexibility allows States and local governments to design and implement Federal-aid programs that meet their needs. Flexibility also means embracing opportunities to allow private sector involvement in all phases of developing, financing, constructing, owning, and operating highway facilities. We seek to foster public-private partnerships that will take advantage of the private sector's efficiencies and market-responsive innovations. Flexibility further requires that we develop a seamless intermodal transportation system.

To nurture and instill this flexibility, FHWA has created a new Intermodal Division; simplified procedures for transferring Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds between highways and transit have been developed; and an intermodal transportation research program to improve state-of-the-art intermodal passenger and freight transportation planning has been established. In FY 1992 we transferred $203.4 million of STP, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), and other funds from highways to transit.

Improving Urban Mobility

"Edge Cities" are where people are increasingly living and where new centers of economic activities are developing. As anyone who commutes to work knows, in this "Edge City" era where urban centers merge with suburbia, reaching and often invading the outer edges of rural America, neither transit nor highways serve passenger and freight movements efficiently. Commuting 40 to 50 mi (65-80 km), predominantly through rural or low density suburban areas, is not uncommon for "Edge City" employees. Between |983 and 1990, the total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) increased by approximately 30 percent even though population growth increased by only 5 percent. Much of the VMT growth, about 65 percent, is related to modal trip length, and reduced ridesharing, and is attributable to the "Edge City" phenomenon. We are encouraging an expanded research effort in this area. We believe that effective implementation of management systems and financially realistic metropolitan planning organization (MPO) transportation plans are critical to responding to "Edge City" transportation needs.

The last four FHWA biennial "Highway Conditions and Performance" reports show that rural capacity and rural urban pavement deficiencies have stabilized, reflecting sound management in these areas. Urban capacity deficiencies, however, have increased from about $15 billion annually in |983 to over $30 billion in 1989. We believe that ISTEA's initiatives are beginning to address and promote intermodal mobility and will permit metropolitan areas to tailor solutions unique to each individual area's mobility concerns. However, crucial to this mobility and to air quality is effective management of these overwhelming urban needs. We realize that we cannot build our way out of urban congestion; we, therefore, welcome and are giving priority to the transportation management initiatives provided in ISTEA.

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program

A safe, environmentally sensitive, intermodal transportation system, which reduces congestion, provides superior pavement and bridges and promotes public transportation and air quality, is the legacy that we must leave to the post-Interstate generation. ISTEA established a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program that advances those projects or programs that are likely to contribute to the attainment of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. In February 1992, FHWA issued interim guidance (57 Fed. Reg. 14880), and areas are already implementing a wide array of congestion mitigation and air quality projects. Other ISTEA funds may be used for these purposes.

FHWA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have a memorandum of understanding to work closely together to advance clean air and mobility. The public will never settle for a choice between clean air or mobility; they will demand both. FHWA and EPA are working to assure that the public gets both, and this may well be the biggest challenge because we are an urban society where nearly 80 percent of our people live in urban areas.

Improving Quality of Transportation Systems

Clearly we believe that improvements to the quality of our transportation systems are critical to building an enduring infrastructure in the post-Interstate era. Quality requires a continuing commitment to research. FHWA has an effort underway, termed the National Quality Initiative, which is promoting commitment to improving the quality of our Nation's highway system. As part of our commitment to quality, last month in Dallas, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and FHWA co-sponsored with ARTBA, AGC, American Concrete Pavement Association, National Asphalt Pavement Association, American Consulting Engineering Council, and National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, a CEO Seminar on "Partnerships for Quality." Participants agreed that, for government, product quality leads to citizen satisfaction and, for private enterprise, product quality leads to profitability.

Public/Private Partnership

ISTEA encourages States to develop new cost-sharing shatnerships with the private sector. For example, ISTEA now removes barriers to use of tolls and permits tolling of most free non-Interstate Federal-aid facilities subsequent to reconstruction. Federal funds can now be leveraged with toll-based finance, and private investment can also be introduced. These opportunities to mix Federal loans and grants with various forms of toll-backed debt financing and private equity provide a range of new financial mechanisms to support a variety of improvement projects - public or private, State or local, toll or non-toll. The view that highway infrastructure is solely the responsibility of the government is changing (as it has changed several times over history). A significant number of private sector interests, including major engineering and construction firms, financial investors, and toll road operators, are seeking opportunities to take advantage of this provision and take a larger role in all phases of developing, financing, constructing, owning, and operating highway facilities.

DOT has conducted a series of conferences and seminars attended by representatives of all levels of government, academic institutions, and the private sector, and DOT produced a brochure on public-private financing that has given wide visibility to these innovative partnership opportunities to implement these new financing provisions. States must take deliberate steps to establish State transportation programs that incorporate these new tools. Several States (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Texas and Virginia) have enacted enabling legislation that permits public-private partnerships and clearly identifies the responsibilities of both the State and private parties.


There are some particular challenges in implementing ISTEA. The Act created some extensive and significant new requirements for States and MPO's. While States and MPO's are working very hard to address the ISTEA initiatives, inadequate personnel resources and a lack of technical expertise and often minimal experience in working together could pose significant problems for the States and MPO's. Of particular concern are the abilities of States and MPO's to update their transportation plans in a comprehensive and timely manner and to develop financial resources that will enable them to implement the transportation plans. The projection of future revenues and costs appear to be especially difficult. FHWA and FTA, through our research and technical assistance programs, have initiated efforts to assist them in these areas.

In nonattainment areas, the Clean Air Act looms large and will make the task even more difficult Changes in travel behavior may be necessary to meet air quality goals and urban mobility requirements. Finally, transportation decision-makers will have to make tough decisions on controversial Transportation Control Measures (TCM's). Strategic choices to enhance the long-term urban transportation system will be difficult but clearly essential. The easiest. short-term actions are many times not consistent with adopted longer-term objectives.


While many challenges in implementing ISTEA remain, the DOT is aggressively meeting these challenges and so addressing the Nation's transportation needs into the 21st century. At FHWA, we have empowered ourselves through FHWA 2000, our organizational blueprint and internal roadmap to the future. This reborn institution will help meet the nation's highway needs for safe, efficient, and environmentally sound movement of people and goods. In closing, after one year of experience we are convinced that ISTEA provides a proper roadmap leading to a sound surface transportation future for America's 21st century.


[1] Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991: A Summary, Publication No. FHWA-PL-92-008, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, undated.

[2] Bruce E. Cannon. "Perspectives on the New Intermodal Transportation Program," a speech presented to "Working Together to Move Minnesota," October 29, 1992.

[3] Charles L. Miller. "Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991," Public Roads, Vol. 55, No. 4, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, March 1992.

[4] Thomas D. Larson. Official written statement delivered to U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Washington, DC, December 18, 1992.

[5]Thomas D. Larson. Transcript of remarks in Senate hearing on "Implementation of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency," U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Washington, DC, December 18, 1992.

Dr. Thomas, D. Larson was the Federal Highway Administrator from August 1989 to January 1993. He also co-chaired the development and writing of the National Transportation Policy, introduced on March 8, 1990. Prior to FHWA, he served as professor and administrator at the Pennsylvania State University. He was Secretary of Transportation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1979 to 1987. He served as president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and chaired the National Governors' Association Task Force on New Federal Transportation Legislation. He has received numerous awards and honors including the Secretary of Transportation Gold Medal Award for Outstanding State Cabinet Official by the National Governors' Association. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, and he completed post-doctoral studies at Oklahoma State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act

It is the policy of the United States to develop a National Intermodal Tranportation System that is economically efficient and environmentally sound, provides the foundation for the Nation to compete in the global economy, and will move people and goods in an energy efficient manner.

The National Intermodal Transportation System shall consist of all forms of transportation in a unified, interconnected manner, including the transportation systems of the future, to reduce energy consumption and air pollution while promoting economic development and supporting the Nation's preeminent position in international commerce.

The National Intermodal Transportation Sytem shall include a National Highway System which consists of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highway and those principal arterial roads which are essential for interstate and regional commerce and travel, national defense, intermodal transfer facilities, and international commerce and border crossings.

The National Intermodal Transportation System shall include significant improvements in public transportation necessary to achieve national goals for improved air quality, energy conservation, international competitiveness, and mobility for elderly persons, persons with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged persons in urban and rural areas of the country.

The National Intermodal Transportation System shall provide access to ports and airports, the Nation's link to world commerce.

The National Intermodal Transportation System shall give special emphasis to the contributions of the transportation sectors to increased productivity growth. Social benefits must be considered with particular attention to the external benefits of reduced air pollution, reduced traffic congestion and aspects of the quality of life in the United States.

The National Intermodal Tranportation System must be operated and maintained with insistent attention to the concepts of innovation, competition, energy efficiency, productivity, growth, and accountability. Practices that resulted in the lengthy and overly costly construction of the Interstate and Defense Highway System must be confronted and ceased.

The National Intermodal Transportation System shall be adapted to "intelligent vehicles," "magnetic levitation system," and other new technologies wherever feasible and economical, with benefit cost estimated given special emphasis concerning safety consideration and techniques for cost allocation.

The National Intermodal Tranportation System, where appropriate, will be financed, as regards Federal apportionments and reimbursements, by the Highway Trust Fund. Financial assistance will be provided to State and local governments and their instrumentalities to help implement national goals relating to mobility for elderly persons, persons with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged persons.

The National Intermodal Tranportation System must be the centerpiece of a national investment commiment to create the new wealth of the Nation for the 21st century.

Santa Teresa Border Crossing

Intermodal Facility

Feasibility Study

This is a jointly funded (Federal Highway Administration-$250,000; Federal Rail Administration (FRA)-$25,000; and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-$25,000) feasibility study of a new border crossing at Santa Terese, New Mexico. Santa Teresa is located about 20 to 30 mi (32-48 km) west of EL paso, Texas and will relieve congested rail and highway facilities in El Paso and possibility at other locations along the Texas border. The Santa Teresa port of entry is intended to be a prototype facility using a high-teach design to accommodate the shipment of air, rail and highway goods between the United States and Mexico.

The study is being managed by the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department (NMSH&TD), which had contracted with Sandia National Labs in Alburquerque, New Mexico to do the study. A steering committee has been formed to oversee the effort. It includes representatives from the NMSH&TD, FRA, FAA, FHWA, railroad interests (Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and the Ferrocarril Nacional de Mexico (FNM), and trucking interest.

The first phase is a feasibility analysis which will look at required infrastructure costs and potential benefits and revenues to determine if the facility is financially feasible. The analysis will include expected commodity flows, general requirements of an intermodal facility, preliminary design and associated costs, revenue sources such as bonds, public and private investment, funding mechanism, and expected revenue sources from user fees. One alternative being considered would be for the State to set up a port authority for financing and operating the facility.

The first phase was initiated in October 1991.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; summary of testimony to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
Author:Larson, Thomas D.
Publication:Public Roads
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Perspectives on the new Intermodal Transportation Program.
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