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ISTEA promotes state/local team work.

Intermodalism and efficiency are the bywords of ISTEA (the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991) with the stated goal of a national transportation policy 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."

One of the most significant changes in federal transportation policy for local officials is the strengthened metropolitan role and a direct sub-allocation of Surface Transportation Program funds to areas 200,000 and above in population.

Cities above 50,000 in population will have increased decision making ability but funding will be through the state.

Local officials, working through their local metropolitan planning organization, have an important say on what projects should be included on the spending plan for their area, have a say on what roads should be designated as part of the new National Highway System and whether those funds should be devoted to highway or public transportation programs.

ISTEA emphasizes transportation planning, programming and project selection by both Metropolitan Planning Organizations and state Departments of Transportation. With an emphasis on comprehensiveness, the Act specifies factors that must be considered in the development of transportation plans and programs and which ultimately are used as the basis for project selection.

For regional transportation planning, the Act lists fifteen factors that MPOs must consider. State DOTs must consider twenty items in a state transportation planning process.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 first required that transportation projects in urbanized areas must be based upon a "continuing, comprehensive transportation planning process carried out cooperatively by states and local communities."

The so-called 3C process is required for federal certification by DOT that MPOs in urbanized areas over 200,000 population are carrying out their responsibilities under federal law, which would include addressing the list of factors that are to be included in the planning process.

In the past, limited and unsteady transportation planning funds and staff and lack of confidence in the planning process have limited the effectiveness of the MPO process in some communities. ISTEA seeks to provide a source of stable funding for planning and increased direct funding to metropolitan areas as an incentive for a comprehensive and respected metropolitan planing process.

The Act identifies fifteen factors which local transportation plans must address:

1) preservation of existing transportation facilities, and, where practical, ways to meet transportation needs by using existing transportation facilities more efficiently;

2) the need to relieve congestion and prevent congestion from occurring where it does not yet occur;

3) the consistency of transportation planning with applicable federal, state and local energy conservation programs, goals and objectives;

4) the likely effect of transportation policy decisions on land use and development and the consistency of transportation plans and programs with the provisions of all applicable short- and long-term land use and development plans;

5) the programming of expenditure on transportation enhancement activities;

6) the effects of all transportation projects to be undertaken in the metropolitan area, without regard to whether such projects are publicly funded;

7) international border crossings and access to ports, airports, intermodal transportation facilities, major freight distribution routes, national parks, recreation areas, monuments and historic sites, and military installations;

8) the need for connectivity of roads within the metropolitan area with roads outside the metropolitan area;

9) the transportation needs identified through use of the managements systems required by section 303 of Title I;

10) preservation of rights-of-way for construction of future transportation projects, including identification of unused rights-of-way which may be needed for future transportation corridors and identification of those corridors for which action is most needed to prevent destruction or loss;

11) methods to enhance the efficient movement of freight;

12) the use of life-cycle costs in the design and engineering of bridges, tunnels, or pavement;

13) the overall social, economic, energy, and environmental effects of transportation decisions;

14) methods to expand and enhance transit services and to increase the use of such services; and,

15) capital investments that would result in increased security in transit systems.

An additional change in current law requires that federal and state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations provide citizens, affected public agencies, representatives of transportation agency employees, private providers of transportation and other interested parties with a reasonable opportunity to comment in the planning process.

Project Selection at the

Metropolitan Level Under ISTEA

Under previous federal aid transportation programs, state transportation agencies made many of the decisions on what metropolitan projects would be selected for federal funding.

ISTEA attempts to make the project selection process less fragmented by pulling in all the players from the beginning and more of a collaborative process.

New vision of ISTEA involves inclusion of new players in decision-making process and new objectives and guidelines to use in reaching these decisions. For the first time, plans must be based on the availability of financial resources to fund the projects.

The mechanics of project selection depend on two sequential processes - development of a 20-year long range plan (LRP) and development of a three-year transportation improvement program (TIP).

Under Section 134(g) of ISTEA, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in urbanized areas (50,000 or more in population) must develop a 20-year plan that considers fifteen new factors described in Section 134(f).

The selection of projects for the TIP is initiated by the state, in cooperation with the MPO in all urbanized areas under 200,000 population. While the state initiates all federally aided project selection in these smaller areas, the local governments have some leverage over the state.

These large regions are referred to as transportation management areas (TMAs). In these areas new project selection rights are vested in the local governments functioning through the MPO. This new project selection requirement can be the basis of a collaborative process, one that puts all the parties on a substantially equal footing.

All highway projects within TMA boundaries (except national highway systems, bridge and interstate maintenance) and transit projects under the Federal Transit Act, "shall be selected by the metropolitan planning organization designated for such area in consultation with the state . . ."

According to ISTEA, the 20-year plan should identify the transportation facilities that will function as an "integrated metropolitan system, giving emphasis to those facilities that serve important national and regional transportation functions."

Among other things, the plan must include a financial component which shows how the long range plan be implemented. These can include revenues "reasonably expected" to be available.

In non-attainment areas, the long range plan must be coordinated with the development of transportation control measures in the State Implementation Plan (SIP) as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1991 (CAAA).

The CAAA legislation provides that the SIP and the MPOs plan and program must be mutually supportive. Plans must specify explicit projects or project alternatives to meet the defined transportation needs of the region, and can no longer be conceptual and general. Projects which meet identified needs and can be implemented in the near term should be listed in the plan, so priorities for moving them into reality can be developed. Section 134(h)(2) states that each TIP shall include a priority list of projects or project segments to be carried out within each three-year period after the initial adoption of the TIP.

The financial feasibility test mandates that the TIP shall include a project" only if full funding can reasonably be anticipated to be available for the project within the time period contemplated for completion of the project within the time period contemplated for completion of the project."

The use of local project selection authority depends on the entire planning and programming process. The first step is the long range plan which balances the competing needs and interests and reflects the regional community's overall vision for its future. These will reflect the 15 factors identified by Congress for consideration in the planning process (listed above).

The long range plan should be definitive: it should contain the specific transportation facilities to meet its goals. Proposed facilities should be compatible with specific Clean Air goals and financial realities.

The state is still in the best position to select projects. But ISTEA provides a framework to equalize the input of local officials if agreement can be reached and a coherent strategy is formulated. Otherwise, the state DOT will still make the important decisions on behalf of all parties.
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Title Annotation:includes related information about the report; Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act; Special Report: Learning to Cope with New Transportation Law
Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 4, 1992
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