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Imagination and creativity are the keys to ISTEA planning.

Enhance (in han(t)s',v.): to make greater (as in value, desirability, or attractiveness).

As clear as this definition is, it still leaves room for imagination. So does the new transportation enhancements provision contained in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).

The Act contains sifnificant requirement to minimize the negative impacts of transportation on the environment and communities, but the enhancements provision is more than that. Rather, the enhancements provision contained in the Act moves beyond the routine and required into the realm of the extraordinary. To view enhancements as less than this is to shortchange ourselves of the potential for fundamental change in the livability of our nation's cities and towns.

Where the funds are

Under ISTEA, 10 percent of each state's Surface Transportation Program funds must go toward activities defined as any of the following:

[Section] provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles;

[Section] acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites;

[Section] scenic or historic highway programs;

[Section] landscaping and other scenic beautification;

[Section] historic preservation;

[Section] rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures or facilities (including historic railroad facilities and canals);

[Section] preservation of abandoned railway corridors (including conversion and use thereof for pedestrian and bicycle trails);

[Section] control and removal of outdoor advertising;

[Section] archaeological planning and research; and

[Section] mitigation of water pollution due to highway runoff. The power of enhancements to become integral to transportation decision making extends beyond the limited funds mandated for them. All Surface Transportation Program funds are available for enhancement activities. So are any funds eligible for transfer to STP from other ISTEA programs, such as the National Highway System and the Interstate Maintenance Program.

Enhancement activities are eligible for 80 percent federal funds and require 20 percent state or local match. The funds are apportioned by U.S. DOT to the State DOT. How the funds are then allocated will vary from state to state. It is anticipated that some funds will be used by the states and some will be made available to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the planning bodies in regions with populations of 50,000 or more. Local decision makers, acting through their (MPOs), can and should have influence on where these funds go and how they are spent.

The state of North Carolina, for example, will receive over $11 million in enhancement funds in Fiscal 92; almost $100 million over the six-year life of ISTEA. Texas and California receive $228 million and over $300 million respectively over the next six years. Citizens and elected representatives of cities in these states should contact their state Departments of Transportation with ideas for projects and activities that can be undertaken now. Projects also must be integrated with required plans and programs at the state and metropolitan level.

As plans go, so go enhancements

In addition to playing a role in the planning process, enhancements must be included in metropolitan and state Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) and annual project selection. By their very nature, transportation enhancement activities can coalesce a broad range of interests to serve the common goal of improving communities and protecting the environment. Thus, enhancements are a tool for leveraging wide public participation in all transportation decisions, and could serve as a model for establishing new procedures.

"Enhancements represents a new departure, and a promising one," says Elizabeth Parker of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "A lot of people will be watching them carefully. You could say that enhancements will be viewed as an acid test for many of the other new provisions in the Act, such as the flexibility to use of funds for highway, transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities." However, "if there is a perception transportation enhancement funds are being used ineffectively, it might jeopardize the progress we have made to date." Parker emphasizes the importance of enhancements to achieving better urban design and integration of transportation with the surrounding community. "We're not talking about putting more parsley around a turkey," she says. "This is an exciting new program, and it offers new opportunities to state and local officials to look at transportation problems and projects from a much broader perspective than ever before."

It is valuable to recognize that while enhancements are contained within Title I (formerly the Highway Act, now the "Surface Transportation Act"), they are available to transit, bike and pedestrian facilities, just as are all funds under the Surface Transportation Program. In fact, enhancement activities cannot succeed fully without a full commitment on the part of local officials and metropolitan planners, supported by the state DOT, to rebalance their transportation systems in terms of environmental protection and public well-being, as well as energy and economic concerns like curing our oil dependency; using land more wisely; and reducing congestion, air and water pollution.

Where the emphasis is

It is especially important that other provisions of the Act be used to address these problems directly, because the intent of the enhancements provision is complementary to, not directly aimed at, enhancing transporting efficiency or safety. Rather, the enhancements provision picks up where efficiency and mitigation efforts leave off: to make transportation more responsive to overall environmental and livability goals. Often this means assuring that transportation facilities provide pleasure and satisfaction in their use. But the provision contained in the Act allows for enhancements activity not only in direct relation to a transportation facility, but "with respect to . . . the area to be served by the project" [Sec.101(a)].

Among the issues to be resolved is how broadly this area may be interpreted and according to what criteria --functional, geographic, or population. The newly issued Federal Highway Administration Interim Guidance on enhancements states that any of three relationships can determine the link between a proposed enhancement and a transportation facility: "function, proximity, or impact." Citizens and local officials, acting through their designated MPOs, have a responsibility to help clarify this and other questions that will arise as the groundwork is laid for more livable transportation.

The Act's overall emphasis on system preservation provides the context for a broad range of enhancement activities to be carried out on transportation facilities already in use, as well as abandoned and historic transportation facilities.

Transportation enhancements are a "win-win" for local officials, a dedicated source of funds for the kind of worthwhile projects which otherwise could fall by the wayside in large transportation and land use schemes. But enhancements are also a powerful tool for leveraging public participation and broad cooperation in a whole array of transportation decisions.

The Federal Highway Administration issued iterim guidance on enhancements activities on April 24. For a copy, contact the Surface Transportation Policy Project, 1400 Sixteenth Street, N.Y., Washington, D.C. 20036.
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Title Annotation:includes related glossary and planning requirements; Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act; Special Report: Learning to Cope with New Transportation Law
Author:Wormser, Lisa
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 4, 1992
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