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Motor Carrier and Rail Safety, Passenger Facilities Charges Lead Policy Unit's Agenda.

NLC's Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) Steering Committee focused its final meeting of the year on enhancing and improving railroad and commercial motor carrier safety and enforcement programs and clarifying its position with respect to the federal cap on passenger facilities charges.

Led by Chairman Bob Bartlett, the mayor of Monrovia, Calif., committee members also recommended new policy language concerning the implementation of the 15 month old Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Mayor Jeanne Stine of Troy, Mich., a member of the TIS Steering Committee, hosted the meeting.

Motor Carrier Safety

Although the TIS Policy Committee did not instruct Steering Committee members to review motor carrier safety issues when it met at the Congressional City Conference in March, truck safety was considered and discussed at the committee's spring melting. Hickory, N.C. Council Member Pat Moss, vice chair of the steering committee, presided over this portion of the meeting and summarized many of the concerns that have been expressed about the operation of trucks on the nation's highways and local roads.

A representative of the National Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT), David Martino, addressed the Committee on CABTs grass roots campaign to fight the efforts of proponents of bigger trucks to increase truck lengths and weights. He said longer, heavier trucks not only present serious safety problems to motorists, but also result in greater damage to an essential element of the nation's transportation infrastructure--its bridges and roads. Martino that taxpayers would be the ones who would have to pay the bill for road and bridge repairs and maintenance.

The committee voted to recommend new policy language asking the federal and state governments to do everything possible to identify and develop new technologies and innovative strategies that would improve commercial motor carrier safety.

A principal goal of committee members is to protect the driving public from trucks that do not pass safety inspections. Through the recommended language, they also want federal and state officials to promote and enforce much stricter safety standards for trucks, including making sure that large items and pieces of equipment being transported on trucks are adequately secured and that appropriate penalties are imposed on drivers whose trucks have tires that are in need of repair or replacement.

The steering committee voted to ask NLC President Clarence Anthony to write letters to U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and to U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation

Committee, expressing NLC's concerns regarding the federal administration of motor carrier safety issues and enforcement. Committee members asked that the letter reflect the fact that they support increased funding for motor carrier safety programs that will be directed to state and local entities to strengthen enforcement activities without creating additional administrative expenses. A proposed resolution to this effect, to be considered at the TIS Policy Committee meeting in December at the Congress of Cities, was approved by the Committee.

Railroad Safety

Railroad safety, particularly at highway grade crossings, had also been discussed at the spring meeting and was brought up for consideration at the meeting in Troy. Although no new policy language was recommended by the committee, a few significant actions did take place. Steve Moss of Railwatch, Inc., an organization that educates the public and local officials about railroad safety problems, talked to the committee about why railroad accidents occur routinely in the United States.

He directed attention to the fact that only 20 percent of the 160,000 public highway-railroad intersections have adequate safety gates, and asserted that even when there are audible warning devices, those devices may "fail to meet their objective of alerting motorists to an on-coming train because of highway vehicle design and environmental factors."

He pointed to a National Transportation Safety Board Study conducted last year that concluded that more than 90 percent of all rail-related fatalities involve either grade crossings or trespassers, and, that of these deaths, approximately 60 percent occur at crossings with only passive warning devices. Moss added that in some heavily trafficked areas there are no warning barriers at all.

Rochester, Minn. Council Member Marcia Marcoux, a TIS steering committee member, said she will be working with NLC staff on a response to a letter that NLC President Anthony received from the Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris. The administrator has requested NLC's support and assistance in drafting model state legislation to improve and enhance highway rail grade crossing safety. Marcoux is the co-chair of the League of Minnesota Cities Task Force on Railroad Concerns, and she distributed to the Steering Committee a one-page document entitled "Guidelines for Signals at Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings" from the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Freight, Railroads and Waterways.

Marcoux added that the task force she co-chairs in Minnesota has also raised several concerns about such railroad safety issues as: train derailments; spillage of hazardous materials; excessive train speeds and large lengths; and vibrations and noise levels from trains. She said that she and her task force colleagues are concerned about situations in which a railroad wants to expand or increase its traffic volume and what the role of a local government is in such a process when there is no formal local control. She reported that this is an issue that the task force is currently working on.

The committee expressed its support for increased funding of railroad safety programs by recommending approved of a proposed resolution supporting the redirection of revenue generated by the 4.3 cent tax on diesel fuel assessed on the railroad industry from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund for enhanced railroad safety, specifically highway rail grade crossings.

Also approved was another resolution submitted by TIS members Doug Alexander, a member of the Atlanta, Ga. city council, and John Robert Smith, mayor of Meridian, Miss., which supports successful intercity passenger rail service, commends Amtrak's commitment to achieving operational self-sufficiency, and urges Congress to proceed as quickly as possible to adopt various legislative recommendations to ensure adequate capital funding that will allow Amtrak to be a viable component of the United States Transportation System in the next century.

Passenger Facilities Charges

The Committee made clear its position on whether the federal cap on passenger facilities charges (PFCs) should be removed by adopting new policy language which opposes removal of the cap. A PFC is a fee that is assessed on airline rickets to airline passengers, is collected by the airlines, and is paid directly to airports without going through the federal treasury.

Policy language was approved which supports PFCs as a necessary source of revenue to provide local airport authorities with the flexibility to address capacity and security needs. In addition, the Committee wants to continue safeguards on the way PFC-related revenue is spent in order to prevent these revenues from being diverted to projects that have nothing to do with airport operations and functions. Committee members also added language recommending that any increase in the $3.00 PFC cap be tied to the rate of inflation and that PFCs be limited to no more than 10 percent of ticket prices.

Implementation of TEA-21

The final item for consideration on the Committee's agenda included issues surrounding the implementation of the TEA-21 legislation that was passed and signed into law in 1998. New policy language was approved that supports the implementation of the TEA-21 requirement directing states to work cooperatively with metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to develop joint forecasts of anticipated funding under TEA-21, with the goal of creating more accountability in federal highway funding. Committee members also supported language requesting the federal government to upgrade and modernize its information-sharing capabilities in order to achieve better outcomes and benefits on transportation and public works projects for communities and their citizens under TEA-21. The goal of the committee is to let local government officials know what funds are available and for what purposes and where these funds are being programmed or will be programmed over the six year life of TEA-21.

The committee endorsed TIS Chairman Bartlett's emphasis on the importance of equity issues to dries and towns throughout the country. It endorsed new language spelling out NLC's concern that as much funding as possible from TEA-21 go directly to local governments whose elected officials should decide how to use this money. Committee members strongly felt that all local leaders should have a determining role in how TEA-21 funds are spent. Also, they stressed the importance of state and local officials having the ability to "flex funds", or, in other words, use TEA-21 fun ding as they see fit.

In particular, they agreed that NLC must be clear that TEA-21 is aimed at local decision-making.

Follow-Up Actions

Chairman Bartlett will present the proposed amendments to NLC's Transportation Infrastructure and Services National Municipal Policy and the proposed resolutions at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 1, 1999 in Los Angeles at the meting of the TIS Policy Committee during the Congress of Cities. Members of the Committee and guests will be welcome.
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Author:Morris, Scott
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 1999
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