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New federal transportation act means more funding, flexibility for cities.

New responsibilities and opportunities for local officials are the hallmarks of the surface transportation reauthorization bill signed by President Bush on December 18.

Councilman Jim Beall of San Jose, chair of NLC's Transportation and Communications Policy Committee represented NLC at the bill signing in Dallas, Tex.

At the signing, President Bush noted the importance of the legislation and noted his direction that Department of Transportation funds be sent out as quickly as possible in an effort to provide a boost to the economy.

A New Way

of Doing Business

Noting the significance of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 for local officials and their citizens, Beall urged elected officials to get involved in the process at the state and local level.

"This bill represents a change from the old ways of doing business. Local officials can and should have a greater role in the process. And the flexibility to use alternatives to adding new highway lanes will allow federal dollars for a range of solutions to transportation problems," said Councilman Beall.

"With increased funding for highways and transit, direct allocations for metropolitan areas, new opportunities for local decision making, and a change in federal matching requirements that provides the same funds for either transit or highway projects, local officials should seize the chance to embark on this new era in transportation history."

Beall encouraged city and town officials to work closely within their communities and together with their state governments to define transportation needs and use the new tools available under the legislation.

"The time to get involved is now," Beall warned. "Many elements of the coalition that passed this legislation opposed local involvement as unnecessary interference. Elected officials and city staff need to prove them wrong."

Cities and metropolitan areas will have extensive new opportunities for using increased federal funds to solve local transportation problems under the new legislation. The 6-year reauthorization will provide $151 billion in flexible funds for highway, transit, bridge, pedestrian facilities and other transportation programs.

Public Transportation

and Highways

In a change from past legislation, the federal/state and local matching ratio of 80 percent federal to 20 percent state and local will provide a level playing field for spending on either highway or public transportation facilities.

The new Act focuses on coordinated planning, the ability to transfer funds and allow use of the most effective transportation alternative. Under the leadership of Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Chair Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) encourages maintenance of current highway and transit systems and the use of high occupancy solutions including a large increase in funding for public transportation.

The Act collapses the many programs of past legislation into a National Highway System (NHS) and a Surface Transportation Program (STP) plus several other smaller programs.

The $38 billion 155,000 mile NHS includes $17 billion for Interstate maintenance. The proposal has been a key element for the administration, the House and state highway officials.

The compromise reached by Congress retained the large program adopted by the House but gives more flexibility in transferring the funds out of the NHS and requires state to work with local governments on designation of the NHS.

The NHS will consist of highways designated as part of the Interstate system plus other urban and urual principal arterials and highways which provide motor vehicle access between such arterial and a major port, airport, public transportation facility, or other intermodal transportation facility.

The states in cooperation with local and regional officials shall propose arterials and highways for designation to the NHS. In urbanized areas, local officials act through the metropolitan planning organizations.

The NHS compromise will allow wide latitude for the use of NHS corridor, where alternative projects such as an alternative highway or transit project will benefit NHS segment. NHS funds can be used for carpool and vanpool projects, bicycles and pedestrian walkway projects, wetlands mitigation, traffic management and control projects, and highway research and technology transfer.

With permission of DOT, a state can use any portion of NHS funds for Clean Air Act mitigation.

Distributing the Funds

The $23.9 billion STP provides flexible funds for roads, transit, bridges, bicycle paths and other projects. Before funds are distributed within the state, 10 percent is distributed for safety and 10 percent for visual enhancements for such things as rails-to-trails, scenic highways, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, etc.

After the set aside, the remaining 80 percent is distributed as follows: 62.5 percent to urbanized areas with population over 200,000 in proportion to their relative share of the population; 37.5 percent to rest of state.

In states where 80 percent of population is located in one or more urban areas, or where 90 percent of land use areas is owned by the federal government, 62.5 percent share mandated for urban areas drops to 35 percent.

The Act designates metropolitan planning organization to carry out transportation planning process for urbanized area by agreement between the state and units of general purpose local government which together represent at least 75 percent of population (including central city). Local officials and governors can redesignate MPO to carry out new responsibilities under the Act.

Help with Clean Air Regs

The measure also establishes a new Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to help comply with Clean Air Act. It provides $6 billion to meet attainment goals. Apportioned to urban areas in proportion to population of nonattainment areas. No funds to be used for construction of any new capacity for single occupancy vehicles.

In a big win for public transportation advocates, transit funding increased to $31.5 billion over six years. Operating assistance will continue. Transit projects are eligible under the STP, Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality Program and NHS.

The standardization of the federal matching ration provides another boost for transit by making transit improvements as attractive an investment as highway construction. Certain capital purchases to comply with Clean Air Act and ADA would have 90 percent federal share, at DOT discretion.

Small City Provision

In a major boost for small city programs, the Section 18 public transportation program will increase from $65.4 million in FY 91 to $105.6 million in FY 92.
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Title Annotation:Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991
Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 23, 1991
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