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New transportation dollars mean new local responsibility.

While federal transportation officials are sorting through the almost 300 pages of legislative language contained in the recently adopted Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), municipal officials are beginning to plan for new funds and new responsibilities under the new law.

Although many of the provisions of the ISTEA will require Department of Transportation regulations to implement, cities are preparing for an enhanced role in metropolitan planning and project selection.

Further, ISTEA expands the type of projects and activities eligible for federal funding and allows transfer of funds between highway and transit programs.

The ISTEA includes two basic federal programs for highway improvement and maintenance: the National Highway System (NHS) and the Surface Transportation Program (STP).

The NHS will consist of 155,000 miles to be designated by the Secretary of Transportation in consultation with state and local governments. The NHS will included all Interstate routes, designated urban and rural principal arterials, defense strategic highways and strategic highway connectors.

Congress funded the NHS at $21 billion for the six years of the legislation. One-half of the NHS funds may be transferred to the STP program by the state and full 100 percent with permission of the Transportation Secretary.

The NHS will also fund completion of the Interstate system, Interstate Substitute highway projects and an Interstate Maintenance program.

The Surface Transportation Program combines other highway programs into a flexible block grant that is distributed to states on formula basis with a direct suballocation to areas over 200,000 in population. DOT intends to release the sub-allocation amounts in the next few weeks.

Congress authorized $23.9 billion for the STP over the six-year life of the bill. A state must set aside ten percent of its allocation for safety construction activities and an additional 10 percent for transportation enhancements.

A new program will help cities comply with attainment requirements under the Clean Air Act. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program will provide $6 billion over six years.

Eligible projects under the STP include transit capital improvements, transportation planning, research and development, participation in wetland mitigation efforts, start up costs for traffic management and control, and improvements necessary to accommodate other transportation modes.

The metropolitan planning organization (MPO) is responsible for developing, in cooperation with the state and affected transit operators, a long-range transportation plan and a transportation improvement plan (TIP) for the area.

The TIP must be consistent with this plan and must include all project in the metropolitan area that are proposed for funding with either highway or transit monies.

The planning process must now include additional considerations such as land use, intermodal connectivity, methods to enhance transit service, and needs identified through the management systems.

STP projects in areas over 200,000 population, are to be selected by the MPO in consultation with the state. MPO's and the state will have a mutual veto. In non-metropolitan areas projects are selected by the state in cooperation with the MPO.

DOT acknowledges that the new planning process will depend on cooperation between the state and local governments and will be more complex than in the past. Among the many details left will be the definition of "cooperation" and the rules for project selection.

DOT will spend the next several weeks establishing its timetables for issuing rules and regulations. Due to the flexibility of funds between highways and transit programs, the Federal Highway Administration and the new Federal Transit Administration (FTA, formerly UMTA), will issue a joint regulation.

Local officials are strongly encouraged to contact their states on the NHS designation process and new planning requirements, and work with their MPO's to begin taking advantage of the expanded role of local officials under the Act.
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Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 20, 1992
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