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Washington report.

Congress appeared to be on the verge of restoring $4.4 billion in funding for the federal highway program in fiscal year 2003, bringing the total to at least $27.7 billion. The Bush Administration had proposed an $8.6 billion cut in fiscal 2003 from the current $31.8 billion because of projections of a drop in federal gasoline tax revenues. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which links highway expenditures to Highway Trust Fund tax collections, required the reduction.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in late May to allocate $27.7 billion for the program. Also, in a separate bill, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved $5.7 billion in restored funding, bringing its total to $28.9 billion, a level the Senate Budget Committee recommended. The full Senate was expected to consider the bill in June.

The Bush Administration has indicated the president would sign legislation restoring $4.4 billion.

Separately, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) said federal highway programs should be increased from $34 billion to $41 billion over six years, and transit programs from $7.5 billion to $10 billion.

AASHTO proposed creation of a federally-chartered Transportation Finance

Corporation, which would issue bonds to leverage funds collected in the Highway Trust Fund.

Executive Director John Horsley said, "The TFC is a new financing approach that takes the innovative financing strategies of TEA-21 to the next level, enabling all states to benefit from a national initiative.

"The Department of Transportation estimated in 1999 that $94 billion was needed annually in capital expenditures to improve our highway system. That's nearly twice what is available. Plus the purchasing power of the current federal gas tax will have dropped by 26 percent by fiscal 2009 from the 1996 level when the gas tax was last increased. We must have a significant increase in transportation funding to meet the monumental needs being faced by state and local governments."

A quarter of major, heavily-traveled U.S. bridges need to be repaired or replaced, a nonprofit transportation research group said in May. The Road Information Program (TRIP), based in Washington, D.C., said 14 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient, showing significant deterioration to decks and other major components. Also, 14 percent are functionally obsolete because they do not meet modern design standards such as lane widths or alignment with connecting roads, or no longer are adequate for the volume of traffic being carried.

TRIP drew the data for its report from the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory.

Executive Director William Wilkins said, "Our bridges are a visible sign of an aging and overburdened roadway system." He said while there has been a small reduction in the percentage of the nation's deficient bridges since 1995, from 32 percent to 28 percent, the tremendous growth in car and truck travel may reverse those gains.

TRIP said a Department of Transportation report concluded that investment in the nation's bridges should be increased 44 percent, from $8.1 billion annually to $11.7 billion.

"States are doing a better job of preventative maintenance to ensure that bridges last longer, but the states do not have adequate resources to make the type of costly long-term repairs that many of our heavily-traveled bridges require," Wilkins said.

U.S. vehicle travel increased 28 percent and travel by large trucks increased 40 percent between 1990 and 2000, significantly increasing the load being carried by bridges. In addition, according to FHWA, total vehicle travel is expected to increase another 50 percent and large truck travel by 90 percent by 2020.

The Census Bureau released data in May indicating that commuters are driving longer distances and increasingly are traveling solo rather than carpooling. The data was drawn from the "long form" version of the 2000 census. In the eight states analyzed, average commutes increased from 22.4 to 25.5 minutes since 1990. The number of people driving alone increased 2.5 percentage points to 75.7 percent while use of carpools, mass transit, and other forms of transportation all dropped slightly.

The Sierra Club said, "Scattered development and haphazard road-building are leaving commuters stuck in their cars, instead of spending time with their families or at work."

Meanwhile, the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee held a hearing to explore methods to alleviate increasing congestion on U.S. highways.

Subcommittee chairman Tom Petri (R-Wisc.) said, "Congestion now costs motorists $78 billion in wasted time and fuel. Annually, 6.8 billion gallons of fuel are wasted. Fifty-seven percent of all fatal crashes occur on two-lane roads. Accident rates decline significantly on modern multi-lane highways with extra safety features."

Mary Peters, head of the Federal Highway Administration said, "We experience decreased safety and a degraded environment when we do not address critical mobility needs on our highway system. There were 41,821 traffic fatalities in 2000 in the U.S. Roadway conditions have been estimated to be a factor in up to 30 percent of traffic fatalities.

"Highways are the very backbone of our nation's transportation system. Highway mileage increased only two percent during the period 1980 to 2000, while highway travel increased 80 percent."

Gene McCormick, of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said, "We are not providing the investment levels necessary to maintain the existing highway, bridge, and transit systems--much less invest in needed new capacity. The growing economic costs of congestion and congestion's impact on the quality of life of all Americans must be weighed in assessing these investment requirements."

Michael Toohey of the American Highway Users Alliance suggested the process for building highways be shortened. "Today, it takes approximately 12 years for major highway construction projects to wend their way through the stages of planning, design, environmental review, and right-of-way acquisition."

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has reported a pipeline safety bill that differs sharply from one the Senate approved last year. The legislation now goes to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has joint jurisdiction.

Don Young (R-Alaska), the transportation panel chairman, noted that Congress has not passed a comprehensive pipeline safety bill for more than 15 years.

The bill would improve the one-call notification program for persons excavating near pipelines. It would allow the Transportation Department to order a pipeline operator to correct potentially unsafe conditions or eliminate vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

The bill increases civil penalties for pipeline safety violations, and includes criminal penalties for damage to a pipeline facility.

It would require all gas pipelines in urban or environmentally sensitive areas to be inspected within 10 years.

For the first time in 12 years, the National Transportation Safety Board has no pipeline safety concerns on its "Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements."

DOT's Research & Special Programs Administration regulates pipelines. Administrator Ellen Engleman said, "We are committed to plug gaps in regulation, improve operator qualifications, rigorously enforce pipeline safety regulations, and to wipe the slate clean of all outstanding mandates and recommendations."

Separately, the justice Department sued Shell Pipeline Company LP and Olympic Pipeline Company in connection with a June 1999 explosion that killed three persons in Bellingham, Washington.

The complaint alleged negligence in the operation and maintenance of the pipeline allowed it to rupture and spill more than 230,000 gallons of gasoline. It seeks civil fines of up to $18.6 million against each company.

Five national organizations are opposing a recent Federal Communications Commission cable modem ruling. The groups said the ruling would cost communities $300 million this year and remove their authority over public rights-of-way.

The FCC determined that cable modem service offered over a cable system is an interstate information service, not a telecommunications service or a cable service, and thus is not subject to local cable franchise requirements.

National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, formed the Alliance of Local Organizations Against Preemption to fight the decision.

The alliance said communities rely on the $300 million to fund projects such as street maintenance. It said the FCC ruling allows cable monopolies to avoid paying fair rent for the use of public property. And it said consumers would have no government recourse for complaints about poor service.

The alliance said six large cable companies already have notified local authorities that they will no longer pay cable franchise fees on cable modem revenues.

The group said, "Local governments are prepared to do everything necessary to make our case. Our organizations and local municipalities that provide services are going to fight this preemption through the courts and with the FCC for as long as it takes."

President George W. Bush was expected to sign the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act, passed by both houses in late May. The bill allots $4.6 billion to strengthen the nation's public health infrastructure against a bioterrorist attack.

It would allocate $1.6 billion in grants to state and local governments to improve their ability to prepare for and respond to a bioterrorist attack or other public health emergency.

The bill authorizes $160 million for vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans for drinking water systems serving more than 3,300 persons.

The legislation also strengthens protections for the nation's food supply, enlarges stockpiles of vaccines and medications, tightens security for use of pathogens at laboratories and universities, and upgrades equipment for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Separately, the House of Representatives passed the Maritime Transportation Anti-Terrorism Act to increase security at ports and waterways.

It requires the Coast Guard to conduct vulnerability assessments for ports. Those assessments will be used to implement a national maritime transportation antiterrorism plan, area plans, as well as vessel, facility, and port terminal plans.

The Transportation Department must develop, by June 30, 2003, an identification and screening system for containerized cargo shipped to and from the U.S.

Vessels arriving in the U.S. from a foreign port must provide a passenger and crew manifest, and all vessels must give the Coast Guard four days notice before entering the 12-mile territorial limit. Coast Guard jurisdiction would be extended from three to 12 miles for security activities.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta named retired Coast Guard Commandant James Loy to the new post of Deputy Under Secretary for Transportation Security and Chief Operating Officer of the Transportation Security Administration. Admiral Thomas Collins succeeded Loy.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued $14.6 million in grants to assess the contamination of abandoned Brownfields properties in 80 communities. EPA said the program has contributed more than $280 million for Brownfields assessments, cleanups, and redevelopments.

Administrator Christie Whitman said, "Reclaiming America's Brownfields properties is an effective way to help revitalize and reinvigorate our nation's blighted neighborhoods while at the same time preventing urban sprawl."

In the latest grants, 38 communities received $7.95 million for Brownfields assessments.

Also, 42 communities received $6.65 million to continue or expand their existing Brownfields programs.

Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.

EPA said for each dollar of federal money spent on Brownfields cleanup activities, cities and states produce or leverage $2.48 in private investment. It said so far, the program has leveraged over $4 billion in projects to turn abandoned industrial properties into useful facilities.

EPA also funds Brownfields projects through revolving loan funds and job training pilots.
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Publication:Public Works
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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