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Workshop ushers in new federal transportation era.

Emphasizing the onset of a new era in federal transportation programs, three experts on the newly enacted Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) challenged local officials to get involved in transportation decision-making in their communities.

Tony Kane, Federal Highway Administration Associate Administrator, noted that the flexibility asked for by state and local officials was given under ISTEA and "now the challenge to see if it is fully utilized."

A panel representing the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Association of Regional Councils highlighted changes, challenges and new opportunities for cities and towns in receiving federal assistance for highway, bridge, public transportation and other transportation related activities during the Congressional City Conference.

The session, "Understanding the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991," drew a packed house and gave participants a good overview of the how local officials can most effectively take advantage of the flexibility, enhanced decision-making and increased funding available under the new measure.

All three speakers stressed the "revolutionary" nature of the changes to "business as usual" contained in the ISTEA and the need to take advantage of the opportunities for input provided by the bill.

Tony Kane noted that ISTEA pulled together the highway and transit programs, providing $155 billion for a wide range of transportation programs to meet state and local needs. The bill provides flexibility and maximum ability for state and local governments to use the available funds for transportation programs.

The Surface Transportation Program (STP) consists of the former primary, secondary, urban, and bridge programs, providing broad flexibility across modes and geography. Funds are distributed by state with percentages targeted to areas 200,000 and above in population. In addition, funds are targeted to rural areas to compensate for the loss of the secondary program.

A separate $6 billion air quality/congestion management program will be apportioned to states based on nonattainment areas with every state guaranteed a minimum portion. If a state does not have any nonattainment areas, the funds go into their regular block grant.

In this new era, Kane stressed that the bill will require state and local governments to work closely together. State and local governments will each have a veto power before project can go forward.

The burden will be on state and local governments to be accountable. The bill also gives state and local governments an opportunity to have the federal government out of the day to day construction process. The federal government will turn more to stewardship of the program.

Kane stated that one third of the funds available for fiscal year 1992 have already been obligated to the states. "The push is on for the states to get the funds out to help jump start the economy."

Roland Mross, Federal Transit Administration Deputy Administrator, focused on separate transit provisions and stressed the close ties with highway programs. With significant increases in transit funding authorized, the same planning requirements and matching ratios apply as in highway programs.

Janet Oakley gave the National Association of Regional Councils' perspective on the enormous expectations and opportunities under ISTEA. Consistent with the other speakers, Oakley noted that ISTEA represents "anything but business as usual."

Paraphrasing the administration's characterization of ISTEA as representing "jobs, jobs, jobs," Oakley noted NARC's view as the new transportation programs demanding "performance, performance, performance." Most important will be how to get the job done, noted Oakley.

"How do you reduce the congestion that is strapping cities, how do you enhance access and mobility of goods and people, and how do you it in a manner that is cost effective and maximizes the efficiency of existing facilities and services, and demonstrates sensitivity to environment and sustains rational growth, she noted as the challenges for local officials."

Oakley noted that the legislation gives broad eligibility to deal not only with transportation and mobility needs, but deal within broader context of community needs, such as scenic highways and historic preservation, control and removal of billboards, and mitigation of highway runoff.

The collaborative process of decision making includes local elected officials and providers of transit and highways, and includes some non-traditional partners such as environmental groups and labor unions.

Oakley noted the small window of opportunity for meeting the challenges outlined in ISTEA as two to three years, and called on local officials to act quickly to get a seat at the table where decisions are made and become an active participant.

She outlined the Four "C's" of the new process as:

* Collaborative - involve local elected officials working on parity basis with state highway, governor, and non-traditional groups.

* Communication - a rigorous planning process, full disclosure and public participation in process.

* Capability - understand methodology, understand new requirements.

* Creativity - look at transportation as seamless multimodal system.

All three speakers called for local officials to work with their states, understand their new responsibilities and take advantage of the new flexibility to plan and build transportation programs that respond to our nation's mobility needs.
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Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 23, 1992
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