TRANSPORTATION: Mayors call for increased flexibility in reauthorization bill (09/19/2008)
Josh Voorhees, E&E Daily reporter
Lawmakers should take into account the unique challenges faced by metropolitan areas and provide local officials with the necessary flexibility to tackle them in the new transportation law, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors told a House panel yesterday.
“Although the current federal transportation statutory framework acknowledges the importance of the metropolitan scale and mobility issues, it actually does little in substance to motivate or support metropolitan-based transportation solutions led by elected leaders in these regions,” Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.
Metropolitan regions account for 26 percent of the nation in terms of land area, but they account for more than 83 percent of the U.S. population, 85 percent of employment and 86 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the Conference of Mayors.
Hickenlooper urged members of the Highway and Transit Subcommittee to establish a “Metropolitan Mobility Program,” which would hand local elected officials the decisionmaking ability to tailor national strategies — and funding — to metropolitan needs.
There is a “disconnect” between the importance of metropolitan transportation projects and the funding allocated to them, Hickenlooper said. “Of the federal transportation resources provided to the states, only a small portion is definitively committed directly for local decisionmaking in metropolitan areas,” he said.
Despite accounting for more than half of Colorado’s population and 60 percent of its economic output, metropolitan Denver received $30 million of the $460 million authorized to Colorado last year under the core highway program categories, he said.
“Transportation planning processes in our metropolitan areas cannot be meaningful if there is little connection between those plans and control of resources to implement them,” said Hickenlooper.
The hearing came at a time when lawmakers are beginning to lay the groundwork for next year’s reauthorization. The current law — the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users,” or SAFETEA-LU — guaranteed nearly $250 billion in funding and is set to expire in September 2009. Because transportation authorizations provide the vast majority of funding for the nation’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems, they are the driving force behind the nation’s overall transportation strategy.
Next year’s reauthorization is seen by many as a rare opportunity to reshape the current strategy, which has resulted in an underfunded infrastructure in dire need of repairs (E&E Daily, July 7).
To date, most of the reauthorization debate has centered on ways to revamp the funding vehicles that finance road and rail work, and to cut congestion through pricing schemes. But yesterday several lawmakers hinted at a number of other areas that need to be addressed, including cutting bureaucratic red tape to speed projects through permitting processes.
“We can’t have these projects waiting 14 years on average before delivery,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.).
Just as pressing, said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), is to ensure the next bill is ready before the current law expires next year. “We need to make sure we are moving this bill forward in time for next year, not in a year and a half,” he said.