Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senate committee introduces surface transportation bill, House version next

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The surface transportation programs authorized under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in 2005, will expire Sept. 30. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has called for the creation of “a cohesive national policy with performance-based outcomes, and a fundamental restructuring of the federal surface transportation programs,” according to Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.

jay-rockefeller.jpg Rockefeller (above) and Lautenberg (center) have introduced the Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009, which “establishes a comprehensive and unifying mission for the nation’s surface transportation system.”

The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009 “would lay out a strategic, integrated plan that will address the challenges to our national infrastructure and federal programs,” said Rockefeller and Lautenberg. Among the legislation’s major goals:
• Increase total usage of public transportation, intercity passenger rail services, and non-motorized transportation on an annual basis.
• Increase the proportion of national freight transportation provided by non-highway or multimodal services 10% by 2020
frank-lautenberg.jpg• Reduce national per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis.
• Reduce national motor vehicle-related fatalities 50% and national surface transportation-generated carbon dioxide levels 40% by 2030.
• Reduce national surface transportation delays per capita on an annual basis.
• Increase the percentage of “system-critical” surface transportation assets that are in a state of good repair 20% by 2030
• Reduce passenger and freight transportation delays and congestion at international points of entry on an annual basis.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is expected to introduce a similar SAFETEA-LU replacement bill by the end of May. Oberstar’s version would create a new congestion-relief program with several bond components for 68 metropolitan areas.

Oberstar (bottom) said in February that he wants to create a metropolitan mobility or access program that would enable large metro areas to put together congestion-relief projects and issue james-oberstar.jpgbonds to finance them. The program could include provisions for tax-credit bonds, tax-exempt bonds, grant anticipation revenue (Garvee) bonds, private-activity bonds, state infrastructure banks, tolling and congestion pricing, and a federal loan component. It may also contain a proposal for an intermodalism secretary or undersecretary to work with rail, aviation, transit, highway, and other sectors.

Also possible are four major formula programs that would replace some of the numerous, complicated programs and sub-programs currently administered by various USDOT agencies. The four programs would be critical asset preservation, highway safety improvement, surface transportation, and congestion mitigation and air quality improvement. Highways and bridges could be part of the critical asset preservation program, rural road safety and railroad crossings part of highway safety improvement, and a population-based metro planning organization sub-allocation part of surface transportation.