I appreciate your convening this hearing to discuss the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and specifically the transit provisions contained in this law.
I understand that the successor to ISTEA has been popularly called NEXTEA, which the President has capitalized on in titling his proposal. Given this circumstance, I will call the reauthorization bill NEXTEA.
It goes without saying that the transit component of NEXTEA, whatever that may turn out to be, is critical in virtually every sector of our nation. Millions of Americans in cities and towns all across our country rely on public transit to get to work, school and other destinations every day of the year. This is abundantly clear in the states and cities of the Northeast. Continued growth in the Intermountain West, of which Utah is one of the most rapidly growing states, adds to the already congested highway systems and threatens the economic vitality of these areas. NEXTEA will be very important in addressing this growth, and the transit provisions in particular will play a key role in assisting our governors and mayors to keep essential transportation corridors open and allow for the movement of the people who make up the labor pool so critical to continued economic growth
In Utah, the State's economic base and population are continuing to grow at a rate which is more than twice the national average. Despite its reputation as a rural state, Utah is in fact one of the most urban states in the nation. About 1.5 million people, roughly 80% of the population of Utah, live and work along the Wasatch Front. This area at the western base of the Wasatch Mountain Range is roughly 90 miles long and 20 miles wide.
In the past 15 years, Utah's population has increased by 35 percent, employment by 55 percent, and vehicle miles of travel by 92 percent. Over the next 15 years, this rapid growth will continue with transit trips estimated to increase 103 percent.
As you know, from February 8 to February 24, 2002, Salt Lake City and the surrounding Wasatch Front area will host the XIX Winter Olympic Games. During the 16 days of competition, 179 sporting events will be held in five urban and five mountain venues. More than two million tickets are expected to be sold and athletes from over 80 countries are expected to compete to create the largest Winter Olympics in history.
Although no numbers will be final until a year before the Games, the organizers presently expect approximately 3,500 athletes and officials and more than 10,000 members of the media. Moving all the athletes, spectators, media, and officials around the Wasatch Front on schedule during the winter time, will create an enormous transportation challenge for Utah that will require a substantial investment in planning and transportation infrastructure before 2002. Light rail and commuter rail lines, intermodal transportation centers, buses and park-and-ride facilities, and the reconstruction of Interstate 15 and venue access road construction, will be needed to handle the huge increase in traffic and passenger volume before the Games begin.
As the two tracks of growth and preparation for the Olympic Games intersect, state and local transportation planners have been faced with the challenge of accommodating Utah's growth needs and preparing for the Olympic Games, while avoiding the confusion of ongoing construction during the Olympic events. Accordingly, State and local governments have prioritized the projects necessary for successful completion of the Olympic Games and laid aside for a later date, those projects which are less critical. In addition, State and local government agencies are implementing new and innovative methods for completing the essential infrastructure projects before February 2002. For example, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is considering a turnkey construction approach which will reduce the time required to complete segments of the ongoing light rail project before the Games begin.
The dollar amounts needed to accelerate the Olympics-related projects are large. The $130 million of highway funds apportioned annually for projects throughout the state and the $13 million of transit urban formula funds apportioned annually to UTA pursuant to ISTEA are not sufficient to do the job.
The State of Utah has already stepped up to the plate. In 1996, the Legislature and Governor Michael Leavitt appropriated $110 million from state general funds for transportation improvements. During the last session of the Legislature the state gasoline tax was increased by five cents and vehicle registration fees were nearly doubled. These tax increases will produce an additional $260 million annually for Utah transportation improvements.
However, a substantial federal authorization for transit improvements will also be needed to accommodate the rapid growth in population and employment and to provide transportation services needed to make the Winter Games a success. In the near future, I will send the Committee a specific authorization request to address these needs.
I recommend retaining the ISTEA program structure in NEXTEA. ISTEA contains an excellent and far-sighted structure for delivering federal transit assistance. ISTEA encourages intermodal solutions to transportation problems; permits state and local officials to allocate funds between highway and transit improvements in ways which fit local needs; encourages collaboration between state and local elected officials and the general public in the selection of transportation projects; and encourages the selection of projects which improve air quality and strengthen the connections between transportation and land use. With this in mind, flexible funding for transit should be retained in the Surface Transportation Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality categories in the highway component of NEXTEA.
The ISTEA authorization of assistance for Intelligent Transportation Systems, which are increasing the productivity of existing investments in transit and highway facilities should continue to be authorized in NEXTEA. In the Salt Lake Valley an Intelligent Transportation System with a strong transit, highway and Olympic Games communications and security component is being developed with federal assistance. The system will be compatible with similar systems for use by law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. Many other Intelligent Transportation Systems are being deployed in communities across the nation, which warrant support in the NEXTEA legislation.
Fixed guideway improvements, including heavy and light rail systems, are the backbone of transit systems in more than 20 metropolitan areas in the nation and new systems are being evaluated in many more areas. These fixed guideway facilities are seen as helping address worsening air pollution and congestion and as alternatives to constructing additional freeways in some urban corridors. The extension of existing rail systems and the construction of new rail lines is emerging as the preferred alternative in congested metropolitan areas because these projects utilize less right-of-way, provide travel time savings, reduce emissions, utilize existing rail corridors and stimulate economic development. The demand, therefore, for federal assistance for transit "new starts" funding is growing.
The Salt Lake area provides a case in point. In the Salt Lake Valley an initial 15-mile light rail segment is under construction in the Interstate 15 corridor. This rail transit facility, and the reconstruction of Interstate 15, is needed for many of the same reasons rail projects are emerging as preferred alternatives elsewhere in the nation. In addition, preliminary engineering will begin next month on a light rail extension connecting the Salt Lake City International Airport, Downtown Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. A commuter rail system will share an intermodal facility with the light rail thereby connecting Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo.
I recommend retaining a substantial authorization for the new start category and retention of the split in ISTEA of 40 percent of the discretionary capital category for new starts and rail modernization categories and a 20 percent share for discretionary bus accounts.
Section 3007 of ISTEA authorized the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue Full Funding Grant Agreements equal to the amount authorized for the new state category. In addition, Full Funding Grant Agreements equal to one-half of the unobligated balance in the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund. This additional authority has been used to permit large projects to straddle two authorization bills. For example, the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Salt Lake South light rail line used the $131 million project authorization in ISTEA plus $95 million contingent on NEXTEA authorization. NEXTEA should contain a similar provision for contingent Full Funding Grant Agreements to facilitate the orderly construction of new start projects.
In summary, ISTEA has worked well for Utah. The State of Utah is typical of other fast- growing states which need transit and highway improvements to avoid congestion which is threatening to strangle economic vitality. In addition, Utah must provide transportation for the millions of visitors and participants involved in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
A substantial investment in transportation infrastructure is needed to accommodate growth and Olympic needs. The State of Utah has stepped up to the plate with a large increase in state gas and vehicle registration taxes. A substantial authorization of federal transit funds for Utah are needed to accommodate growth in travel demand and to make the Olympic Games a success.
Working together, we can meet these substantial needs. Thank you Mr. Chairman for this
opportunity and I appreciate your calling this hearing today.
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