Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is John Poorman. I am the Staff Director of the Capital District Transportation Committee, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Albany, New York. I am also the Immediate Past Vice Chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO). AMPO, a non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Regional Councils, was established in 1994 to provide a technical assistance, information exchange, and policy development forum for NEPOs of all sizes the country. On behalf of our members, I appreciate your invitation to testify before the Committee.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, as you are well aware, the federal highway and transit statutes require, as a condition for spending federal surface transportation funds in metropolitan areas, the designation of NEPOs to conduct continuing, comprehensive and coordinated transportation planning. The basis for requiring NEPOs and the so-called "3-C" planning process remains as valid today as it was 30 years ago. Indeed, today there is perhaps a greater imperative to support MPOs and the regional decision making approach. MPOs provide the multijurisdictional vehicle to address transportation issues in the context of economic regions and to ensure strategic transportation investment decisions that are more effectively linked to land use, environment and economic development considerations. ISTEA strengthened the metropolitan transportation planning process and the role of local elected officials. We respectfully urge you to reaffirm this 30-year commitment when ISTEA is reauthorized.
Transit as an Integral Part of the National Intermodal Transportation System.
Mr. Chairman, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) has indeed been remarkable in that it has fundamentally changed how we think about transportation and how we make transportation investment decisions. ISTEA defined a new federal surface transportation focus based on national goals clearly stated in the Act's preamble. For example:
"The National Intermodal Transportation System shall consist of all forms of transportation in a unified, interconnected manner, including the transportation systems of the future, to reduce energy consumption and air pollution while promoting economic development ....The National Intermodal Transportation System shall include significant improvements in public transportation necessary to achieve national goals for improved air quality, energy conservation, international competitiveness, and mobility for elderly persons, persons with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged persons in urban and rural areas of the country."
There is no doubt that the framers of ISTEA believed our Nation's transit systems are a fundamental component of a balanced transportation network for our urban and rural regions, and that in order to achieve the specified national economic, environmental, energy and social goals, increased investment in transit would be necessary. This fact is important because I fear that the discussion of the future federal transit program is completely overshadowed by the current, intense debate on highway program funding and equity. We hope that this hearing will remind the transportation community that transit is, and must remain, an integral I part of the federal surface transportation program.
Moreover, the current highway equity debate is exacerbated by the inadequate level of federal resources available for surface transportation programs. We support additional resources for both the highway and transit program, and recommend that revenues from the 4.3 cent deficit reduction fuel tax be used for surface transportation purposes. Transit should receive the same proportionate share as it received from the prior 5-cent gas tax increase. In addition, because transit also has a unique role in support of achieving important national social goals, we believe general funds should continue to be made available for these aspects of the program.
Transit as a Tool for Economic Development and Access
The current focus on welfare reform has brought more widespread recognition of the role that transit must play in any comprehensive strategy for moving people from welfare to work. In fact, in most metropolitan areas, access to jobs is as critical to economic development and continued economic vitality as is congestion management. Transit must be an integral component to both. However, in Albany, and perhaps in many metropolitan areas, transit may be more valuable for providing access than as a tool for eliminating congestion. For this reason, in Albany we see transit as an essential tool for addressing access neerle of the disabled, elderly and economically disadvantaged population. We have incorporated a number of transit activities, including for example, human service transit brokerage, low floor buses, and suburban office park circulator service, as central components of our plan.
Systems Approach. A ftindamental principle of ISTEA focuses on the concept of a multimodal transportation system. In urban areas this principle translates into the concept of a metropolitan transportation system. Transportation is about more than just connecting points on a map. It is about building stronger, self-sustaining communities and regions. An indispensable component to achieving such goal is the development and operation of metropolitan transportation.@yslems which serve the economic goal of the nation's metropolitan areas. More than seventy-five percent of the population lives and an even larger proportion of the economy is centered in these metropolitan areas. There is no better argument for building, maintaining and operating metropolitan transportation systems that work. Again, transit is indispensable if such systems are to function efficiently. Transit serves unique needs. For example, transit provides mobility and access to those persons living and working in both metropolitan and rural areas with no other transportation options working in oth metropolitan and rural areas with no other transportation options . However, just as important, transit helps to reduce highway congestion while at the same time serving national environmental and energy goals. Therefore there should be a national commitment to invest our limited resources to more effectively maintain the transit facilities we already have, and provide additional capacity through a more creative mix of multimodal strategies.
ISTEA has given us the potential to craft more effective investment strategies by providing a more level playing field between highways and transit with identical matching ratios and more comparable project requirements, by establishing broader eligibility in some program categories, and by permitting us to shift resources between highway and transit program categories -- i.e., "flexibility". We urge you to maintain these provisions in reauthorizing ISTEA.
Collaboration and Partnership. The centerpiece of ISTEA's the new planning and decision making process which has led to unprecedented innovation, collaboration, consensus and vision. All despite the lack of full funding. Prior to ISTEA's enactment, the transportation investment decision process was modally fragmented. On the highway side, decisions were viewed by many as largely statedominated, and local elected officials were forced to individually negotiate highway spending deals with the states. Pre-ISTEA transit investment decisions were not always fully integrated into broader transportation plans, often being treated as direct funds from the federal government to transit properties with only nominal coordination with other initiatives. Through a combination of shared resources, shared responsibility and enhanced accountability, ISTEA has instigated significant change toward a more balanced transportation investment process. The process now emphasizes partnerships, collaboration and fiscal discipline, and ensures transportation investments are sensitive to local economic and general development objectives-and needs, as well as to national and state goals and objectives.
The provisions of ISTEA that have led to more collaborative, cooperative and public decision making and that have improved both the process and the quality of the decisions are: (1) the suballocation of Surface Transportation Program funds, (2) the ability to shift resources among program categories to allow multimodal priorities to be established and maintained; and (3) the planning and fiscal constraint requirements which have brought greater accountability.
I realize that the Surface Transportation Program is not within the jurisdiction of this committee, but we recognize that some of you will be participants in the negotiations on a final bill reauthorizing ISTEA's programs including transit. We urge you to maintain the Surface Transportation Program and to continue the suballocation of a fair share of these resources to all our metropolitan regions. Suballocation of funds to metropolitan areas is essential to collaboration and effective decisions. The suballocation of federal funds ensures that resources must be spent on the metropolitan transportation systems and allows those funds to be used for either highway or transit projects based on the unique needs of each metropolitan area.
This assurance of funding for metropolitan transportation systems has brought local elected officials, transit operators and state departments of transportation together, has fostered collaboration, and has produced better investment decisions. For example, in the Albany region, the combination of clear national objectives, required discipline, shared responsibilities and funding assurance has proved very successful. We have witnessed a true integration of transportation and community planning a full "buy-in" to collaboration from all stakeholders. Our extensive "New Visions" work in the ISTEA era has led to such successes as:
This level of collaboration and success would not have been possible without the ISTEA, and is unlikely to sustain itself without a continued, well-reasoned federal highway and transit program.
True partnerships can exist only where there is some degree of parity in the decision making process, which suballocation coupled with pr 'ect selection responsibility provides. A true partnership adds value to the process by resulting in more effective decisions that are sensitive to the economic goals and social values of the communities and that have broad-based buy in from those communities.
ISTEA's requirements for suballocation of Surface Transportation Program funds and for increased local responsibility for project selection provide the foundation for strengthened state and local partnerships in metropolitan areas over 200,000 population. We believe these provisions should be extended to those metropolitan areas under 200,000. We also recommend that in rural areas, states should be required to coordinate with local elected officials in making transportation investment decisions, preferably through existing multijurisdictional regional planning organizations.
Accountability. ISTEA also demands greater responsibility and accountability through its requirements for financially constrained plans and programs, for a more open and inclusive decision making process, and for a comprehensive analysis of relevant factors that influence transportation.
The requirement for financially constrained plans and programs has meant that our wishes must conform to our wallets. As in most metropolitan areas, our needs far outstrip our available resources, but when confronted with the reality of the pocketbook, we now are forced to make hard choices in the short term, and then to consider how we can generate additional resources over the long term. I want to stress, however, that this requirement has not interfered with our desire to proceed with a broader vision plan for our region. However, the vision has forced our region to bring to craft a consensus on whether to raise additional resources to invest in projects that cannot be funded within the existing revenue stream.
ISTEA also requires that the decision making process be based on comprehensive information about the effects of investments on the economic, environmental and social fabric of our metropolitan communities. This requirement has lead to the consideration of factors that in the past were not always adequately evaluated in the planning process. While helpful, the factors have proved to be too numerous and unwieldy to apply in making planning and investment decisions. We believe the factors should be replaced with a linfited set of national interests that can be locally applied and used by each NIPO in developing transportation plans and investment strategies.
As a part of regulations implementing ISTEA, the U.S. Department of Transportation now requires Major Investment Studies (NUSs) on regionally significant projects. The objective is to provide a tool to examine all practical alternatives, to consider multimodal corridor strategies that include transit and system management strategies, and to ensure adequate and effective public and stakeholder involvement. With this tool we are able to better tailor transportation solutions, including non-capital demand management strategies, rather than automatically rushing to build highways to deal with congestion. We are forced to look at mobility and access in much broader terms, and this has resulted in more effective use of our transportation resources. Our members feel that this is an extremely important part of the planning process and that it should have a statutory basis. We urge you to incorporate the NUS into the transit and highway planning provision in the reauthorization of ISTEA.
Funding. ISTEA provided increased resources to MPOs to assist in their undertaking substantially greater planning responsibilities. In the transit title, metropolitan transportation planning funds were to be provided through a formula based on the level of transit authorizations. Since ISTEA, neither the Administration nor the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have complied with the authorizing legislation. We urge you to reaffirm and strengthen this provision so we might get better compliance in the future.
Institutions. Finally we must call your attention to the institutional arrangements for carrying out highway and transit planning under ISTEA. Unfortunately, there are a small number of areas wdere some of the local government or transit officials are not completely satisfied with the existing designated organization conducting transportation planning under ISTEA. In response to this perceived problem, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed that any areas may redesignate their MPO by a simple vote of the local governments representing 5 1% of the population in that area, including the central city. We believe this would be disruptive, would lead to fragmentation of regions, and would provide an opportunity for disgruntled parties to threaten redesignation every time a dispute arises. We recommend you modify the current provisions to require 60% of the population and 60% of the jurisdictions as opposed to the current 75% to trigger redesignation.
I have attached copies of ANDO policy statements on ISTEA to my testimony, which I respectfully
request be included as part of the official record. I will be happy to answer any questions you may
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