Senator Bruce Starr (Ore.) Testimony on Behalf of NCSL | Implementation of MAP-21

TESTIMONY OF SENATOR BRUCE STARR
Oregon Legislative Assembly
President-elect, National Conference of State Legislatures
 
On Behalf of the National Conference of State Legislatures

Before the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
United States House of Representatives

"Implementing MAP-21: The State and Local Perspective"

April 25, 2013
Washington, D.C.

Chairman Petri, Ranking Member DeFazio and distinguished members of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, I am Bruce Starr, President-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and a member of the Oregon State Senate. I appear before you today on behalf of NCSL, a bi-partisan organization representing the 50 state legislatures and the legislatures of our nation's commonwealths, territories, possessions and the District of Columbia.
 
Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the committee for your leadership on the important issue of MAP-21 implementation, not just with today’s hearing, but with the hearing last month featuring the key modal administrators from the U.S. Department of Transportation. I would also like to applaud Congress for its approval of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The enactment of MAP-21 put an end to the numerous short-term extensions, which created significant uncertainty regarding the availability of funding for surface transportation. With MAP-21 facing reauthorization in 2014, this hearing is an important step to recognize and review its successes as well as those policy areas in need of an update, so that all parties, including state legislatures, can work together to ensure a safe and reliable surface transportation system throughout the country.   
 
The federal government plays a vital role in supporting a national surface transportation system that facilitates interstate commerce, addresses fairly and equally the mobility needs of all Americans and meets our national defense needs. NCSL supports the continuation and preservation of a federal-aid surface transportation program that directs spending to national priorities while allowing for state and insular area flexibility in local and regional variations. The federal program should provide maximum flexibility in deciding how to generate and leverage transportation revenues and how to use state and federal dollars. The ability of states to maintain flexibility in decision making and comply with environmental and other mandates depends on regulatory flexibility as well as adequate and reliable funding.
 
Infrastructure Priorities
Before I begin a more specific discussion on the implementation of MAP-21, I would like to highlight for the committee that infrastructure is one of NCSL’s Top Ten Priorities for the 113th Congress. NCSL maintains its strong support for infrastructure programs and will work to ensure that all funding and financing options remain available to states to continue the economic benefits that infrastructure programs provide. As part of this priority, NCSL recently approved its Surface Transportation Federalism Policy Directive at our 2012 Legislative Summit. Passage of a policy directive requires 75 percent approval, ensuring that our Surface Transportation Federalism Policy Directive had wide bipartisan support. A copy of that policy directive and NCSL’s Top Ten Priorities are included as an appendage to my testimony.
 
Performance Management
One of the largest transformations within MAP-21 was a shift to a more performance based program so as to ensure that investments are correctly targeted as well as increase the accountability and transparency of these investments.
 
NCSL encourages the federal government to establish a cooperative process through which performance measures can be crafted for gauging the success of programs. As the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) continues this process of implementing the changes required in MAP-21, we urge the department both to recognize and build off the extensive work states have done with regard to performance management. We also urge the department and Congress to avoid creating additional reporting mandates or implementing lowest-common denominator performance measures that run counter to good asset management practices.
 
To highlight this concern, I would note that in 2011, Oregon was recognized by the Pew Center as one of five states with a performance management system that received top marks across six areas.  The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) uses performance management to report to the Oregon Legislative Assembly on its progress toward meeting key goals, as well as to make important decisions on allocation of resources. When measuring the health of Oregon’s bridges, ODOT uses an indicator that encompasses a number of factors, including freight mobility needs, bridge safety, serviceability, and structural sufficiency. In conversations with ODOT, they have indicated that USDOT will likely use structural deficiency as the national bridge performance measure because it is a data point that is readily and widely available. Similarly, Oregon and a number of other states use pavement condition measures that measure the structural condition of pavement to determine whether action is warranted. Speaking on behalf of Oregon, I am concerned that U.S. DOT may decide to use the International Roughness Index (IRI) data to measure pavement quality primarily because this data is already collected and standardized across states.  However, IRI only measures a pavement’s ride quality, but does not address the underlying structural condition.
 
These two examples highlight why the federal government should build upon the work states have done as well as demonstrate why it would be a mistake for the federal government to mandate the use of federal performance measures for making important investment decisions when other, more complete measures would provide more accurate information.
 
Program Consolidation
MAP-21 also featured a significant restructuring of transportation programs into a smaller set of core programs with the intention that the new structure would give states and other grantees additional flexibility to deliver projects more efficiently. NCSL supports this enhanced programming flexibility in order to meet a multitude of national goals and its continuation in any reauthorization effort.
 
This flexibility and consolidation is exemplified by the Transportation Alternatives Program. Under the program structure contained in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), local governments often submitted multiple grant applications for the same project under programs such as Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails, Safe Routes to School, and Transportation, Community and System Preservation. By combining all of these programs into a single Transportation Alternative Program, MAP-21 created the opportunity for local governments to submit a single application for funding. Oregon is putting this simplified program structure to use as we develop our next Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Oregon is mirroring the consolidations made in MAP-21 and using the flexibility it provides to break down programmatic silos and create larger consolidated programs. This will allow Oregon to work with stakeholders and make it easier for users - particularly local governments - to acquire funding without having to submit multiple grant applications to multiple programs. 
 
TIFIA
One program in particular from MAP-21 that I would like to discuss is the Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA). As reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in June 2012, demand for the program has been very high, with requests exceeding budgetary resources by a ratio of 10 to 1 since 2008.[i] With MAP-21 authorizing an expansion of TIFIA to $1.75 billion over two years, from only $122 million in FY 2012, states will be able to finance and complete major projects of national and regional significance. NCSL is very supportive of this kind of expansion of credit-based and loan guarantee programs to incentivize private sector investment.
 
In Oregon, we are working with Washington State and plan to seek a TIFIA loan of approximately $1 billion to help construct the I-5 Columbia River Crossing project, a bi-state multimodal megaproject that will address one of the worst bottlenecks on the nation’s highway system. The favorable financing terms provided by a TIFIA loan are expected to allow tolls levied on bridge users to leverage about $200 million more than if the state were to bond against those tolls, making the project more financially feasible.
 
Project Streamlining
NCSL believes that the federal government has a role to play in ensuring that national environmental policy aligns with national transportation policy, while assuring efficient and cost-effective approaches to both goals. The findings of an August 2011 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report noted that major highway projects can take ten to 15 years to plan and build. NCSL favorably views efforts included in MAP-21 to streamline regulatory review processes so that construction projects can again be realized on-time and on-budget.[ii]
 
Some of the streamlining provisions included in MAP-21 allowed for significant changes to requirements around categorical exclusions (CE). However, it remains an open question whether states will see significant benefits from these changes as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has yet to initiate a rulemaking on one potentially important area related to categorical exclusions. This rulemaking would both establish new categories of CEs and move some existing categories from a list that currently requires documentation to a list that does not require documentation. NCSL urges the committee to ensure that state legislatures are consulted throughout the promulgation of this rule. Such consultation will lead to better results, while strengthening the federal, state, and local government partnership in implementing MAP-21. For example, in order for Oregon to begin taking advantage of this possible benefit by moving items to the “no documentation” list, FHWA would have to modify its regulations or interpretations of the regulations related to categorical exclusions including 23 CFR 771.117 (c), to reduce the need for documentation on projects that do not have significant environmental impacts.
 
National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)

MAP-21 consolidated various grant programs from SAFETEA-LU, including impaired driving and motorcycle grants, along with the new graduated driver licenses and distracted driving grants, into the new Section 405 National Priority Safety program. While NCSL supports a continued federal role in helping to set national performance safety goals, NCSL encourages the expansion of safety programs to incorporate emerging safety issues, and opposes the use of federal sanctions or redirection penalties to enforce federal safety standards. I have heard concerns regarding some of these grants that the qualifications are so high it may be difficult for states to participate. Specifically, it may be difficult for some states to qualify for the new incentive grants for graduated driver licenses and occupant protection. Although as the rule making process has not been finalized, I hesitate to draw a final conclusion. NCSL would be happy to work with the committee in the future to help identify those states that would require legislative changes in order to qualify for these grants.
 
Engagement
The last point I’d like to address regarding the implementation of MAP-21 is the broad level of engagement NCSL has had with USDOT.
 
USDOT has developed comprehensive websites, for both FHWA and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), that provides detailed overviews and analysis of provisions contained in MAP-21. USDOT has also reached out to NCSL to provide informational updates regarding MAP-21 to state legislators. In August 2012, Deputy Secretary Porcari attended NCSL’s Legislative Summit and spoke with our Transportation Committee about MAP-21. Additionally, Secretary LaHood attended NCSL’s Legislative Leaders meeting last month where he joined state legislators, including myself, in a robust discussion on a number of issues related to MAP-21 including a state’s authority to toll interstate highways and the expansion of TIFIA. NCSL also recently partnered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a webinar designed to help states understand how they could qualify for the numerous new highway safety incentive grants that were included as part of MAP-21. USDOT has also hosted a number of webinars and roundtables seeking input from various parties as USDOT seeks to implement MAP-21.
 
Beyond MAP-21    
Finally, I’d like to quickly address what I believe to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room; how MAP-21, which expires in less than a year and half, can help lay the foundation for the next long-term surface transportation bill. NCSL believes the next reauthorization should provide for a more sustainable long-term funding mechanism for surface transportation. In Oregon, one option that we have begun to test is moving towards a system that requires user fees based not on the amount of gasoline they purchase but rather on the number of vehicle miles they travel, in order to ensure that those users receiving the greatest benefit from the federal highway system pay a proportional share of the costs. As state legislators have responsibility for state budgets, policy planning and oversight activities we stand ready to work with Congress as it develops the successor to MAP-21.
 
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this opportunity to testify before the subcommittee. MAP-21 included numerous changes to our surface transportation programs and ensuring that these changes are implemented correctly will help to guarantee a safe and reliable surface transportation system throughout the country. I look forward to questions from members of the subcommittee.
 
Appendices:

NCSL Surface Transportation Federalism Policy Directive

 


[i] Government Accountability Office. “Financing Program Could Benefit from Increased Performance Focus and Better Communication.” June 21, 2012. Accessed from: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-641

[ii] Congressional research Service. “Accelerating Highway and Transit Project Delivery: Issues and Options for Congress.” August 3, 2011. Accessed from : http:bit.ly/CRS080311