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State Leaders Advocate for Long-Term Transportation Bill; Officials Reiterate Federal-State-City Partnerships as Critical in Meeting Needs

Three state and local officials testified March 17 before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that they foresee significant disruption in long-range transportation infrastructure projects if Congress doesn't pass a long-term surface transportation bill. The hearing was the T&I Committee's second information-gathering session as it considers provisions in the bill.

The three are North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, member of the executive committee, National Governors Association; Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, president, National League of Cities; and John Cox, director, Wyoming DOT, and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

See their complete testimony here (click on Hearings & Votes). Excerpts of their testimony follow:

Gov. McCrory
... I am not here to endorse devolution of the federal surface transportation programs. In fact, I believe the federal government plays an extremely strong role in ensuring our country is able to move goods and people throughout our 50 states. I know Chairman [Bill] Shuster [(R-PA)] is fond of saying that our Founding Fathers understood the important role of the national government to maintain public works to facilitate interstate commerce. In doing so they laid the groundwork for connecting the country through trade and travel and recognized the critical role of an efficient, robust infrastructure network. Since that time, there has been a clear and consistent federal role and a national interest in developing, maintaining and supporting the vital transportation infrastructure that connects American consumers, manufacturers and farmers to domestic and world markets. ...

Governors need certainty at the federal level so states can plan for and make infrastructure improvements, as well as maintain our existing systems. A long-term federal transportation reauthorization will provide that certainty.

A continued federal investment is also necessary to leverage our efforts to maintain and improve infrastructure systems to meet our nation's surface transportation needs. The responsibility of the nation's interconnected transportation network cannot be left only to states and their municipalities because all levels of government must partner together to foster a cohesive transportation network, not a patchwork across the nation.

Federal highway and transit programs and funding should provide maximum flexibility to the states for implementation and innovation because of our diversity of geography, population and priorities. ...

Action at the state level must not be interpreted as an invitation for Congress to completely transfer the federal transportation program to state and local governments. Rather, to succeed, leaders across all levels of government must work together. ...

Mayor Becker
... [F]or cities, every transportation project is a partnership--with other local and regional authorities, with the state, with the federal government and with the private sector. ... Local governments have a unique perspective within these partnerships. ...

By necessity, local elected leaders are stretching the value of every dollar to invest in small- and large-scale projects of practical design. We are making existing corridors and networks more efficient and multimodal and doing so in ways that increase capacity at less cost to the taxpayer. These locally driven solutions are offering more travel options to the public, helping shippers and businesses keep goods and products moving and delivering a bigger boost to investors, developers and our economies overall.

Unfortunately, uncertainty at the federal level is causing discord in the intergovernmental partnership and driving up the risk and costs associated with transportation finance and innovation. ...

So however the future of transportation unfolds, we know the committee will need to balance investments with maintenance. Local governments own and operate 78 percent of the nation's road miles, 43 percent of the nation's federal-aid highway miles and 50 percent of the nation's bridge inventory. However, over the past 20 years, roughly 80 percent of all funding has consistently been reserved for the highway system. And although the remaining 20 percent is theoretically devoted to transit and other alternative transportation programs, it is not easy to steer funding that passes through state departments of transportation away from auto-oriented projects.

Congress ought to fix this imbalance. The next transportation bill should directly allocate greater funding to local governments and provide more flexibility for local decision makers to choose the best mix of transportation options to fit regional needs. ...

AASHTO President Cox
While we as a transportation industry do everything in our power to build our projects as fast as possible, many of them take several years to complete. The lack of a long-term surface transportation bill that provides a predictable stream of federal funding makes it nearly impossible for state DOTs to plan for large projects that need funding over multiple years.

Major transportation projects in several states are sitting on the shelves or have been delayed due to the unpredictability of federal funding. Such delays have serious economic consequences both in the short and long term. ... [A]lready several state DOTs are pulling back on needed projects that are scheduled to go out for bid. ...

State DOTs play a critical role in ensuring that we have a safe, reliable and efficient transportation network. ... But it is important to note that when states take action to increase revenue for transportation, they do so expecting to supplement the federal program ... not as a substitute for the federal program. Indeed, it is this century-old federal-state partnership that has enabled America to build a transportation system envied by the rest of the world. If one of those partners does not hold up their end of the bargain, this system will fail.

The federal surface transportation programs also provide substantial support for public transportation and AASHTO supports the current highway-transit funding balance. A large portion of transit funding is directly apportioned or allocated to transit agencies, not through state governments. But states are also actively involved in assisting transit service, particularly in rural areas and for seniors and special needs individuals. State DOTs also work closely with local transit agencies to spend ("flex") an average of $1 billion a year in federal highway funding on transit projects. ....

This "Commentary" section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.
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