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Late Winter 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4
National Commission Presents Highway Reauthorization Recommendations
In what is likely to be a preview of many of the issues to be discussed during the upcoming highway reauthorization, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission has released its long-awaited recommendations. The Commission's report, Transportation for Tomorrow, is the result of numerous field hearings examining the next highway reauthorization. Several transportation organizations, including GHSA, were invited to share perspectives.
The report sounds numerous alarms that the U.S. transportation system is "at a crossroads" and there needs to be a "national vision." The Commission calls for investing at least $225 billion annually to maintain and upgrade the transportation system. Currently, the nation is spending less than 40 percent of this amount.
Commissioners represented a broad spectrum of political views and industry affiliations, but they generally agreed with the need for a stronger federal role. At the press event announcing the report, Wisconsin Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi stated, "Transportation is what binds this nation together. To have a smaller federal role is not the way we need to be going. We need to have a larger federal role."
The report calls for numerous reforms, focusing on the goal of creating a federal highway program that is "performance driven, outcome based, modally neutral and focused on genuine national interests." Describing the current transportation programs as "essentially a block grant model," the Commission calls for a process in which performance standards would be set on a national basis and incorporated into a national strategic plan. Funding would be allocated based on the cost to complete the projects, and federal funding would increase or decrease based on the states' ability to attain national goals.
The Commission did not offer lengthy safety recommendations but did weigh in on the planning and goal setting process. The Commission recommended state safety "standards" (that is, goals) be set by the U.S. Department of Transportation through "consultations with safety interests including state and local departments of transportation and other governmental units."
GHSA issued a statement largely supporting the report but disapproved of the suggested goal setting process. The Association noted that state highway safety programs are already based on performance measures and performance outcomes, and these are best handled at the state level.
The Commission called for a variety of safety efforts, many of which are already being implemented in most states. These include: strengthening graduated licensing laws, stronger enforcement of laws, effective public information campaigns and greater use of technology to prevent drunk driving.
The most controversial recommendation calls for a significant increase in the gas tax-up to 40 cents a gallon over a five-year period. Eventually, the Commission notes that the per gallon motor fuel tax should be replaced by a vehicle-miles-traveled fee by 2025.
It is unclear what impact the report will have. Any increase in the gas tax will be difficult politically, but other funding options do not appear possible. With the election nearing, it is highly unlikely that the current Administration will produce a reauthorization proposal or that Congress will have any appetite to deal with the issue this year.
To view the full report, visit www.transportationfortomorrow.org.