Renew ISTEA To Preserve Local Control of Transportation Decisions
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA),
the federal surface transportation law, expires September 30, 1997, and
must be re-authorized. ISTEA began to shift federal priorities away from
a "one size fits all" approach to a balanced, locally-controlled
process that gives citizens and businesses the flexibility to choose their
mix of affordable, reliable transportation choices.
More than ever before, ISTEA made local governments and the public full
partners in transportation decision-making. It recognized that different
communities will have different mixes of roads, transit, bike paths and
sidewalks, and that an effective partnership of local, state and federal
governments will make the best transportation decisions. Some Congressional
proposals to change ISTEA would reduce local involvement in these decisions.
ISTEA can be changed but the right kind of changes will improve its
balanced approach, not undermine it. Four key issues are:
CONGESTION MITIGATION AND AIR QUALITY PROGRAM (CMAQ):
- ISTEA's smallest program, funded at $1 billion/year, CMAQ is the only
highway program specifically designed to help communities use transportation
to lower traffic congestion and reduce dangerous air pollution. Although
only 5% of the overall highway program, CMAQ provided 55% of all funds
"flexed," or transferred, from highways to transit during ISTEA's
first five years.
- Currently, CMAQ funds must be spent in areas that are not in compliance
with the Clean Air Act, generally the most populous metropolitan areas.
CMAQ can be improved by ensuring that funds will continue to reach areas
that make progress in cleaning up their air.
- The "STEP 21" and "STARS 2000" bills would eliminate
CMAQ as a separate category, while allowing CMAQ projects to be eligible
under the Surface Transportation Program (STP). STARS 2000 would reduce
CMAQ to $380 million, a nearly 2/3 cut, and limit the number of areas that
would receive CMAQ funds.
- As long as air pollution remains a serious health problem, Congress
should continue this program that is specifically designed to help clean
up our air.
SURFACE TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM (STP):
- The largest and most flexible ISTEA program, STP receives $4.1 billion/year;
50% is divided, based on population, between a state's metropolitan areas
and the rest of the state; 10% goes to safety; and 10% for the Enhancements
Program that is the major source of funds for bike paths, sidewalks and
historic preservation of transportation facilities. The remaining 30% of
funds can be spent anywhere in the state.
- In ISTEA's first 5 years, $880 million with more each succeeding
year -- was flexed to transit from STP.
- Unlike the $3.6 billion/year National Highway System (NHS) program,
STP funds can be spent on any needed project. NHS funds can only be spent
on a designated set of highways, and not a single dollar of NHS funds has
been flexed to transit projects, even within those NHS corridors.
- STEP 21 would eliminate CMAQ, the Bridge program and STP; the House
version would eliminate the Enhancements set-aside. STARS 2000 would combine
the CMAQ, Bridge and STP together, but put 60% of all funds into an expanded
TRANSIT FORMULA FUNDS:
- ISTEA expanded transit formula funding up to $4.1 billion/year to meet
mobility needs in urban, suburban and rural communities throughout the
nation. These funds enable local transit agencies to provide 9 billion
rides per year on buses, subways, rail transit and through other services.
- Currently, federal highway funds can be spent on maintenance activities
and the cost of federal mandates. Transit formula funds, on the other hand,
cannot be spent on such items as debt service of capital, costs of compliance
with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and maintenance. These limitations
jeopardize federal and local investments in transit, and limit the ability
of local areas to choose how best to spend their transit funds.
- Although ISTEA authorized more than $1 billion/year for transit operating
aid, actual funding has fallen far short of that amount. As a result, transit
agencies had no choice but to increase fares and reduce service during
the early and mid-1990s. To prevent future service cuts and fare hikes,
ISTEA should permit formula funds to be used for maintenance and the costs
of federal mandates. Such changes have been proposed under the Administration's
STATE SUPPORT FOR AMTRAK:
- ISTEA expanded the federal highway program to cover many investments
in a multimodal transportation system, but it did not address the issue
of intercity rail. Amtrak remains a critical part of the national transportation
system, even after cutbacks compelled in recent years by the need for cost
- Many states want to spend some of their federal highway funds for intercity
passenger rail service, but current law prohibits them from doing so.
- A renewed ISTEA should provide interested states with the flexibility
to use their share of program funds for intercity passenger rail service,
such as Amtrak.
- The "ISTEA Works" bill (S. 586) allows states to spend CMAQ
and STP funds, but not NHS, for Amtrak. Neither "STEP 21" nor
"STARS 2000" offer states this important flexibility.
Source: CAMPAIGN FOR EFFICIENT PASSENGER TRANSPORTATION
c/o Citizen Action, 1901 L St., NW, #602, Washington, DC 20036, tel:
(202)-775-1580, fax: (202)-296-4054, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on local control, check out the positions of the
National Association of Counties,
the League of Cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
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