U.S. DOT offers six-point plan to fight congestion

Jim Fahey
Director of Government Affairs
APWA Washington Office

In a letter accompanying a new national plan to reduce congestion, then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta stated that "congestion is not a fact of life...not a scientific mystery, nor is it an uncontrollable force. Congestion results from poor policy choices and a failure to separate solutions that are effective from those that are not."

The nation's growing congestion problems, whether on the road, in the air or at the seaport, continue to be a major frustration for just about anyone who relies on transportation for commerce, commuting, leisure travel or personal needs.

In response, Mineta unveiled a new U.S. Department of Transportation blueprint for federal, state and local officials, a six-point plan aimed at providing solutions and policy options to address transportation gridlock, which costs the United States an estimated $200 billion annually.

The new plan is called a National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network. In it, the agency outlines the costs, trends and future impact of congestion on the economy and quality of life, noting that highway congestion is on the rise and that it is spreading to suburban and rural America.

The Six-Point Plan
The agency's six-point plan represents areas of emphasis it says show potential for short-term and long-term congestion reduction. They include urban congestion relief, private sector investment, operational and technological improvements, multi-state, multi-use transportation corridors, and freight and aviation sector congestion relief.

Following are the six points:

Relieve urban congestion. The Department will seek to enter Urban Partnership Agreements with model cities, pursuant to which the cities and Department will commit to the following actions:

  • Implementing a broad congestion pricing or variable toll demonstration;
  • Creating or expanding express bus services, which will benefit from free-flow traffic conditions;
  • Securing agreements from major area employers to establish or expand telecommuting and flex scheduling programs; and
  • Expediting completion of the most significant highway capacity projects currently underway that hold the greatest potential for reducing congestion and bottlenecks.

Unleash private sector investment resources. The Department will work to reduce or remove barriers to private sector investment in the construction, ownership and operation of transportation infrastructure by:

  • Developing an organized effort to encourage states to enact legislation enabling them to enter into infrastructure agreements with the private sector;
  • Overcoming institutional resistance to reform through education, demonstrations and relationship building with state agencies and private investors/developers; and
  • Utilizing existing federal program authorities, including the major surface transportation legislation signed by President Bush last August, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), to encourage formation of public-private partnerships.

Promote operational and technological improvements. The Department will work to advance low-cost operational and technological improvements that increase information dissemination and incident response capabilities by:

  • Encouraging states to utilize their federal-aid formula funds to improve operational performance, including providing better real-time traffic information to all system users;
  • Emphasizing congestion-reducing technologies in the implementation of the Intelligent Transportation Systems program; and
  • Promoting best practices and identifying private sector partnering and financing opportunities to improve incident and intersection management (e.g., formation of roving response teams, enactment of quick clearance and "move it" laws, and deployment of adaptive intersections).

Establish a "Corridors of the Future" competition. The Department will accelerate the development of multi-state, multi-use transportation corridors by:

  • Running a competition to select 3-5 major growth corridors in need of long-term investment;
  • Convening a multi-state process to advance project development and seek alternative financial opportunities; and
  • Fast-tracking major congestion-reducing corridor projects that received funding in SAFETEA-LU.

Target major freight bottlenecks and expand freight policy outreach. The Department will address congestion in the nation's freight system by:

  • Transforming DOT's existing Gateway Team in Southern California into a larger Intermodal Hot Spot Team to convene the region's diverse freight stakeholder community to forge consensus on immediate and longer term transportation solutions;
  • Engaging shippers from the retail, manufacturing, agricultural and technology sectors, as well as freight carriers and logistics firms, through a series of "CEO Summits," structured around the Department's National Freight Policy Framework; and
  • Establishing a senior-level DHS-DOT border congestion team to prioritize operational and infrastructure improvements at the nation's most congested border crossings.

Accelerate major aviation capacity projects and provide a future funding framework. The Department will address congestion in the aviation system by:

  • Designing and deploying the Next Generation Air Transportation System—a modernized aviation system with greater capacity and less congestion;
  • Improving efficiency and reducing delays at New York City's LaGuardia Airport. In the short-term this will involve replacing the current High Density Rule. In the longer-term, it will include a redesign of the region's airspace and the use of market-based tools to manage congestion at our most crowded airports;
  • Giving priority treatment and agency resources to projects that enhance aviation system capacity; and
  • Streamlining environmental reviews for aviation capacity projects.

The full report is available at http://isddc.dot.gov/OLPFiles/OST/012988.pdf.

Jim Fahey can be reached at (202) 218-6730 or jfahey@apwa.net.

Government Affairs Committee member Dore briefs congressional staffers about rural transportation needs

Becky Wickstrom
Manager of Media Affairs
APWA Washington Office

Longer, sun-filled days during summer months inspire many family vacations and road trips, even with characteristically higher gas prices. For Greg Dore, Road Commissioner in Skowhegan, Maine, and member of the APWA Government Affairs Committee and Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum, an increase of roadway users and insufficient gas tax revenue make road maintenance a difficult task. He discussed how transportation affects rural economics during an APWA-sponsored Congressional Briefing on June 15 in Washington, D.C.

Skowhegan, Maine, Road Commissioner Greg Dore visited Washington to brief congressional staff about the economic effects of rural transportation issues. Dore serves on the APWA Government Affairs Committee.

"People are driving farther, the purchasing power of the gas tax is lower and roads cost more to maintain," said Dore. "In rural America there is a growing backlog of transportation needs which are put off because of a lack of funding. Unfortunately, putting the projects off now means they will ultimately cost more in the future."

According to Dore, the gas tax, a per-gallon charge which is paid into the Highway Trust Fund, is not keeping pace with road maintenance costs and the effects of inflation. Contributing factors include fuel-efficient and alternatively powered vehicles which require less gas, diminishing the amount of gas tax paid into the Trust Fund to help maintain roads.

"Federal funding levels for transportation need to remain up to keep pace with the varied and increasing rural transportation needs," said Dore.

APWA Congressional Briefings are one part of an awareness campaign to provide congressional staff with information about the role and needs of public works and infrastructure in local communities. APWA member experts brief staff members about issues ranging from transportation funding to emergency preparedness and clean water.

Becky Wickstrom can be reached at (202) 218-6736 or bwickstrom@apwa.net.