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Comments on DOT Planning Regulations


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ARTBA urges data-driven, transparent implementation of MAP-21 planning rules.

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Comments on DOT Planning Regulations

  1. 1. October 2, 2014 Docket Management Facility U.S. Department of Transportation Room W12-140 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20590-0001 Re: Docket No. FHWA-2013-0037; Statewide and Nonmetropolitan Transportation Planning; Metropolitan Transportation Planning On behalf of the 6,000 members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), I respectfully offer comments on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning statewide and nonmetropolitan transportation planning and metropolitan transportation planning. ARTBA’s membership includes private and public sector members that plan, design, construct and maintain the nation’s roadways, waterways, bridges, ports, airports, rail and transit systems. Our industry generates more than $380 billion annually in U.S. economic activity and sustains more than 3.3 million American jobs. ARTBA members undertake a variety of activities that are subject to both the transportation planning and environmental review and approval processes in the normal course of their business operations. ARTBA’s public sector members adopt, approve, or fund transportation plans, programs, or projects. ARTBA’s private sector members plan, design, construct and provide supplies for these federal transportation improvement projects. This document represents the collective views of our 6,000 member companies and organizations. The “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21) initiated a significant change in the nature of the federal highway program. Whereas the core purpose of the highway program under prior surface transportation reauthorization laws was to share the cost of state and local improvements to highways on the federal-aid system, MAP-21 establishes two clear roles for the federal government in the nation’s highway system: 1. Establish goals and metrics for the physical condition and operational performance of the core highways that are important to the nation’s economy—the Interstate Highway System (IHS) and the National Highway System (NHS). MAP-21 recognizes highways provide critical infrastructure to support the nation’s economy, and that their condition and performance underpin the future growth and strength of the economy. To that end, MAP-21 consolidates a number of categorical highway programs into a new National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) to channel federal highway investment into projects that contribute to achieving the national goals established in the legislation.
  2. 2. 2 2. Create a National Freight Policy that recognizes the importance of freight movements to the overall performance of the economy. Under MAP-21, a clear federal responsibility is established for assuring that freight moves safely and efficiently by improving highway freight corridors and removing bottlenecks that impede the efficient flow of freight over the nation’s highways. Enacting historic changes through legislation is just the first step in this process. It is essential the new law be implemented effectively and in ways that give the greatest return to those whose funds are invested in highways—the taxpayers whose motor fuel taxes are credited to the Highway Trust Fund to support highway and bridge improvements. MAP-21 takes a number of important steps to address past criticisms of federal highway investment, including eliminating earmarks, reducing diversions of highway revenues to non-highway uses and consolidating numerous programs into a handful that give recipients more flexibility to use limited resources to enhance the performance of the nation’s highways. Whether taxpayers receive the benefits will depend on how the new legislation is implemented and states use their new autonomy. To that end, ARTBA offers the following comments on DOT’s proposed planning regulations: Focus on the goals enumerated in the law The authors of MAP-21 had the opportunity to include a host of external goals such as livability, reduction of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of reliance on foreign oil, adaptation to the effects of climate change, public health, housing, land-use patterns and air quality in the planning and performance process. Instead, Section 1203 of MAP-21 listed only one goal—environmental sustainability—that is not directly related to physical conditions and operational performance of the National Highway System. The same is true for the metropolitan and statewide planning processes laid out in Sections 1201-1202. Accordingly, DOT should focus on implementing the goals and standards as spelled out in MAP- 21. While there may be stakeholders and perspectives that did not achieve their full objectives in the legislative process, we urge you to resist any recommendations to re-open the delicate compromise achieved in MAP-21 through over interpretation of the measure’s performance process. The simple fact is that few interest groups, including ARTBA, are entirely satisfied with every aspect of major legislation. That reality should in no way tarnish MAP-21’s meaningful policy reforms. Further, the common ground found during the legislative process is one of the main reasons MAP-21 was among the few significant pieces of legislation to secure broad bipartisan support during the 112th Congress. Establishing Performance Goals and Measures For the purpose of carrying out the NHPP established in Section 119 of Title 23, Section 1203 of MAP-21 (Title 23, Section 150) requires the Secretary to establish performance measures for the IHS and the rest of the NHS. These are to form the basis for states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop their highway asset management plans. Performance goals and measures should be directly related to the outcomes sought. MAP-21 establishes specific national goals related to the NHPP and the performance measures should be tied toward the achievement of these goals. Prior to the enactment of MAP-21, the mission of the federal highway program was clouded as the program was restructured time and again to be all things to
  3. 3. 3 all people. MAP-21’s national performance goals provide an opportunity to clearly demonstrate the mission of federal highway investment. The traditional standard used to measure highway performance has been congestion, which has been measured in a number of ways, including the effect on travel time, duration, variability and cause. These are the concepts used both by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in its annual report on the cost of congestion in urban areas and by the U.S.DOT in its annual Conditions and Performance report. It should be noted that ARTBA fully appreciates the importance of mass transit facilities in reducing urban congestion—a fact demonstrated by the joint sponsorship of the TTI annual congestion report by ARTBA and the American Public Transportation Association. To reflect the complexity of congestion, the performance standards developed by the Secretary should not focus on just one measure, but should reflect the various causes and consequences of congestion and should include the following: 1. The performance measures should be data driven. In recent years, TTI has significantly improved its sources and uses of congestion data and, as new technologies are developed. That process should continue. The performance measures set by the Secretary should be updated and revised on a regular schedule to incorporate the latest and most reliable data. 2. The performance measures should fully incorporate the economic costs of congestion. In calculating the cost of congestion, the TTI report focuses on two elements – the cost of travel time and wasted fuel. These, however, are only part of the story. More important is the cost congestion imposes on the productivity of the economy, including imposing delays on the manufacturing process, increasing logistics cost of planning shipments to avoid congestion and bottlenecks, and forcing firms to make non-optimal location decisions, among others, as well as the cost to public health and safety in terms of increased collisions. The performance measures should recognize these costs as well as the time and fuel costs calculated by the TTI. 3. The performance measures should also recognize the impact of infrastructure conditions on roadway safety. A 2009 study from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that more than half of highway fatalities are related to deficient roadway conditions. These crashes were estimated to cost the U.S. more than $217 billion per year. 4. The performance measures should be integrated with the national freight policy. Highway bottlenecks cost freight shippers more than $8 billion each year. The performance measures should incorporate data on freight, as well as overall travel. 5. The performance measures should not be chosen on the basis of preferred solutions. Different stakeholders and analysts have strongly held views as to how highway congestion should be addressed. These views, however, should not be used to establish performance measures. Performance measures should be based on actual
  4. 4. 4 existing travel data and should be neutral as to how the states resolve the problem in their state asset management plans. Assuring Accountability and Transparency MAP-21 significantly alters the relationship between state and local transportation agencies and the public whose highway user taxes are invested in highway improvements. Under prior surface transportation laws, the main requirement for obligating federal funds for a project was the project’s conformity to the requirements of the program providing the funds. There was no requirement for the recipient of funds to justify the project or provide information about how the project achieves national goals or expected benefits, other than that the project be part of the state’s or MPO’s long-range transportation plan and be on the statewide transportation improvement program (STIP) or transportation improvement program (TIP). As a result, the public received little information that could be used to evaluate the benefits received from the motor fuel and other taxes paid into the federal Highway Trust Fund. MAP-21 transforms the federal highway program into one where project selection is driven by performance targets. While MAP-21 focuses on development and implementation of state asset management plans to improve the condition and performance of the NHS, the success of this approach will depend on public understanding of the benefits of highway improvements and their views on the taxes they pay for highway investments. The more information taxpayers have on the purposes and benefits of highway and bridge improvement projects, the better will be their ability to evaluate the federal highway program. This can be accomplished in conjunction with the requirement in Section 1503(c) of MAP-21 that the U.S. DOT publish detailed information on all federally-aided highway projects on its website. The model for this should be the format used by the Department to report on the obligation and use of highway funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but expanded to include information on the goal or goals each project is intended to achieve and what the project did achieve when completed. We are extremely disappointed the Department has not yet complied with this requirement, despite the zeal it took in how new ARRA transportation funds were utilized. We urge the DOT to begin this important process in educating the public on the specific value each state receives from federal highway and bridge investment. Implementing the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) Although Section 1104 of MAP-21 expands the definition of the National Highway System to include some roads, border crossings and intermodal connectors not currently part of the NHS, it is clear in the legislation that the sole focus of the NHS, and thus the NHPP, is highways and does not include other modes. While the goals of the NHPP include mitigating the environmental impact of highway travel and protecting and enhancing the natural environment, we urge you to resist recommendations that may suggest these goals constitute shifting Highway Account resources to other modes of transportation. MAP-21 is clear that the only other permissible uses of NHPP funds, other than for NHS highway and bridge improvements, are: 1. Ferry boats and ferry boat facilities that connect to the NHS;
  5. 5. 5 2. Federal-aid roads off the NHS if the project is in the same corridor as an access- controlled NHS route and provides a higher ratio of benefits to cost as a project on the NHS route; 3. Construction of a transit project, with the same limitations as in (2); 4. Bicycle routes and pedestrian walkways; and 5. Bus terminals servicing the NHS. These are the same exceptions that existed under SAFETEA-LU, and there is nothing in MAP- 21 to suggest Congress now means they should be a platform for shifting limited Highway Account resources to other modes. Similarly, there is no reason the state and MPO asset management plans required under MAP-21 should channel federal highway funds into other modes to any greater extent than under SAFETEA-LU and prior surface transportation authorization laws. The major change made by MAP-21 to state and MPO transportation improvement plans is that they are to be outcome- oriented with a focus on contributing to the national performance goals established in Section 150. Programmatic Agreements While ARTBA realizes a separate rulemaking is forthcoming on the subject of programmatic agreements, they are also covered in DOT’s proposed planning regulations. As a general note, ARTBA has consistently encouraged the use of programmatic agreements, which have been highlighted in the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) “Every Day Counts” program as an effective tool in reducing project delay. ARTBA recommends that as states take advantage of these programmatic agreements, DOT should examine the agreements and quantify the benefits in terms of time saved. Also, a clearinghouse of programmatic agreements should be created in order to highlight the most effective examples. Such information would be useful in helping to demonstrate to additional states the advantages of this new option. Transportation Planning & the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) MAP-21 encourages the integration of NEPA with the transportation planning process. ARTBA has long supported this concept, as allowing transportation planning materials to be used during the NEPA process serves to reduce unnecessary duplication of work and shorten delay. Specifically, ARTBA has some concerns over the use of the phrase “significant new information” in determining whether or not an existing planning document may be used during NEPA review. In determining whether or not “significant new information” has become available between the time of the planning document and NEPA, deference should be given to the determination of the state project sponsor, which will have the greatest familiarity with both documents. Also, as with other planning decisions, the decision on whether “significant new information” precludes the use of a planning document during the NEPA process should not be
  6. 6. 6 reviewable by a court. In instances where “significant new information” is available, DOT should develop a mechanism where the planning document can be updated, as opposed to creation of an entirely new document. Finally, a clearinghouse highlighting the successful implementation of planning products into NEPA reviews should be established. Such a resource will enable project sponsors to share how to best use this new tool offered by MAP-21 in order to reduce project delay. Setting Standards for Pavement Conditions Another key component of the MAP-21 performance management process is its requirement for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to establish measures to assess the condition of pavements on the Interstate System and set minimum conditions states must maintain to avoid penalties. It is well understood that much of the Interstate Highway System, which was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s has exceeded its life expectancy and is in need of substantial repair. ARTBA therefore is eager to work with the Department in developing these requirements. ARTBA looks forward to continuing to participate with DOT in effectively implementing MAP- 21’s project delivery reforms and look forward to continuing a dialogue on this critical endeavor. Sincerely, T. Peter Ruane President & C.E.O