The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted today to adopt a set of policy principles calling for a substantial increase in federal transportation funding and major changes in how those funds are administered.
The principles outline what the TPB believes should be included in the next federal transportation funding package which Congress is beginning to develop. The current federal surface transportation act, SAFETEA-LU, (the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users), was authorized in 2005 and expires on September 30, 2009.
Current legislation allocates funding for highways based on different formulas and procedures than it uses for transit. Due in large part to the well-publicized increase in gasoline prices this summer, transit agencies across the country have seen their ridership records shattered. Phil Mendelson, TPB Chair and District of Columbia Councilmember, said it was his belief that “the resolution before us includes clear goals” and addresses the need for uniform evaluation procedures for highway and transit projects. TPB Member and Alexandria City Council Member Tim Lovain said that “the time to act on this matter is now.”
The principles approved by the TPB state that fundamental changes are needed in the current structure and funding of federal surface transportation programs, due to cumbersome and inefficient program structures and inadequate funding levels that have resulted in serious under-investment in transportation.
The policies approved also call for a more comprehensive examination of transportation investments, regardless of mode, which includes analysis of economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits. An increased federal focus on the issue of congestion in metropolitan areas, such as the National Capital Region, was also a key point of the approved principles.
Also addressed was the manner in which substantial increases in federal funding should be obtained. A combination of increased fuel taxes and user fees, variable pricing strategies, and national infrastructure banks were identified as prospective sources. An amendment proposed by TPB member Rick Rybeck of the District Department of Transportation added the auction of emissions allowances to the list of potential funding sources.
Ron Kirby, Director of the Department of Transportation Planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said that the relief legislation signed on Monday by President Bush restoring $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from the Treasury’s general fund highlights the importance of the TPB taking a proactive approach toward the next federal transportation authorization. Mr. Kirby explained that federal transportation spending is occurring at a much greater pace than can be sustained by current funding structures, noting that the recent $8 billion infusion was a “one-time fix.” Absent substantial increases in funding, the same dire shortfalls will occur in future fiscal years.