TEA time for the nation’s roads
With the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, America’s road-building community is in high clover. In fact, the money provided under the 1998 act, which is actually the latest incarnation of ISTEA, is helping to jump-start projects from bridge rehabilitation to the construction of bike trails. The question local governments have is: How much of that federal government largesse will make its way onto their streets?
TEA-21 has spawned what some people are calling the biggest public works project in American history. Congress has guaranteed more than $44.5 billion in transportation funding that provides $27.7 billion for highway construction and improvements in 2000. The money, which will come from the federal Highway Trust Fund, mandates spending levels totaling more than $200 billion for highway construction and improvements to the nation’s surface transportation systems until 2006.
The legislation also focuses on improving safety, protecting the environment, and creating employment and business opportunities in an effort to ensure overall global competitiveness. “This is a legislative victory for the American public,” says Lee Powell, chairman of the American Concrete Pavement Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose membership stands to gain from anything that involves accelerated road building and/or repair. “Modernizing, expanding and maintaining the nation’s highways to handle the increasing demand is essential to guarantee the safety of millions of Americans who travel annually, and it also helps to create jobs.”
The highway program portion of the funding will be broken down into various areas and cover the costs of rehabilitating more than 163,000 miles of the National Highway System (NHS), including rural and urban roads serving major populations, international crossing borders, intermodal transportation and connections to terminals. It also covers work on the interstate system and other urban and rural principal arterials, along with highways that provide motor vehicle access between the NHS and major intermodal transport facilities, the defense strategic highway network and strategic network connectors.
Funds for transportation spending will be distributed based on a formula that includes each state’s lane miles of principal arterials (excluding interstate miles); vehicle miles traveled on those arterials; per capita principal arterial lane miles; and diesel fuel used on the state’s highways.
Enhancing existing programs
Early indications are that little of the TEA-21 money will trickle down to cities and counties. For example, the Nebraska Department of Roads will receive approximately $347 million and will spend about $60 million of that on city- and county-related highway program projects.
“Our plan includes spending more than 80 percent of those funds on the state highway system,” says Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) Project Scheduling and Program Management Engineer Roger Winklehake. “The remaining monies will then be used on city- and county-related projects.” According to Winklehake, NDOR plans to spend approximately 25 percent of its funds on interstate systems, 25 percent on its new 600-mile expressway system, and the remaining 50 percent on the highway system.
Still, cities and counties are not complaining. Rather than looking to TEA-21 to fund major construction projects, they are looking to the legislation to provide money to enhance existing transportation projects. “With the replacement of ISTEA comes the ability for local agencies to improve upon their programs at a more accelerated rate,” says Paul Mullen, program director for Nebraska’s Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA). “These monies have been identified for use by local jurisdictions for transportation improvements in an effort to ease congestion and move traffic ahead.
“The majority of the funds will be used for streets and highways, including local arterials and collector streets to improve those facilities,” Mullen says. Additionally, agencies such as MAPA are using TEA-21 money to fund a variety of projects, including bike trail rehabilitation and bridge enhancements in an effort to meet their communities’ transportation needs. For instance, federal money is allowing MAPA to complete the Keystone Bike Trail, a 30-mile path that winds through two counties and more than half a dozen cities in the Omaha metropolitan area.
In Ohio, the Surface Transportation Program (created under ISTEA and expanded under TEA-21) is providing funds for specific county-related highway programs. “TEA-21 funds actually grant us a greater rate of return on the monies we send to the federal government, and that’s good news,” says Ohio Department of Transportation Director Gordon Proctor. He estimates that more than $134 million worth of STP funds have been allocated to metropolitan planning organizations, which are using the money to address transportation-related issues in specific regions.
Funds provide flexibility
TEA-21 allows states and localities considerable leeway for projects on any federal-aid highway; bridge projects on any public road; transit capital projects; and public bus terminals and facilities. The act also expands and clarifies STP funding eligibility for a number of programs, including environmental programs designed to reduce extreme cold starts; modifications to sidewalks to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and projects on inter-city bus terminals and facilities.
“TEA-21 is an outstanding step in transportation legislation because, while it upheld the primary program steps in ISTEA, it also improved upon it and added to it substantial resources to accomplish a worthwhile goal – rebuilding America’s highways,” says Hal Kasshoff, program director for Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York-based engineering firm that is involved in roadway construction. The funding provided by the legislation increases each state’s overall budget by about 40 percent in transportation and highway spending, he says.
The legislation requires that each state receive no less than 91.5 percent of its fuel tax allocation. “Most of the funds will be used for infrastructure repairs, preservations, upgrades of highways and roads, and capital improvement projects in an effort to allow each state to reconstruct and repair such highways,” Kasshoff says.
By assigning more authority to state transportation agencies, TEA-21 streamlines many aspects of the administration of federal highway programs. In turn, each state agency acts as an individual secretary of transportation and assumes responsibility for plans, specifications and estimates, contract awards, related construction and inspections.
Nationally, state transportation agencies are working on individual five-year plans to spend TEA-21 money. An annual fiscal plan also is required for any project with an estimated cost of more than $1 billion.
The Michigan Department of Transportation has already instituted its aggressive five-year plan that includes reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of its roads and bridges. The MDOT plan includes more than $6.3 billion to repair and rebuild roughly 7,000 miles of road and 1,400 bridges on the state trunkline system.
“All transportation improvements in this plan are prioritized based on need with specific focus on fixing the worst roads first,” says MDOT Director James DeSana. “We have a balanced program that includes a combination of long-term fixes, including reconstruction; intermediate fixes, including resurfacing; aggressive capital preventive maintenance; and increased routine maintenance.”
“We plan to rebuild an average of more than 370 miles of road surface each year,” DeSana says. “We also plan to rebuild on average more than 280 bridges per year, provide routine maintenance, and add capacity and operational improvements to relieve congestion. Our strategy is to have more than 95 percent of the freeways and 85 percent of the non-freeways in good condition by the year 2007.”
In California, plans include the investment of more than $12 billion worth of TEA-21 funds over the next six years for new transportation construction, major rehabilitation and operational improvements. “California must be prepared to meet the infrastructure challenges of the 21st century,” says Governor Gray Davis. “These projects address the dual needs of relief for congested corridors while laying a foundation to keep California commerce moving.”
The California Department of Transportation says that congestion on California’s urban freeways is increasing by an average of 10 percent a year, costing motorists nearly $8 million in lost time and excess fuel use each day. Consequently, California’s strategy involves reducing automobile and truck traffic, and cutting congestion and related traffic at more than 55 crossings. The state also is undertaking an aggressive roadway widening program.
Local governments are expected to play a part in California’s transportation plan. “The governor has instructed the department to work with regional and local transportation agencies to explore the short-term options that will address the most critical chokepoints,” says Caltrans Director Jose Medina. “It is clear that transportation facility construction and expansion – including highways, rail and other modes of transportation – have not kept pace with the growing pressures placed on our state highway system.”
In northern California, Santa Clara County is counting on TEA-21 eventually to provide money for an ambitious transportation improvement program that involves nine major projects over the next six years. The county will need more than $450 million to fund those projects. (Santa Clara County’s plan is designed to provide commuter relief through interchange improvements, widening major highways and improving safety.)
In the early stages of the plan’s implementation, however, the county will be using “100 percent local monies,” says Mike Evanhoe, director of construction management and highway programs for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). “We must first receive statutory approval from the legislature in order to begin the design-build contracting technique,” he says. “What we have done is to contract with a project management team to act as staff to the VTA to help us begin the process. Once we receive the necessary statutory approval, we will then move into phase two of the multi-modal project and begin the design-build phase.”
Leveraging the money
While TEA-21 is providing a significant chunk of the money being used for highway maintenance and repair, some governments are not relying on it as a sole source. In Arizona, for example, the state department of transportation is planning more than $875 million worth of highway projects using a combination of TEA-21 money and a voter-approved 20-year half-cent sales tax. “This represents a significant effort by the ADOT staff and our engineering consultants to provide our growing population with the transportation facilities it needs to travel easily in Arizona,” says ADOT Director Mary Peters. To make sure that local governments do not fall through the transportation cracks, Peters plans to meet with county leaders and regional planning agencies.
Some of Arizona’s local governments, however, did not wait for the state to involve them. “We are working on a cooperative effort to receive an equitable return of funds,” says James Bourey, executive director of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), which represents Phoenix and the surrounding area. “We started with an aggressive campaign that would allow us to receive an equitable return of dollars based on what we provide to the state in the form of taxes.”That aggressiveness paid off. “We have been gra nted more than $500 million in this region in the current five-year program, and we managed it through detailed research that allowed us to compare what we generated tax-wise and what we received,” Bourey says. Bourey attributes MAG’s success to teamwork involving the public, local elected officials and the local business community.
The lesson offered by the MAG campaign is that cities and counties can tap into TEA-21 funds, provided they are organized and aggressive. Local government officials must educate themselves about the appropriate federal legislation and monitor the funding process. Failure to do so could leave cities and counties with transportation projects that go nowhere.
Christina Chanes Nystrom is a freelance writer in Covina, Calif.