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General Accounting Office Report on Reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Assistance Act's Highway Program

Transportation Infrastructure,
Federal Highway Administration
FY 1992 Budget Request
and Highway Program Reauthorization Proposal

Statement of Kenneth Mead
Director, Transportation Issues
Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division

Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate

March 5, 1991

GAO / T-RCED-91-12

The Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that about $29 billion must be invested annually by all levels of government over the next 15 years to maintain the nation's highways at 1985 conditions and meet bridge needs.

[According to American Public Transit Association, $6.5 billion per year in federal investment is needed to maintain the existing transit system. --DC]

40 percent of bridges [on the interstate system] were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

[FORGET THAT! Functionally obsolete means too narrow. We don't need any road widening. Dump the functionally obsolete stuff. --DC]

there will be about $8.1 billion in uncommitted funds remaining in the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund at the end of FY 1996. FHWA has indicated that a safety cushion of about $3 billion is needed... leaves an additional $5.1 billion that could be made available over the five year reauthorization period.

[Fine, zap the funds into land use condensation studies, transit, and cycling. --DC]

We support increased leverage of federal funds through greater state cost sharing responsibility. However, we believe that... [it] should be phased-in over time.

Virtually all of the states have raised gasoline taxes over the last 10 years [though the increases probably didn't keep up with inflation --DC]. States that have relatively high gasoline taxes, large geographical areas, yet smaller populations, as well as those with weak economic bases may face difficulties in assuming more financial responsibility...

[Through my own analysis of 1988 FHWA data, the federal, state and local roadway systems cost $.03 per vehicle mile traveled, which worked out to be $.54 per gallon of motor fuel used. At that time, the federal gas tax was $.09 per gallon of motor fuel, and the average state gas tax was $.14 per gallon of motor fuel. Thereby, the roadways were operating at a deficit of $.31 per gallon of motor fuel used. --DC]

A lower federal funding share will most likely limit toll use to roads with a high volume of traffic that generate sufficient revenues to make them financially feasible. [Too bad. --DC]

we believe that the Administration's highway proposal does not adequately address the fundamental needs to preserve the federal investment on the interstate system. Specifically, the proposal does not provide assurances the Interstate [system] will be preserved.

[Neither the Administration's proposed Urban/Rural System or the Surface Transportation Program proposed by Senate Bill 965 provide assurances for the maintenance of the transit system, something which must be done. S.965 heeded this GAO testimony by including specific interstate maintenance funding levels. --DC]

We reported in 1986 that the factors used to apportion certain highway funds to the various states -- land area, urban and rural population and postal road miles -- are not closely related to the needs of states to preserve today's highway system. These factors were established between 40 and 70 years ago and are not the best indicators of highway use. Rather factors such as motor fuel consumption and vehicle miles traveled better reflect how much highways are being used.

NHS [National Highway System] funds would be apportioned 70 percent on motor fuel use, 15 percent on public road mileage, and 15 percent on land area. Apportionments would be adjusted upwards for those states with low population density. The maximum adjustment would be 50 percent for those states with a population density of under 5 persons per square mile.

[Motor fuel use best indicates more how inefficient a state is, rather than how much their roads are used. Apportionments based on motor fuel use encourage inefficient vehicles, a horrible prospect. I propose an apportionment system based on land area and population, with an Efficiency Feebate Apportionment Program, based upon improvements in the ratio of Gross State Product divided by Vehicle Miles Traveled. The Administration's maximum adjustment for low density -- an imprudent idea in the first place -- is a whopping 50% increase. The EFAP yielded a bonus of 15%, so is not radical -- perhaps EFAP's Feebate Weighting Factor can be adjusted to produce a 50% increase --DC]

We support an intermodal investment strategy... However... the ability to successfully implement an intermodal strategy is not well served by DOT's practice of preparing separate needs studies for highways, bridges and mass transit. In addition, DOT's separate modal approach precludes the effective ranking of intermodal needs and development of an integrated transportation strategy.

Our preliminary work suggests that the criteria used to assess highway and transit projects may not easily facilitate choices between the two modes. Therefore, guidance to the states may be needed to successfully implement highway/transit flexibility. Both federal and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) officials agreed problems could be encountered because of the differences between the criteria. In general, highway criteria is oriented towards movement of vehicles [an orientation which must stop --DC], while transit criteria is oriented towards movement of people. As a result, as one MPO official stated, it is generally easier to demonstrate the benefits of increased highway capacity, than to demonstrate the benefits of increased transit capacity through acquisition of additional buses [because MPO's primarily have computer software designed to analyze highways --DC]. Other MPO officials have also noted difficulties in funding transit projects compared with highway projects. Consequently, highway projects may receive more funds than transit projects when one project is ranked against another.

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