National Commission on Surface Transportation Announces Plan to Modernize System,...
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National Commission on Surface Transportation Announces Plan to Modernize System, Restructure Programs Report Offers Solutions to Improve the Performance of the Nation's Transport System WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Calling for a "new beginning" to reform the nation's transportation programs, the bipartisan National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission today unveiled a comprehensive plan to increase investment, expand services, repair infrastructure, demand accountability, and refocus Federal transportation programs, while maintaining a strong Federal role in surface transportation. Policy changes, though necessary, will not be enough on their own to produce the transportation system the Nation needs in the 21st century. Significant new funding also will be needed. Congress created the twelve-member, bipartisan Commission in 2005 and it not only was charged with examining the condition and operation of the surface transportation system, but also with developing a conceptual plan and specific recommendations to ensure that the surface transportation system serves the needs of the nation now and in the future. After an intensive fact-finding program that included hearings in ten cities across America, the Commission released its Report to Congress, called Transportation for Tomorrow, at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing on the Report on January 17, 2008. Chaired by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, the bi-partisan twelve member Commission also includes Jack Schenendorf, Vice Chair, Of Counsel, Covington and Burling, LLP; Frank Busalacchi, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Transportation; Rick Geddes, Associate Professor, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University; Steve Heminger, Executive Director, San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission; Frank McArdle, Senior Advisor, General Contractors Association of New York; Steve Odland, Chairman & CEO, Office Depot, Inc.; Patrick E. Quinn, Co-Chairman, U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc.; Matt Rose, Chairman & CEO, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; Tom Skancke, CEO, The Skancke Company; Paul Weyrich, Chairman and CEO, Free Congress Foundation. The Commissioners unanimously agree that an efficient surface transportation system will be vital to the future economic growth, international competitiveness, and social well-being of the Nation. They also agree that major overhauls of current Federal surface transportation programs will be essential to achieve such a system. They did not agree, however, on all of the recommendations to reform and finance our surface transportation programs. Secretary Mary Peters (as Commission Chair), Commissioner Cino, and Commissioner Geddes provided a minority view to the report. Commissioner McArdle and Commissioner Rose each contributed an individual supplemental view. The key recommendations in Transportation for Tomorrow include: -- Significantly increasing investment in surface transportation, including investing at least $225 billion annually from all sources (Federal, state, local, and private) for the next 50 years to upgrade to an advanced surface transportation system capable of sustaining strong economic growth; -- Accelerating the time between conception and delivery of major transportation projects to reduce costs while still addressing environmental concerns. Many federally-funded projects take between 10-13 years to complete after they are proposed, largely due to lengthy approval processes. Given the high rate of construction inflation, for example, simply reducing the time between conception of projects and delivery could save billions of dollars as well as bringing new facilities online more rapidly. -- Retaining a strong Federal role in transportation, while depoliticizing investment decisions. Keeping the promise to citizens for effective expenditures by building accountability into the new program structure. Money will be spent through outcome based, performance driven programs supported by cost/benefit evaluations rather than political "earmarking"; -- Replacing over 100 current transportation programs with ten programs focused on the national interest. This structure will target infrastructure facilities, crippling congestion, unacceptable safety consequences, missing intercity passenger rail options, underutilized transit options, environment linkages and the synergy between transportation and energy policy. This new structure will address the needs of urban, suburban and exurban areas, small towns and rural areas, (See descriptions of ten programs below.) -- Creating a new National Surface Transportation Commission (NASTRAC) to perform two principal planning and financial functions. Modeled after aspects of the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, and state public utility commissions, the NASTRAC would act as overseer of a stakeholder-rich planning process whose goal would be to develop national strategic plans for each of the program areas. The NASTRAC would establish the cost to finance the plan and recommend a Federal fuel tax or equivalent Federal mechanism to fund the Federal share, subject to Congressional veto. To fund the necessary investment, the Commission recommends new revenue strategies, including increasing the Federal gas tax between 25-40 cents (5-8 cents per gallon, per year), with the rate increase indexed and phased in over time. The fuel tax was the primary recommended user fee in the near term since it will continue to be a viable revenue source for surface transportation for some time to come. The most promising alternative user fee revenue measure is a vehicle miles traveled fee, provided that substantial privacy and collection cost issues can be addressed. Other user-based fees also should help address the investment shortfall, such as tolling the deployment of peak-hour "congestion pricing" on Federal-aid highways in major metropolitan areas, a freight fee for freight projects, and ticket taxes for passenger rail improvements. Tax policy also can provide incentives to expand intermodal networks. Governments on all levels should encourage public-private partnerships as a means of attracting additional private investment to the surface transportation system, provided that conditions are included to protect the public interest and the movement of interstate commerce. Ten Outcome-Based Programs to Replace Over 100 Existing Programs The report calls for the replacement of over 100 current Federal surface programs with ten comprehensive programs that are outcome (rather than modally) based. For the most part, the U.S. Department of Transportation, in cooperation with State and local governments, multi-State coalitions, transportation system users, and the full range of public and private stakeholders, would develop national performance standards for each applicable program area. State and local performance standards would form the basis for State and metropolitan plans. In combination, these would comprise a national strategic plan and the basis for distribution of Federal funding to implement these plans. In brief, the streamlined new federal program structure the Commission recommends is: -- Rebuilding America: A National Asset Management Program -- Freight Transportation: A Program to Enhance U.S. Global Competitiveness -- Congestion Relief: A Program for Improved Metropolitan Mobility -- Saving Lives: A National Safe Mobility Program -- Connecting America: A National Access Program for Smaller Cities and Rural Areas -- Intercity Passenger Rail: A Program to Serve High-Growth Corridors by Rail -- Environmental Stewardship: Transportation Investment Program to Support a Healthy Environment -- Energy Security: A Program to Accelerate the Development of Environmentally-Friendly Replacement Fuels -- Federal Lands: A Program for Providing Public Access -- Research, Development, & Technology: A Coherent Transportation Research Program for the Nation For a full copy of the Report, detailed descriptions of each program and more information on the Commission and its activities, please visit www.transportationfortomorrow.org. SOURCE National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission Trina Leonard, +1-301-530-6700, email@example.com, for National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission
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