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Proposed US Transportation Reauthorization Plan Links Greenhouse Gas Reductions to Transportation Planning

Among the proposals in the new US highway and transportation funding reauthorization bill, outlined by House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member John L. Mica (R-Fla.) in a press conference last week, is the linkage of transportation planning with greenhouse gas emissions reductions. If enacted, this would transform the current transportation planning process in the US.

As described in a summary of the proposed bill published by the Committee, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in consultation with the Department of Transportation (DOT), would establish national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

DOT, under the existing transportation planning process, would require States and metropolitan regions to develop surface transportation-related greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and incorporate strategies to meet these targets into their transportation plans.

DOT, through performance measures, would verify that States and metropolitan areas achieve progress towards national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

The authorization bill—The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009—is currently being drafted and will replace the current authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which is due to expire 30 September. Chairman Oberstar said that the bill markup will begin 24 June.

The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009. The bill proposes a major transformation of Federal support for surface transportation from an amalgamation of prescriptive programs to a performance-based framework for intermodal transportation investment.

The bill—which according to Oberstar and Mica has strong bi-partisan support in the House—is designed to achieve specific objectives:

  • Reduce fatalities and injuries on US highways;
  • Reduce congestion;
  • Provide transportation choices for commuters and travelers;
  • Limit the adverse effects of transportation on the environment; and
  • Promote public health and the livability of our communities.

Major elements of the Surface Transportation Authorization Act include:

  • $450 billion in funding over six years. The Surface Transportation Authorization Act:

    • Doubles the investment in highway and motor carrier safety to $12.6 billion;
    • Provides $337.4 billion for highway construction investment, including at least $100 billion for Capital Asset Investment to begin to restore the National Highway System (including the Interstate System) and the nation’s bridges to a state of good repair;
    • Provides $87.6 billion from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and $12.2 billion from the General Fund for public transit investment to restore the nation’s public transit systems to a state of good repair, and provide access and transportation choices to all Americans from large cities to small towns;
    • Within this $450 billion investment, the Act provides $50 billion for Metropolitan Mobility and Access to unlock the congestion that chokes major metropolitan regions; and $25 billion for Projects of National Significance to enhance US global competitiveness by increasing the focus on goods movement and freight mobility.

  • In addition to this $450 billion investment, the Act provides $50 billion over six years to develop 11 authorized high-speed rail corridors linking major metropolitan regions in the United States.

  • Creating a National Infrastructure Bank to better leverage limited transportation dollars.

  • Consolidating or terminating more than 75 programs.

  • Consolidating of the majority of highway funding in four, core formula categories designed to bring highway and bridge systems to a state of good repair; improve highway safety; develop new and improved capacity; and reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

  • Focusing the majority of transit funding in four core categories to bring urban and rural public transit systems to a state of good repair; provide specific funding to restore transit rail systems; provide mobility and access to transit-dependent individuals; and plan, design, and construct new transit lines and intermodal facilities.

  • Directing Federal highway safety investments to specific activities demonstrated to reduce fatalities and injuries on US roads.

  • Establishing new initiatives to address congestion in major metropolitan regions, and eliminate bottlenecks in freight transportation.

  • Creating a National Transportation Strategic Plan, based on long-range highway, transit, and rail plans developed by States and metropolitan regions, to develop intermodal connectivity of the nation’s transportation system and identify projects of national significance.

  • Reforming the US. Department of Transportation to require intermodal planning and decision-making; ensuring that projects are planned and completed in a timely manner; and ensuring that DOT programs advance the livability of communities;

  • Requiring States and local governments to establish transportation plans with specific performance standards; measure their progress annually in meeting these standards; and periodically adjust their plans as necessary to achieve specific objectives.

  • Improving the project delivery process by eliminating duplication in documentation and procedures.

  • Establishing a new program to finance planning, design, and construction of high-speed rail.

Highway account balance. Source: DOT. Click to enlarge.

The Highway Trust Fund. Currently, the US Highway Trust Fund supports the construction, repair and maintenance of highways. The Fund is replenished by revenue collected from motor fuel taxes. The Fund has been struggling for years, ending the fiscal year with less money than it started. The situation has worsened with decreasing fuel purchases; the advent of more fuel-efficient vehicles in the future would also further stress the existing funding mechanism.

The existing transportation reauthorization act, which is financed by the Highway Trust Fund, expires on 30 September 2009. In the past 30 years, Congress has never completed action on the reauthorization act by the date on which the programs expired, according to the House Committee’s summary document. Instead, Congress has extended the programs for short-term periods while action was completed on the long-term reauthorization act. During consideration of the last reauthorization act, Congress extended the programs 12 times prior to enactment of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (P.L. 109-59).

Such a “business-as-usual” reauthorization is not acceptable, according to the Committee.

According to DOT, the Highway Account of the Trust Fund is running out of cash and may not have enough funding to reimburse States for their Federal highway investments as early as August 2009. The shortfall is projected to be $5 billion to $7 billion by September 2009 and an additional $8 billion to $10 billion in fiscal year 2010. If the Trust Fund runs out of cash, DOT will immediately begin rationing reimbursements to States, creating cash flow problems for States and significant uncertainty for the future of the program.

The current user fees supporting the Trust Fund are completely inadequate to maintain our existing infrastructure. If we continue at existing funding levels, our road surfaces will continue to deteriorate, structurally-deficient bridges will go unrepaired, and congestion will worsen. The mainstay of funding is the 18.3-cent-per-gallon gasoline user fee, which has not been increased since 1993, and produces progressively less revenue as the fuel efficiency of automobiles increases. The current user fees generate only enough revenue to finance a $35.1 billion of Federal highway, highway safety, and public transit investments in fiscal year 2010, which would be a 34 percent cut from this year’s $53 billion funding level. Without additional revenues, a six-year surface transportation authorization bill could fund only $236 billion in highway, highway safety, and transit investment—$90 billion less than the current investment level over the next six years ($326 billion). These shortfalls could result in a loss of more than three million good, family-wage construction jobs.

—Executive Summary

However, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is instead proposing an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, leaving more strategic restructuring for a more deliberate and lengthy process.

As part of this, I am proposing that we enact critical reforms to help us make better investment decisions with cost-benefit analysis, focus on more investments in metropolitan areas and promote the concept of livability to more closely link home and work. The Administration opposes a gas tax increase during this challenging, recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country.

I recognize that there will be concerns raised about this approach. However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation. We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term.

—Secretary LaHood

The Obama Administration’s stance as stated by LaHood is not acceptable, according to Oberstar and Mica, who held their press conference subsequent to LaHood’s urging of the quick reauthorization.

We don’t want an 18-month bill that is a temporary patch.

—Ranking Member Mica

That puts the Damocles sword of uncertainly over the future of transportation...That is unacceptable. We are open to negotiations with the White House.

—Chairman Oberstar




Strings attached to federal funding? Never! Luckily, the states that need the most improvement in transportation are the ones that are the most progressive on emissions & pollution control.

Matthew Watkins

I work for the St Louis transit agency, Metro, ( and I've been reading a lot about the proposed Surface Transportation Authorization Act. So far I like the increased funding for mass transit. Buses and trains produce less carbon emissions than cars, and increase mobility for those living in heavily urban areas.
But what about those of us not living in such areas? I'm originally from Muncie, Indiana, a small city of 60,000. It's just about impossible there to get around without a car. Our government needs to promote alternative car options that work for the average person. Current hybrids are not a solution, as they are cost-prohibitive for the average worker. It'd be nice to see discounts for those living in poverty to help them attain better jobs through increased mobility.


There are smaller systems for smaller cities.
One approach is ultra light rail (ULR) such as the hybrid tram from Parry People Movers-
You could try PRT/PAT or a small monorail.
Here's a site- -you might want to browse through.

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