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CMAP Analysis of AEIJA, Part 1

Please note that this is the first and here is the second in a two-part Policy Update about the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (AEIJA).

On February 2, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (AEIJA) transportation reauthorization bill, including several amendments. For an overview of AEIJA, view this January 31 Policy Update from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

Two years ago, CMAP published five transportation reauthorization principles that now provide a framework to analyze AEIJA. These principles are reflected throughout the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan adopted unanimously in October 2010 by leaders from across the seven counties of metropolitan Chicago. CMAP urges leaders in Washington to give highest priority to the following policy objectives in crafting and implementing a new federal transportation bill:

  • Provide transportation investments based on regional priorities using performance-driven criteria that lead to decisions that are transparent, outcome-based, and mode-agnostic.
  • Evaluate and prioritize infrastructure investments in a comprehensive way that looks beyond transportation benefits to include land use, economy, environment, and other quality-of-life factors.
  • Provide adequate federal investments in the nation's transportation systems.
  • Reform the transportation funding system by placing a new emphasis on sustainable revenue sources.
  • Establish a national transportation vision that includes the movement of goods and the development of a national high-speed rail network.

CMAP's Immediate Concerns with AEIJA
CMAP has several concerns with the bill as written. Similar in format to the analysis of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the Senate's federal transportation reauthorization bill, this Policy Update discusses each concern in turn. The second Policy Update analyzes AEIJA in terms of the five reauthorization principles listed above.

Funding: CMAP's chief concern is the overall funding level for the bill and the source of funds. Like the Senate proposal, AEIJA would not raise traditional user fees, nor would it establish new sustainable revenue sources. Funding of our transportation system is in peril without additional dedicated revenues, and addressing this mounting crisis is at the crux of two of CMAP's stated priorities.

CMAP has concerns about the stability and practicality of AEIJA's reliance on expanded domestic energy production and a large General Fund transfer to fund the new Alternative Transportation Account for transit, research, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) projects. CMAP is concerned that separating these vital programs from the Highway Trust Fund will jeopardize the stability of their funding. Since 1983, a portion of the federal gas tax has been dedicated to transit projects through the Mass Transit Account, and today 2.86 cents per gallon are deposited in the Mass Transit Account. At a policy level, a reliance on energy production and general revenues violates the longstanding practice of applying dedicated user fees to fund transportation, a practice CMAP strongly supports. These two revenue sources weaken the link between transportation costs paid and transportation benefits received.

CMAP also questions the bill's significant increase in support of financing programs like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and State Infrastructure Banks (SIBs) at a time when the federal government is at best maintaining levels for its core direct funding programs. While GO TO 2040 supports the use of innovative finance mechanisms, CMAP believes that these efforts should not supplant traditional financing.

In the absence of adequate support at the federal level, CMAP believes that states and regions need to be given essential tools to ensure long-term funding of the transportation system. Tolling is one such tool that can help regions achieve sustainable transportation funding, and it has the advantage of being firmly rooted in the user-fee principle. However, AEIJA would not permit tolling on the existing Interstate highway system, only for projects that add new capacity.

Metropolitan Planning Process: AEIJA fails to empower metropolitan regions, despite the unique and critical role they play as drivers of the global economy. Rather, AEIJA would entrust substantial policy responsibility and regulatory discretion with the states, providing only a passive role for MPOs. It invests states with the responsibility for identifying performance targets, building plans and policies around these targets, and measuring progress based on the state's performance measures. On the other hand, the role of MPOs is largely unmentioned; the bill merely says that states must "collaborate" with MPOs, for example in setting core performance measures under the National Performance Management System. While its emphasis on performance-based planning and programming is laudable, the bill does not provide MPOs a voice in identifying priorities, policies, or selecting performance criteria, and as such it provides no assurance that investment decisions will be based on regional priorities.

CMAP strongly opposes the provision in AEIJA that would allow a Governor to overrule a metropolitan planning organization's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Section 5203 provides that if a state department of transportation and MPO cannot agree on the programming of an Interstate highway project into the metropolitan TIP, the Governor can require the MPO to include the project in its TIP without the MPO's approval. CMAP believes that this provision substantially undermines metropolitan regions' ability to prioritize and select transportation projects; as such it violates the spirit of the TIP and runs counter to decades of practice in metropolitan transportation planning.

Freight: Unlike the Senate proposals, the House bill would not provide a dedicated grant program for freight projects. The House bill would also eliminate the Projects of National and Regional Significance (PNRS) Program. Two failed amendments offered during the markup session would have established such a freight grant program and restored the PNRS program. A successful amendment removed the bill's provisions that would have substantially increased the size and weight of trucks on the Interstate system. Although CMAP supports AEIJA's freight planning provisions, it believes the bill does not provide adequate support to the nation's freight infrastructure.

Reauthorization Process
Despite some encouraging recent progress by both the House and Senate, CMAP has many reservations about both the transportation reauthorization bills. Neither increases funding above current levels adjusted for inflation, nor does either provide for sustainable new revenue sources such as a VMT fee or broad tolling authority. Rather, both stray from the tradition of user-fee financing with one-time transfers, offsets, and new revenue sources entirely unrelated to transportation. While CMAP supports the increasing focus on performance measures in federal transportation policy, neither bill allows much voice for MPOs during the process, and the House bill in particular provides little new role or responsibility for MPOs . Additionally, the House bill fails to tie performance targets to investment decisions in a meaningful way. CMAP is very concerned by the House bill's changes to the Mass Transit Account, and CMAP emphasizes its full support for a dedicated, long-term revenue source for transit projects. That said, the bills contain several promising proposals, including the Senate's reforms to transit funding and various freight provisions. Accelerated project review could benefit complex major projects in our region, and several of our surface transportation projects should be competitive applicants for discretionary grant and loan programs.