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November 9, 2011

MAP-21 Passes Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Today the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously recommended its two-year transportation reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) to the full Senate (click for full text). The bill would continue the federal highway program for two years at current funding levels plus inflation. Early reports peg the total funding level at $85.3 billion, with some $12 billion to $13 billion in funds not yet identified. According to this summary provided by the committee, MAP-21 would consolidate the number of federal programs from about 90 to less than 30, eliminate earmarks, accelerate project delivery, and expand the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit assistance program. Additionally, it would reform the transportation planning process, dividing metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) into two tiers, those with more than 1,000,000 residents (Tier I) and those with 200,000 to 1,000,000 residents (Tier II); MPOs smaller than 200,000 residents would be dissolved unless otherwise determined by the Secretary of Transportation and relevant Governor. Tier I MPOS would be held to performance-based standards, incorporating explicit performance targets, and potentially scenario-based planning processes, into their regional plans. We reviewed the bill in this Policy Update, Transportation for America has provided this overview of the bill's core programs, and Transportation Issues Daily offers this analysis of the potential impacts of the proposed core programs.

Although the release of a long-term reauthorization bill is a welcome milestone, MAP-21 has several shortcomings. First, MAP-21 does not increase funding to maintain, modernize, and judiciously expand the transportation system. At a time when federal and state gas taxes have failed to keep pace with the costs of construction, MAP-21 maintains the same funding level as SAFEETEA-LU, adjusted for inflation. Moreover, MAP-21 is not fully funded, and it seems likely that efforts to fill this gap will stray from user-fee principles. GO TO 2040 strongly supports continuing the user-fees tradition to generate new revenues through more-efficient mechanisms, which should be better structured to reflect actual maintenance and operations needs as well as the costs of congestion. These mechanisms should be bolstered in the short term, and a replacement revenue stream should be explored as automobiles become more fuel-efficient.

Additionally, MAP-21 does not discuss tolling, except to say that HOV-HOT conversions are permitted, that tolls can be used to pay back TIFIA loans, and that congestion pricing projects are eligible for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program and Transportation Mobility Program (TMP) funding. Past authorization bills created pilot programs to provide states and regions with tools to more efficiently manage existing assets, as well as access to innovative finance mechanisms. CMAP supports broader tolling authority of the federal-aid highway system, particularly in support of congestion pricing projects.

That being said, MAP-21 provides positive reforms. Its emphasis on performance measurement among MPOs, state departments of transportation, and the U.S. Department of Transportation will improve accountability to the public and promote the overall cost effectiveness of federal programs. CMAP has already incorporated performance targets and scenario-based planning in GO TO 2040. Additionally, the reduced number of core programs in MAP-21 should provide states and metropolitan areas with greater flexibility in programming federal funds, and a streamlined regulatory process should accelerate the delivery of highway projects. Larger CMAQ and TMP programs imply an expanded role for metropolitan areas in allocating funds to regional priorities as well.

MAP-21 also makes progress on two transportation issues critical to northeastern Illinois: freight and projects of national significance. The establishment of a National Freight Program with dedicated funding should help relieve freight congestion in key corridors and encourage more strategic investment. Regional freight projects such as the CREATE program are but one example of nationally significant initiatives in our region. An expansion in the TIFIA and Projects of Regional and National Significance programs could help fund large, complex projects with broad impacts on congestion, air quality, and goods movement in the Chicago region and beyond. Such projects would include the major capital projects identified in GO TO 2040.

MAP-21 faces a long road ahead. The bill will need to incorporate transit and rail titles from the Senate Banking and Commerce Committees, and the necessary financing will need to be identified by the Senate Finance Committee. Additionally, a final Senate bill will potentially need to be reconciled with a corresponding bill passed by the House of Representatives. Current surface transportation programs expire March 31, 2012.