Friday, January 29, 2010

National Transportation Policy Project Advances Call for Federal Surface Transportation Policy Reform

The National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) held its fourth public forum in conjunction with New York University’s Rudin Center in New York City on January 25th. This forum, similar to three previous forums in Seattle, Detroit, and Minneapolis, convened some of the region’s highest ranked transportation leaders as well as some of the nation’s policy thought leaders. The forum served to present a regional dialogue among representatives from the three states in the region: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Stakeholders from around the region convened along with an audience of nearly 200 attendees to discuss the future of federal surface transportation policy and funding. Using the recommendations and framework put forth by the NTPP report, Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy as a guide for the discussion about the challenges and opportunities that lie in front of our nation, speakers and attendees were consistent in their call for needed reform in transportation policy and their belief that the NTPP report could serve as a model in this regard.

Former Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), one of four co-chairmen of the National Transportation Policy Project hosted the forum event at the New York University Kimmel Center. A few of the featured speakers included: U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, highest ranking Northeastern member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Gregory G. Nadeau, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie; New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan; and Elliot Sander, Chief Executive of Global Transportation for AECOM.

The existing federal surface transportation law in this country (SAFETEA-LU) expired at the end of September 2009 and has since that time been operating under a series of short-term extensions with the most recent to expire at the end of February 2010. This means there is now an important, timely opportunity for reform. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen whether there is the political momentum and resolve to pull off the reform necessary to improve investments and economic conditions in this country. As was highlighted by the New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan during the NTPP forum, the transportation sector is in a long queue of national issues needing to be addressed. Christopher Boylan, Deputy Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), echoed Commissioner Sadik-Khan’s concerns, but cited the NTPP report as one of the more balanced and realistic approaches to the transportation policy and funding problems facing our nation. Gregory G. Nadeau, Deputy Administrator of FHWA congratulated the BPC and NTPP members on their contribution to the transportation policy debate during this historic, transformative time in transportation. These are critical times for our nation, our economy, and our transportation system.

Commissioner Sadik-Khan highlighted connections between many of the themes and recommendations put forth by NTPP and those contained in Chairman Oberstar’s Surface Transportation Authorization Act: safety, reduction of metropolitan and freight congestion, increased transportation choice, and reducing greenhouse gases. This overlap is promising in the sense that it indicates there is some Congressional muscle behind these ideas, but it is still unclear how those ideas will ultimately manifest themselves in moving legislation. Some of the best and brightest in the country are coming to consensus that the NTPP strategy is the type of approach we need to move forward, providing states and metropolitan regions maximum flexibility to spend federal transportation dollars in a way that advances agreed upon national goals.

The NTPP makes clear in its report the connections between addressing our nation’s transportation challenges and our economic competitiveness. Robert Yaro, President of the Regional Plan Association, articulated this connection during the NYC NTPP forum when he said that the United States needs to be carefully watching and considering Asian and European countries that are making major transportation and infrastructure investments. Many countries have reformed their governance systems to move ahead with similar recommendations to those included in the NTPP report. Yaro argued that if we really care about the future of this country, sustaining our standard of living, sustaining our place in the world, we have an obligation to move ahead with increased investment in the transportation system.

Convincing the American people that restructured and increased investment in transportation and infrastructure is fundamental to the success of the country is a major challenge, but is a major part of what needs to happen next. The NTPP forums, now having been held in four major metropolitan regions around the country, are helping lead this educational, advocacy charge. If the reforms outlined by NTPP are implemented, as Mr. Yaro noted, it would begin the process of convincing the American people that every nickel of federal investment is going to be accounted for and well spent.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project is one of many groups calling for new competitive programs with broad investment goals to be established through which federal transportation resources could be allocated. The New Starts program, administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), is essentially the only discretionary transportation program that offers a history of this type of programmatic design and implementation. At the New York City NTPP forum the Project released a research paper written by Donald J. Emerson and Jeffrey D. Ensor, consultants with Parsons Brinckerhoff, New Starts: Lessons Learned for Discretionary Federal Transportation Funding Programs. This research paper analyzed the New Starts program to identify lessons learned and to highlight components that might be relevant for newly established competitive programs. The intention of this research commissioned by NTPP was not to learn how to improve the New Starts program, but rather how to take lessons learned through analysis of the programmatic features of this program to be able to develop discretionary federal funding programs that are merit based, avoid earmarks, and can obtain Congressional support.

Check out full video coverage of the New York City NTPP forum or visit the National Transportation Policy Project to learn more about our ongoing work on federal transportation policy reform.