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A Plan for Achieving Wiser Investments in Transportation

By Nikki Rudnick

Conor Bindner contributed to this post.

Turning challenge into opportunity is a theme of the National Transportation Policy Project’s recently released report, Performance Driven: Achieving Wiser Investment in Transportation. The new report builds on the framework of NTPP’s 2009 report, A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy. This latest report presents a near-term solution for restructuring the federal surface transportation program. The proposal recommends policy and investment decisions given the current fiscal and political realities we face. While acknowledging the need to increase investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, NTPP argues that a responsible, accountable federal program is attainable at the level of current revenue.

Former Senator Slade Gorton, Co-Chair of NTPP, reiterated during the launch of the NTPP report that “we need to spend resources wisely no matter how much, or how little, funding might be available.” A joint statement released last December from NTPP and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission put forward a similar recommendation that “in times of severe fiscal constraint we must invest scarce public resources more wisely and efficiently, in order to maximize the reach and impact of what we spend.” This means that national transportation policy must explicitly state the goals it seeks to accomplish, ensure investments work toward these goals, and require that the investments made demonstrate the achievement of desired results. This latest report from NTPP outlines a plan for moving toward such a federal program.

Building on the core recommendations for a performance-driven program outlined in the 2009 report, NTPP’s new report is the application of that long-term vision to a near-term bill. Core recommendations that carry through both reports include a mode-neutral program with clear national purposes able to make investments that drive toward a suite of overarching national goals.

NTPP recommends a process of streamlining, consolidating and eliminating the over 100 transportation programs into ten core programs. This includes cutting more than $14 billion in current program funding. In addition to these steps which seek to advance national purposes, NTPP outlines tools for leveraging non-federal resources, including incentivizing sustainable revenue streams, reducing barriers to non-federal investment, and adjusting match funding requirements.

Further, a more robust, outcome-oriented transportation planning process is highlighted as a key tool for ensuring wiser investment decisions are made with limited resources. Former Congressman Martin Sabo, Co-Chair of NTPP, most recently emphasized this point in a statement, “Such changes [to the planning process] will enable almost everything that [NTPP] recommends in this new report, including, importantly, our capacity to invest scarce resources in the most beneficial programs. A more outcome- and performance-driven planning process is fundamental to ensuring that better investment decisions will be made.” NTPP’s proposal calls for increasing funds dedicated toward state and metropolitan planning by nearly 58% over 2009 funding levels.

The release of this report comes at an opportune time. The existing federal surface transportation authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired nearly 21 months ago. Since that time there have been continued predictions that the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would be releasing proposed bills. Our nation needs solutions for reforming the existing surface transportation policy in a way that are accountable, performance-driven, and well-suited for the current economic reality. NTPP’s plan, as highlighted by a reporter, “got into the act” with this latest report.

2011-06-22 00:00:00

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