Peters Announces Transportation Funding Reform Plan
A clean and historic break with the past is needed to encourage the future vitality of our country's transportation network, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, who yesterday unveiled the Bush Administration's new plan to refocus, reform, and renew the national approach to highway and transit systems in America.
"Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken. And no amount of tweaking, adjusting, or adding new layers on top will make things better," Peters said. "It is time for a new, a different, and a better approach."
Peters said the plan sets a course for reforming the nation's transportation programs by outlining a renewed federal focus on maintaining and improving the Interstate highway system, instead of diverting funds for wasteful pet projects and for programs clearly not federal priority areas like restoring lighthouses.
Addressing urban congestion and giving greater flexibility to state and local leaders to invest in their most needed transit and highway priorities is another key focus of the reform plan, Peters said. Local leaders will have greater freedom and significantly more resources to fund new subways, bus routes or highways as they choose, based on the needs of local commuters instead of the dictates of Washington.
As part of this focus on congestion, the plan would create a Metropolitan Innovation Fund that rewards cities willing to combine a mix of effective transit investments, dynamic pricing of highways, and new traffic technologies, Peters added.
The reform plan also calls for greatly reducing more than 102 federal transportation programs which have proliferated over the last two decades replacing them with eight comprehensive, intermodal programs that will help focus instead of dilute investments, and cut the dizzying red-tape forced upon local planners, she said.
Peters said a hallmark of the plan is a refocused and redoubled emphasis on safety, using a data- and technology-driven approach that also gives states maximum flexibility to tackle their toughest safety challenges. Using a data-driven approach, she said, we are and must continue focusing on issues that put drivers, commercial drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk, including crashes involving drunk drivers, motorcycles, work zones, and rural roads.
And to improve the current 13-year average it takes to design and build new highway and transit projects in the United States, Peters said the federal review process would be streamlined to ask the same stringent environmental and planning questions, but get answers more quickly.
Peters emphasized that central to any reform for transportation is finding new revenue sources to supplement the unpredictable and unsustainable gas tax, in order to fund maintenance and pay for new needed projects. She said the gas tax is an antiquated mechanism, underscored by the current climate of high gas prices. According to Peters, more direct pricing options like tolling are needed and states must be empowered to take advantage of the more than $400 billion available worldwide for infrastructure investments from the private sector.
Peters said she will personally brief members of Congress on the contents of the plan this week. A copy of the reform plan is available at www.fightgridlocknow.gov. A copy of the remarks can be found at www.dot.gov/affairs/peters072908.htm.