Plans to pursue new transportation projects likely would get a boost under a plan to reform the nation’s surface transportation programs, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said during a visit to several U.S. cities this week, including Boston, Houston, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C. U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Thomas Barrett echoed Peters’ sentiments while visiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Peters said that under the new plan, state and local officials would have significantly greater resources and flexibility to design, finance and complete meritorious projects. She noted that as a result, projects would have an easier time getting built under the new plan than they would under today’s approach to transportation projects.
Peters said central to the reform plan is a new Metropolitan Mobility Program for major urban areas with populations of more than a half-million people. The program would give mayors and local officials a direct payment of federal funds and unprecedented flexibility to invest the federal dollars in their most pressing transportation needs, whether it is expanding transit systems or new highways, she said.
“Cities shouldn’t have to pray for earmarks or plead for niche grants simply to get commuters moving again,” Peters said. “Our plan fixes that by making urban congestion a priority and giving local leaders the money and flexibility they need to get traffic flowing again.”
Instead of having to slice and dice federal dollars to qualify for many different niche programs with a tangle of different rules, city leaders would receive one lump federal funding allocation with one overarching criteria – that the projects stand up to a benefit-cost analysis, Peters said. Projects that can demonstrate positive results for commuters and good investments for taxpayers would be rewarded, instead of the current system that rewards rampant earmarks, political muscle and bridges to nowhere, she said.
As part of the focus on urban congestion, the reform plan also provides incentives for innovation in cities willing to try something new, Peters said. 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. “We want to make it easier for communities like this to generate funds for other, equally ambitious new transit and highway projects,” she said.
Peters said the plan lays out the administration’s reform framework and is intended to spur local, state and federal debate about how best to incorporate the new reforms into surface transportation legislation that Congress will consider this fall. Additional details on the reform plan are available at www.fightgridlocknow.gov.