Read the 2013-14 Workplan for House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit

House side of U.S. Capitol. Image – Transportation Issues Daily.

The House Transportation Committee has agreed that the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit will work on the following issues during this Congress. Other issues will come up that the panel will almost certainly study as well.

You can see the issues for all the Subcommittees here.

SUBCOMMITTEE ON HIGHWAYS AND TRANSIT

1. MAP-21 Implementation. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) reauthorized Federal surface transportation programs for the first time since 2005. Enacted in July of 2012, MAP-21 represents an investment in the Nation’s transportation infrastructure that translates into safer travel, more efficient commerce, faster project approval and delivery, and the creation of thousands of jobs. A large part of the Subcommittee’s oversight activities in the 113th Congress will focus on implementation of MAP-21, specifically in the following areas:

Streamlining Project Delivery. MAP-21 reformed the project approval and delivery process for transportation and infrastructure projects. Time delays and inefficiencies in project delivery not only postpone needed improvements in our Nation’s transportation infrastructure, but often result in increases in the cost of projects. MAP-21 streamlined this process by: allowing Federal agencies to carry out their obligations for a project concurrently with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review for that project; instituting a financial penalty to each Federal agency that misses a deadline as part of the NEPA environmental review process; and providing categorical exclusions from the NEPA process for repair or reconstruction of an existing facility damaged by an emergency, for projects within the right-of-way, and for projects that receive limited Federal funding. Most significantly, MAP-21 requires that all environmental reviews for a project be completed within four years. The Subcommittee will monitor and evaluate DOT’s implementation of these project delivery provisions.

Program Consolidation and Elimination. MAP-21 consolidated or eliminated nearly seventy DOT programs. Many of these programs served similar purposes and several of them were no longer necessary because the nature of our transportation system has changed over time. By consolidating some DOT programs and eliminating others, MAP-21 allows DOT to become more effective and efficient. The Subcommittee will monitor the implementation and effectiveness of program consolidation, as well as the organizational and staffing level changes at DOT, to ensure the agencies are structured and staffed in a way that is consistent with the changes made in MAP-21.

Performance and Accountability. MAP-21 emphasized performance management by incorporating performance measures into the highway, transit, and highway safety programs. These performance measures will provide a more efficient Federal investment by focusing Federal funding on national transportation goals, increasing accountability and transparency, and improving transportation planning and project selection. These changes require state DOTs, localities, and public transit agencies to consider performance objectives in their transportation plans and project selection. The Subcommittee will monitor DOT’s implementation of these performance management requirements, as well as the ability of states and public transit agencies to accurately collect and utilize relevant performance data.

Efficient Movement of Freight. The United States economy relies heavily on the surface transportation network for the efficient movement of freight. MAP-21 recognizes the importance of freight movement to all aspects of American life and incentivizes projects that improve freight movement by increasing the Federal share for such projects. The Subcommittee will conduct oversight of freight-related issues and the relevant provisions in MAP-21 to determine whether the surface transportation network is adequately accommodating current and future freight movement needs.

New Starts. MAP-21 streamlines the project development process for the New Starts program by setting time limits on environmental reviews and consolidating the steps the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must take in the project approval process. The Subcommittee will continue to conduct oversight on FTA’s management of the New Starts program to ensure that the MAP-21 reforms are implemented in a way that expedites the lengthy process of moving a new fixed guideway transit project through development and into construction. The Subcommittee will also monitor the New Starts program to determine whether further reforms are warranted.

Transit Safety Oversight. Statistically, rail transit is among the safest modes of transportation. However, there have been some high profile rail transit accidents resulting in fatalities and injuries around the country in recent years. MAP-21 included several provisions related to transit safety. Rather than granting FTA broad regulatory authority, MAP-21 built on the transit State Safety Oversight model that was already established in law and provided a dedicated stream of Federal funding for the state agencies that oversee the safety of rail transit systems. MAP-21 also required each recipient of Federal transit funding to institute a public transportation agency safety plan before it can obligate Federal funding. The Subcommittee will closely oversee FTA’s implementation of the transit safety provisions in MAP-21 to ensure that it is being done in a way that is consistent with Congressional intent.

Public Transportation Emergency Relief Program. MAP-21 establishes a public transportation emergency relief program to fund transit projects that have suffered damage as a result of a natural disaster or a catastrophic failure. This program may also fund transit operating expenses in areas impacted by a disaster or catastrophic failure if the area meets certain eligibility criteria. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused substantial damage to transit systems in New Jersey and New York. However, in October 2012 FTA was still in the process of implementing the provisions in MAP-21 establishing the Public Transportation Emergency Relief program. The Subcommittee will oversee the implementation of the Public Transportation Emergency Relief program to ensure that the program is being established and implemented in accordance with Congressional intent and to ensure that the funding distributed through the program meets the eligibility requirements in law. The Subcommittee will also evaluate funding expenditures from the Public Transportation Emergency Relief program to determine whether projects to mitigate the impacts of future disasters should be funded through the Emergency Relief program or through other FTA programs.

2. Sustainability of Surface Transportation Programs. The Federal highway, highway safety, and public transportation programs are user-fee financed through Federal excise taxes levied on motor fuels and on various highway-related products such as tires and heavy trucks. Revenues from these user fees are deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and may be used only for eligible transportation projects and activities. Current projections show that the cash balances in the HTF’s Highway Account will be depleted sometime in fiscal year 2015, while the HTF’s Mass Transit Account will be depleted at some point late in fiscal year 2014. The Subcommittee will monitor the status and solvency of the HTF, and its ability to fully fund the programs authorized under MAP-21 and to meet future surface transportation investment needs.

3. Innovative Financing. In order to provide the greatest number of project financing options to state DOTs, Congress has focused on implementing innovative financing measures. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, tolling options, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) are all tools that state DOTs can use when capitalizing surface transportation projects. The Subcommittee will continue to evaluate and determine the proper role that innovative financing tools and private investment may play in financing transportation projects and the factors that should be considered in making such determinations. The Subcommittee will also assess the extent to which states and localities are already using innovative techniques to finance projects and the extent to which states and localities have the fiscal and technical capacity to take advantage of these innovative financing options.

Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. MAP-21 amended the TIFIA program in order to increase the impact and efficacy of these funds. MAP-21 increased the eligible Federal share of TIFIA projects to 49 percent, increased the amount of TIFIA funds to $1.75 billion over two years, made key reforms to ensure that funds were more readily available for projects that qualify for the TIFIA program, and eliminated the unofficial political “super-qualifications” that were sometimes imposed on TIFIA applications. The Subcommittee will monitor how these changes are implemented and determine whether any further amendments are necessary to maximize the usefulness of this program, as well as DOT’s management of the program and oversight of projects receiving TIFIA credit assistance.

Tolling. MAP-21 also expanded the ability of states to collect toll revenue from facilities on the Federal-aid highway system. Specifically, any project that adds new lane capacity to the Interstate System can be tolled. States continue to have the ability to toll roads that are not on the Interstate System. Toll revenues can be used for debt service for the project, operating costs of the toll facility, or, if the toll facility is adequately maintained, then the revenue can be used for any other highway or transit project for which Federal funds may be used. The Subcommittee will evaluate how DOT is implementing the tolling provisions in MAP-21 and how states use this expanded tolling authority and determine whether any further changes are warranted.

Innovative Finance Guidance to State and Local Governments. MAP-21 requires that DOT develop best practices for how state and local governments can work with the private sector to develop, finance, construct, and operate surface transportation projects in a manner that advances the public interest. While the decision to pursue a PPP is a state or local decision, MAP-21 requires DOT to provide technical assistance to states and local officials who are interested in pursuing PPPs for transportation projects. The Subcommittee will monitor DOT to ensure that they are providing requisite guidance to state and local governments interested in PPPs.

4. Transportation Planning and Major Construction Projects. The Subcommittee will conduct oversight of statewide and metropolitan transportation planning, as well as major highway and transit construction projects. The Subcommittee will analyze the board structure of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to determine whether they contain a requisite level of technical expertise. Furthermore, the Subcommittee will examine the relationship between MPOs and state DOTs and public transit agencies to determine the appropriate level of interaction and cooperation between these three entities. As part of the Subcommittee’s oversight of transportation planning, major surface transportation construction projects will also be examined to ensure that the planned cost for these projects is not being overrun. Many of the Nation’s largest transportation projects experience significant cost overruns, and the Subcommittee will investigate these overruns to determine if they are due to changes in the construction market, project mismanagement, or other causes.

5. Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) identified limitations in its compliance and enforcement model used to measure the safety performance of motor carriers and target carriers for enforcement by the agency. On December 13, 2010, FMCSA launched its new Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program, which uses existing safety data collected by FMCSA and state agencies to better target enforcement activities at truck and bus companies that have a history of safety violations. FMCSA believes that CSA will allow them to “do more with less” by identifying high risk companies, focusing resources where they are most needed, and improving the safety records of those companies. During the 112th Congress, the Subcommittee held a hearing on the effectiveness of the CSA program and the impacts on truck and bus companies. As a result of the hearing, the Subcommittee requested an audit of the program by the DOT’s Inspector General. The requested date for completion of the audit is late 2013, and the Subcommittee will continue to monitor developments with the CSA program.

6. Hours of Service. Since 1937, the Federal Government has set limits on the number of hours commercial drivers may be on duty and spend behind the wheel in order to promote the safety of truck and bus operations. On January 4, 2003, in response to a Congressional mandate enacted in 1995, FMCSA published new hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for all property-carrying interstate motor carrier operators. The HOS rules have been the subject of ongoing litigation since 2003. On December 27, 2011, FMCSA issued a final rule revising the HOS requirements for commercial truck drivers. The new HOS final rule limits a truck driver’s work week to 70 hours and stipulates that drivers cannot drive after working eight hours without first taking a break of at least 30 minutes. In addition, the rule requires truck drivers to take a “34-hour restart” in order to restart the clock on their work week. The “34-hour restart” provision must overlap during two periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The new HOS regulations become effective on July 1, 2013. The trucking industry has raised concerns that the proposed changes are overly complex, potentially reducing productivity. Law enforcement personnel have questioned whether the rules will require additional training for effective enforcement. The Subcommittee will maintain close oversight of the rulemaking process to ensure it furthers FMCSA’s primary mission of safety, while ensuring the efficient movement of freight throughout the U.S. economy.

7. Highway Safety and Traffic Fatalities and Injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that highway fatalities fell to 32,367 in 2011, marking the lowest level since 1949 and a 1.9 percent decrease from the previous year. This represents a 26 percent decline in traffic fatalities overall since 2005. However, fatalities increased in 2011 among large truck occupants (20 percent), bicyclists (8.7 percent), pedestrians (3.0 percent), and motorcycle riders (2.1 percent). Highway fatalities have high societal costs. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates, the average cost of a roadway fatality is $6 million and the average cost of a roadway injury is $126,000. The Subcommittee will monitor the efforts and effectiveness of programs carried out by NHTSA, FMCSA and FHWA to improve highway safety.

8. Innovative Technologies. The Subcommittee will provide oversight on the development and demonstration of new transportation technologies that improve efficiency and safety on our Nation’s highways and transit systems. Research in this area will help create jobs by encouraging development of sophisticated technologies that many state DOTs and localities could implement on their roads, transit systems, and bridges. Implementation of these technologies can improve operational performance of the surface transportation network, which allows for the better use of the existing capacity on roads and transit systems. DOT is currently researching connected vehicle technologies, which are designed to increase situational awareness and reduce or eliminate crashes through vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure data transmission that supports: driver advisories, driver warnings, and vehicle and infrastructure controls. The Subcommittee will monitor developments in this area and ensure that such developments maximize the efficiency of the Nation’s transportation system and the safety of its users to ensure the research carried out under these programs achieves the objectives established by Congress, and is being conducted and deployed in an effective manner.

9. Research Structure at the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation’s research, development, and technology program is established to foster innovations leading to effective, integrated, and intermodal transportation solutions. MAP-21 established the following objectives for DOT research activities: improving highway safety, improving infrastructure integrity, strengthening transportation planning and environmental decision making, reducing congestion, improving highway operation, enhancing freight productivity, and exploratory advanced research. The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) oversees the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program. RITA’s Joint Program Office has Department-wide authority in coordinating the ITS program and initiatives among FHWA, FMCSA, FTA, and NHTSA, as well as the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Maritime Administration. Research activities at DOT are scattered among many different agencies and offices. Concerns have been raised in regards to how this structure affects the overall research effectiveness of the Department. The Subcommittee will conduct oversight activities to determine the appropriate way to administer the Department’s research programs.