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Authorization of the Nation's Surface Transportation Funding Program: A Blueprint for Success



During the 20th Century the federal government led the way in building our nation’s greatest infrastructure systems. From the Works Progress Administration projects completed during the Great Depression to the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s and 1960s, the 20th Century will be remembered as a time when Americans took pride in building a strong and lasting infrastructure foundation. Since that time federal leadership and investment have decreased, and the condition of the nation’s infrastructure suffered. However, infrastructure’s relationship to public safety, national security, and economic competitiveness makes it clear why a strong infrastructure system has always played a critical role to the federal interest and why Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution includes infrastructure and commerce as a federal responsibility. Therefore, a strong federal role in policy and funding is necessary to assure a national surface transportation system that meets national needs.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE’s) 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded the nation’s infrastructure a “D+” based on 16 categories, a slight increase from ASCE’s 2009 Report Card. In 2013, for surface transportation categories:

  • Roads received a grade of D as compared to a grade of D- in 2009;
  • Bridges received a grade of C+, up from a C in 2009;
  • Transit received a D, showing no change from 2009; and
  • Rail received a grade of C+, up from a C-, the greatest increase in the 2009 Report Card.

These grades are a clear indication that when we invest in the nation’s infrastructure then improvements can be made, however these investments must be maintained.

The failure to achieve higher grades is caused by factors, such as deferred maintenance on aging systems and decreased funding from all levels of government, as well as a lack of compelling national leadership. Throughout the 20th Century, our nation’s leaders envisioned large scale infrastructure plans that inspired the public and contributed to unprecedented economic growth. Now much of that infrastructure is reaching the end of its design life, and we are seeing increasing problems with deterioration across all public infrastructure.

The nation continues to under-invest in infrastructure at the federal level.  The total of all federal spending for infrastructure as a share of all federal spending has steadily declined over the last 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). A key reason for the decline is the fact that federal revenues supporting the Highway Trust Fund have not been adjusted since 1993; however, the demands on the systems have grown. As a result, current levels of highway and public transportation investment cannot be maintained solely with trust fund resources and Congress has had to rely on the General Fund to shore up resources. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund is allocating more than the revenues it receives, with the trust fund allocating $15 billion more in 2012 alone. Looking forward, forecasts show that the Highway Trust Fund could become insolvent by October 2014, which would cut annual federal highway investment from $41 billion to $6 billion and annual transit investment from $11 billion to $3 billion.

Unfortunately, the cost of this continued inaction is significant for the nation and its citizens. ASCE’s 2011 economic study, Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure found that our deteriorating infrastructure will cost the American economy more than 876,000 jobs and suppress the growth of our GDP by $897 billion by the year 2020. Furthermore, the nation’s surface transportation systems are facing a funding gap of about $94 billion a year with our current spending levels. This continued inaction will not only lead to a further deterioration of the nation’s surface transportation assets, but also will act as a drag on the economy due to problems with goods movement.  It means a continuation of high levels of traffic casualties, wasted time and fuel, and increased air pollution due to increasing congestion.

If we are going to build an infrastructure that will serve the needs of the new century, we will need bold leadership and a compelling vision. We must be certain to preserve and maintain the foundations that past generations have built for us, but at the same time recognize a new, overarching approach is needed. The authorization of the nation’s surface transportation is an excellent place to start.

This document focuses on surface transportation specifically, but the needs reach across all aspects of the nation’s infrastructure. To compete in the global economy, improve our quality of life, and raise our standard of living, we must successfully rebuild America’s public infrastructure.

In 2014, Congress must authorize the federal law that funds the nation’s surface transportation programs.  The ASCE, representing more than 140,000 civil engineers, believes the authorization should focus on four goals for surface transportation:

  • Expanding infrastructure investment;
  • Maximizing infrastructure effectiveness;
  • Building for the future; and
  • Enhancing infrastructure delivery.

Additionally, sustainability, resiliency, and ongoing maintenance must be an integral part of improving the nation’s surface transportation system. As infrastructure is built or rehabilitated, life-cycle cost analysis should be performed to account for initial construction, operation, maintenance, environmental, safety, and other costs reasonably anticipated during the life of the project, such as recovery after disruption by natural or manmade hazards.

I. Expanding Infrastructure Investment

Key Components:
  • Increase Funding to Provide Adequate Infrastructure Investment
  • Long-term Viability of Fuel Taxes for Transportation Finance
  • Innovative Financing

ASCE supports a reliable, sustained user fee approach to building and maintaining the nation’s surface transportation systems. In 2012 the Highway Trust Fund allocated $15 billion more than the current revenue streams brought in, making the Highway Trust Fund reliant on continued transfers from the General Fund. Congress should approve a long-term Highway Trust Fund revenue solution to complement Moving Ahead for Progress in the Twenty-First Century’s (MAP-21) policy reforms before the law expires in September 2014. This long overdue combination would maximize the ability of federal resources to build and maintain a national surface transportation network that boosts economic competitiveness and job creation.

Establishing a sound financial foundation for future surface transportation expansion and preservation is an essential part of authorization.  Despite increased funding levels in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), and Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the nation’s surface transportation system requires even more investment.  The current spending of $91 billion per year, from all levels of government, for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $170 billion needed annually to improve conditions.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimates a maintenance backlog of nearly $78 billion needed to bring all transit systems up to a state of good repair. Demand for freight rail transportation is projected to nearly double by 2035 requiring an estimated $148 billion in improvements to accommodate the projected rail freight demand increase. The Passenger Rail Working Group (PRWG), estimates that an annual investment of $7.4 billion through 2016, totaling $22.2 billion, is needed to address the capital cost of a proposed intercity rail network. With funding as the cornerstone of any attempt to authorize the nation’s surface transportation programs, it is imperative that a variety of funding issues be advanced as part of ASCE’s overall strategy.  

Increase Funding to Provide Adequate Infrastructure Investment
ASCE supports the following items for infrastructure investment and believes that all revenue options must be under consideration as Congress works to reauthorize MAP-21:

  • Revenue sources for the Highway Trust Fund to maintain current levels of highway and mass transit investment - $41 billion per year for highways and $11 billion per year for transit.
  • Additional investment, beyond current levels, to maintain the current conditions of the surface transportation infrastructure as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation Conditions and Performance Report, and for system improvement, including congestion relief, freight mobility, and traffic safety.
  • A 25 cent per gallon increase in the motor fuels user fee to accomplish the above levels of investment.  
  • A maintenance of effort requirement to ensure that all levels of government are making comparable financial commitments to improve the nation’s surface transportation system.  
  • The user fee on motor fuels should be indexed to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), in order to preserve the purchasing power of the fee.
  • All motor fuels, including alternative fuels, should be taxed equitably.
  • Congress should preserve the current firewalls to allow for full use of trust fund revenues for investment in the nation’s surface transportation system.
  • The authorization should maintain funding guarantees.
  • Tolling, mileage-based user fees, vehicle taxes, state sales taxes, congestion pricing, container fees, and transit ticket fees must all be considered in the development of revenues for the maintenance and improvement of the surface transportation system.
  • The current flexibility provisions should be maintained. The goal of the flexibility should be to establish an efficient multi-modal transportation system for the nation.
  • The development of a freight mobility program to guarantee the efficient movement of freight and reduce system congestion.
  • The creation of a permanent commission to determine the levels at which motor fuel user fees should be set, and when those fees should be increased.
  • Efficiency in delivering infrastructure projects to shorten delivery times and decrease costs.

While the motor fuels user fees are an important element of the current revenue stream feeding the Federal Highway Trust Fund, that revenue continues to erode in value due to its inherent inelastic nature and improving vehicle fuel economy.  Three strategies must be advanced to remedy this condition.  First, raise the motor fuels user fee by 25 cents per gallon.  This would provide a much needed infusion of funding towards the $170 billion per year need from all levels of government.  In tandem with raising the motor fuels user fee, ASCE believes that it is important to shore up the weakness of the motor fuels user fee and its inability to retain value over the long term by adding a provision to the law that would index it based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  This would allow the rate to adjust, thus reflecting the current economic conditions of the nation.  Finally, motor fuels other than gasoline (diesel, ethanol, bio-diesel, etc.) must be taxed in a manner equitable to the gasoline user fee.

With the establishment of firewalls on the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a condition was created wherein the states could count on their funds in a long term investment strategy and have certainty in advancing large multi-year projects.  These firewalls must be maintained to ensure the integrity and viability of the Trust Fund.  This will be especially important as user fees are increased and Trust Fund levels rise.  

Long-term Viability of Fuel Taxes for Transportation Finance
ASCE supports the need to address the issue of future sources of revenue for surface transportation funding.  Congress should allow for the exploration of the feasibility of the most promising funding options that will ensure the viability of the Trust Fund.  In particular, the impacts of increased fuel efficiency and alternate fuel technologies such as fuel cells should be studied. A mileage-based system for funding our nation’s surface transportation systems also needs further study, and the recommendation of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission calling for a transition to a mileage-based user fee system must be considered.  A federal effort to follow up on the work done in Oregon should be executed to determine the practicality of such a program.  This data will be critical in determining how to generate Trust Fund revenue as the nation’s dependence on gasoline as a fuel source for automobiles is reduced.

Innovative Financing
While recognizing that innovative financing is not a replacement for new funding, ASCE supports innovative financing programs and advocates making programs available to all states where appropriate.  Additionally, the federal government should make every effort to develop new programs.  These types of programs include the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, National and State Infrastructure Banks, and Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles.  It should be noted, however, that innovative financing does not produce revenue, and should not be seen as an alternative to increasing direct user fee funding of surface transportation infrastructure.

Innovative financing techniques can greatly accelerate infrastructure development and can have a powerful economic stimulus effect compared to conventional methods.  This is the current approach in South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, where expanded and accelerated transportation investment programs have been utilized.  

ASCE recognizes Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as one of many methods of financing infrastructure improvements.  ASCE supports the use of PPPs only when the public interest is protected and the following criteria are met:

  • Any public revenue derived from PPPs must be dedicated exclusively back to comparable infrastructure facilities in the state or locality where the project is based.
  • PPP contracts must include performance criteria that address long-term viability, life cycle costs, return on public and private investment, takeover and turnback, and residual value.
  • Transparency must be a key element in all aspects of contract development, including all terms and conditions in the contract. There should be public participation and compliance with all applicable planning and design standards, and environmental requirements.
  • The selection of professional engineers as prime consultants and subconsultants should be based solely on the qualifications of the engineering firm.

ASCE supports the development of PPP selection and contract provisions by governing agencies to protect the public interest. Examples include input from affected individuals and communities, design and construction quality, environmental impacts, construction impacts, effectiveness, accountability, transparency, equity, public access, consumer rights, safety and security, sustainability, long-term ownership, completion schedule, maintenance condition, operational performance and reasonable rate of return.

II. Maximizing Infrastructure Quality/Effectiveness/Efficiency

Key Components:
  • Transportation System Safety
  • System Preservation
  • Operations and Maintenance

Transportation System Safety
Current safety practices and incremental improvements do not go far enough in addressing the need to reduce the fatalities, injuries, and economic costs associated with highway crashes.  ASCE advocates a significant, sustained effort to reduce deaths and injuries as a result of crashes through improvements in all aspects of highway system performance.  The further development of highway safety professionals is essential to achieving any type of improvement in the safety of the surface transportation system.

ASCE supports a program where significant enhancements in highway safety and the resulting reduction of highway crashes can be achieved by:

  • Establishing a national highway safety goal;  
  • Fully implementing Strategic Highway Safety Plans required to be developed under MAP-21;
  • Establishing and maintaining complete, current and accurate traffic crash data systems;
  • Inspecting and auditing existing roadway systems to identify roadway hazards and safety improvement opportunities, and implementing highway and other engineering-related improvements proven effective in reducing the potential for, and severity of, traffic crashes;
  • Enhancing the organizational prominence of highway safety within federal, state, and local transportation agencies to provide a more effective voice in agency administration, leadership development, and program direction;
  • Requiring the safety, interests, and convenience of all users – drivers, bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities – be considered in the design, construction, operations, and management of transportation projects.
  • Improving work zone safety and mobility;
  • Continuing to improve understanding of motor vehicle performance characteristics, as well as the interaction between vehicle standards and highway system design on highway safety, and to improve the overall effectiveness of existing motor vehicle standards;
  • Encouraging universities to continue to include highway safety issues in educational programs for engineering and other highway professionals;
  • Incorporating new technology, better management practices, and a better understanding of the effect of human factors into all levels of transportation systems;
  • Supporting  additional funding for highway safety research and for the education of highway safety professionals;
  • Expanding the development and application of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) programs to enhance highway traffic safety;
  • Increasing law enforcement to address driver behavior and other factors contributing to accident causation;
  • Improving and expanding public education programs to increase driver awareness of attitudes and behavior that affect highway safety; and,
  • Providing flexibility in federal aid funding programs for high priority highway safety improvement programs, and to continue targeting national safety problems through categorical funding.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 8 and 34 remains motor vehicle accidents.  In the last century, as a result of highway accidents, America has lost more than five times the number of citizens killed in all wars since 1775 – a total of 3.3 million lives lost to traffic crashes.  

Statistics indicate that roadway conditions are a significant factor in approximately one-third of all U.S. traffic fatalities. Recently, roadway fatalities have been on the decline annually, totaling 32,885 fatalities in 2010, or a drop of nearly 24% since 2005. Nevertheless, these crashes cost the U.S. economy $230 billion each year according to The Road Information Project (TRIP). Reducing exposure to obstructions, adding or improving median barrier systems, and widening lanes and shoulders offer opportunities to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Our nation’s economy and our quality of life require a highway and roadway system which provides a safe, reliable, efficient and comfortable driving environment, and nearly 33,000 fatalities annually is unacceptable.

System Preservation
The surface transportation system does not meet today’s needs. The transportation system must be expanded to grow the economy and to meet today’s needs as well as the demands of future generations.  Currently, 32% of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, costing U.S. motorists who are traveling on deficient pavement $67 billion a year, or $324 per motorist, in additional repairs and operating costs.  Unfortunately, current spending of $91 billion per year for highway capital improvements is well below the $170 billion needed annually to maintain a state of good repair and substantially improve these conditions.  At a minimum, a major goal of the surface transportation program must be to protect the investments that have been made through timely repair and maintenance of transportation assets.

The current state of the infrastructure is such that we cannot wait to replace existing structures and so must be committed to timely repair and maintenance. Further, possible effects due to climate change such as extreme temperature swings, higher sea levels, and increases of extreme weather including hurricanes will continue to degrade the quality of the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. Embedded in any plans for future improvements to the nation’s surface transportation system should be a strong component aimed at preserving the current system.

Operations and Maintenance
ASCE strongly endorses federal leadership in increasing the focus on transportation operations and maintenance and thereby enhancing performance, in particular by addressing congestion relief, and preserving our investment in the transportation system.

There is a clear and present need for an increased focus on transportation operations and maintenance at all levels – federal, state, regional, and local.  This need is based on several factors:

  • An aging transportation infrastructure;
  • Growing congestion and incident problems are causing transportation system performance to be a top priority in many areas of the country;
  • Capacity constraints and costs of new construction are forcing the examination of alternative solutions and place a premium on maintaining and improving the existing transportation system;
  • Customers desire travel choices, better information, and increased reliability to meet their mobility needs; and
  • An efficient and responsive transportation system is critical to meeting homeland security priorities.

An increased focus on transportation operations can enhance performance of the transportation system regarding:

  • Improved traffic and transit operations including reduced congestion and improved mobility;
  • Improved safety and public safety responses;
  • Incident management;
  • Improved economic competitiveness, including interstate commerce;
  • Network and facility management;
  • Energy conservation and reduced environmental impact;
  • Traveler and shipper information; and
  • Bicycle and pedestrian mobility.

ASCE considers it essential that the following issues regarding Operations and Maintenance be considered in the authorization bill:

  • Homeland security initiatives.  Transportation operations and homeland security can benefit from joint planning and sharing of resources such as communications infrastructure and traffic control operations.  Transit security and preparedness, international border security, asset security and tracking, vulnerability assessment, and creation of system resiliency are important priorities for both transportation operation and homeland security.
  • Support for state and local agencies.  Beyond establishing transportation operations and management as a national priority, the Federal role should be to support and assist state and local entities in accomplishing related goals.  This includes support of research and development, provision of tools, promotion of best practices, and enhancement of education and training at all levels.
  • Provision of flexible funding.  Flexibility in funding could greatly enhance the opportunity of meeting operations and maintenance needs.  Expanding funding eligibility for operations and maintenance programs, enabling direct funding to local and regional operating agencies, and simplifying and clarifying federal funding processes are important initiatives that should be considered.
  • Encouragement of public-private partnerships.  The private sector has much to offer in the areas of operations, management and technical skills. Partnership with the public sector can better serve the transportation needs of the country.
  • Support specific programs. The following programs are also of significance and require special attention:  
    • Incident management programs;
    • Intelligent Transportation System programs;
    • Support for regional cooperation and partnerships; and,
    • Congestion mitigation programs.

The DOT should encourage local matching and innovative funding. The federal government has a role in exploring and promoting best practices related to innovative funding for operations and maintenance.

III. Building for the Future: Sustainable System Expansion and Intermodality

Key Components:
  • Sustainable System Expansion
  • Freight Mobility
  • Rail Systems
  • Transportation Research Programs

Sustainable System Expansion
To compete in the global economy, improve our quality of life and raise our standard of living, we must successfully renew America’s public infrastructure. Faced with that task, the nation must begin with a significantly improved and expanded surface transportation system. The surface transportation system authorization must be founded on a new paradigm; instead of focusing on the movement of cars and trucks from place to place, it must be based on moving people, goods, and services across the economy. Beyond simply building new roads or transit systems, an intermodal approach must be taken to create a new vision for the future.  This new vision must address: resiliency in the face of climate change; a strong link to land use; sustainability of the system; the use of commodities; and, anticipation of changes in demographics - especially age and urbanization.

ASCE supports the vision of a National Intermodal Transportation System that is economically efficient, environmentally sound, provides the foundation for the nation to compete in the global economy and will move people and freight in an energy efficient manner.  Support for partnerships among the federal, state and local governments, with various citizens, groups and firms from the private sector are essential to further develop a truly intermodal system.

ASCE supports government policies that encourage anticipation of and preparation for possible impacts of climate change on the built environment.  Global or local climate change could pose a potentially serious impact on the nation’s surface transportation system.  According to the Transportation Research Board, “the greatest impact of climate change for North America’s transportation systems will be flooding of coastal roads, railways, transit systems, and runways because of global rising sea levels, coupled with storm surges and exacerbated in some locations by land subsidence.”  Long-term transportation plans should consider climate change impacts and their effect on infrastructure investments particularly in vulnerable areas.  Today’s investment decisions will affect how well the infrastructure adapts to climate change far into the future.

Programs of the federal, state and local governments must emphasize the need to consider a wide range of multimodal options and new technologies in the development of transportation plans, programs and projects, and in the comprehensiveness and usability of information systems available to individuals and others engaged in the movement of people and freight.

A primary emphasis of passenger intermodalism is to facilitate connections between the private automobile and other access modes and public transportation systems. For example, park-and-ride facilities provide critical connections for mass transit commuters using automobiles for a portion of their trips. Another example is the use of intelligent transportation systems to generate on-demand information on door-to-door multi-modal trip options, thus providing convenient opportunities for people to evaluate and choose more efficient routes and mode choices.  Of course, the best example of intermodalism is linking land use and transportation; designing our communities so that people have the option of leaving their automobiles at home and using walking, biking, and public transportation to meet their mobility needs.

No matter how good a solution is, if it is not affordable, it will not solve the problem. Financial resources are very limited throughout the country. Construction costs have increased significantly and federal and state funds are not keeping pace with demand. Wise investment in transportation infrastructure requires sensitivity to available funding. Virtually all project development processes offer a range of options with different costs, corresponding to different levels of value. However, the importance of understanding alternatives based on the value to price ratio is often overlooked.

Frequently, one objective is given as an absolute mandate, which must be met at all costs. Alternatively, the concepts of “return on investment” and “right sizing” recognize the growing importance of evaluating the value to price ratio on proposed alternatives. Performance measures such as cost per existing trip, cost per new trip, and cost per time savings for a representative trip may be used to better understand the return on a proposed investment.

Advancing projects already in the “pipeline” that were justified on outdated criteria may not lead to the most effective investment strategy. States should be encouraged to analyze long range plans to identify projects that could be “right-sized” to be more cost effective and more responsive to the goals and metrics above. An audit process should:

  • Articulate DOT criteria to help local jurisdictions better understand what project elements may and may not be funded by DOTs given current budget realities.
  • Work with local or regional bodies to help identify common project prioritization criteria.
  • Develop a program to reframe and broaden the technical criteria that would be considered for projects, link transportation and land use, leverage connections off of DOT systems, and more fully consider multiple modes of transportation.

Specifically, ASCE would support plans that strive to achieve these outcomes:

  • Increased safety;
  • Reduced congestion;
  • Increased security;
  • Improved environmental stewardship;
  • Improved incident response;
  • Improved mobility and mode choice;
  • Facilitated interstate commerce;
  • Increased employment opportunities;
  • Improved international competitiveness; and
  • Energy conservation.

Freight Mobility
As the U.S. economy has expanded to global markets, the movement of goods and services has concurrently increased its reach. Freight must now move across vast distances, usually through a combination of modes. The Interstate Highway System has resulted in a truck-dependent model, and thus goods do not always move seamlessly from one mode to the next. To meet the demands of the global economy, the surface transportation authorization must enhance and improve connectivity and level of service to the major intermodal terminals including seaports, airports, rail terminals, ports of entry, and inland intermodal terminals. Inherent in the authorization must be a paradigm shift that focuses on the movement of people, goods, and services, rather than simply cars and trucks.

The volume of freight being moved on the nation’s railways continues to increase and is expected to double by 2035, requiring an estimated $148 billion in improvements to accommodate the projected rail freight demand increase. Freight and passenger rail generally share the same network, and a significant potential increase in passenger rail demand will add to freight railroad capacity challenges. Interstate commerce remains the historic cornerstone in defining the federal role in the nation’s transportation system.  The authorization of the surface transportation program must provide for a strong federal role in freight mobility and intermodal connectors.  This should include the creation of a program funded with new dedicated revenue to provide new capacity and operational improvements focused on securing safe, efficient movement of freight.

Rail Systems
Additionally, ASCE supports the development, construction and operation of an expanded passenger rail transportation system within the United States, including advanced technology high speed ground transportation (HSGT) systems. As regional and intercity transportation corridors in the United States become increasingly congested, investments in intercity passenger rail systems, including HSGT, are increasingly attractive as part of an overall transportation mobility strategy to provide added capacity and high quality service. Investments in this technology are cost effective, environmentally responsive and energy efficient and should be considered as companion investments to traditional highway and air modes. These investments include both conventional wheel-on-rail systems and new technologies. Other nations, in Europe and Asia in particular, have invested heavily in the development and construction of new HSGT systems and intercity passenger rail networks over the past four decades. While the U.S. has spent substantial sums in highway and air passenger networks, North America has lagged in the development and implementation of efficient, relatively low-polluting, and high-capacity intercity passenger rail and HSGT networks.

The Passenger Rail Working Group (PRWG), of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, estimates that an annual investment of $7.4 billion through 2016, totaling $22.2 billion, is needed to address the capital cost of a proposed intercity rail network. It is further estimated that an additional $158.6 billion is needed between 2016 and 2030, and that an additional $132.2 billion must be invested between 2031 and 2050 to achieve the ideal inter-city network proposed by PRWG.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) still estimates a maintenance backlog of nearly $78 billion needed to bring all transit systems up to a state of good repair.  A federal rail trust fund should be developed to fund rail improvements, using the 80/20 match formula to encourage state participation. Revenues for this trust fund could come from sources such as a tonnage fee, mileage fee, ticket tax, and/or general treasury funds. ASCE also encourages the use of innovative financing methods like revenue bonds and tax exempt financing at the state and local levels, public-private partnerships, and state infrastructure banks.

Transportation Research Programs
Research and technology are critical to achieving national transportation goals in infrastructure performance and preservation, safety, quality of life, economic health, environmental quality, sustainability, and security.  Increased levels of funding for research and technology activities are justified based upon generally high returns on research investment. Total research and technology funding for activities corresponding to Division E in MAP-21 should be at least $550 million per year.

The Highway Trust Fund has been an essential source of funding for surface transportation research and technology (R&T) for decades.  Research results have led to many benefits including: materials that improve the performance and durability of pavements and structures; design methods that reduce scour (and consequent threat of collapse) of bridges; intelligent transportation systems technologies that improve safety and reduce travel delay; methods and materials that radically improve our ability to keep roads safely open in severe winter weather; innovative management approaches that save time and money; analytical and design approaches that reduce environmental impacts and improve the aesthetic and cultural aspects of transportation facilities; and many more.

One key way to reduce the investment gap (the difference between Highway Trust Fund revenues and funding needs as outlined by the Conditions and Performance Report) is through research.  Research outcomes can improve the performance and durability of transportation infrastructure, the results being reduced operations and maintenance costs and less frequent replacement of infrastructure elements.  This can only be accomplished through strong federal leadership in transportation research.  The Exploratory Advanced Research Program funded in MAP-21 has the potential to be the lead program in providing improved materials, designs, and processes that can transform the performance of the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure.
Other research programs that can continue to contribute to the improvement of the highway system include the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) research and technology program, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), and state department of transportation programs largely funded through State Planning and Research (SPR) funds.  In the transit area the main programs are those of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP).  The University Transportation Centers (UTC) program supports research across most transportation modes.

ASCE strongly supports avoidance of earmarking in federal research programs and endorses free and open competition among non-federal entities to perform research utilizing federal funding.

Within the context of the general principles set out above, ASCE supports the following actions regarding specific surface transportation R&T programs:

  • Funding for the research and technology portion of the State Planning and Research (SPR) program should be maintained to help support state-specific activities while continuing to encourage the states to pool these resources to address matters of mutual interest.
  • University research should continue to be supported through the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program using a competitive selection process that guarantees quality participants and fairness in the allocation of funds.
  • The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) research and technology program should be strengthened by giving it sufficient funding and flexibility to implement the recommendations of Transportation Research Board (TRB) Special Report 261: The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology, which include: to focus on fundamental, long-term research; to perform research on emerging national issues and on areas not addressed by others; to engage stakeholders more consistently in their program; and to employ open competition, merit review, and systematic evaluation of outcomes.
  • The recommendations of TRB Special Report 295 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006-2009, Strengths and Weaknesses should be implemented.
  • The Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP II) should be continued, ensuring that critical research and implementation of research will be continued in key areas of surface transportation.
  • The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) research program should be free of earmarks and allocations and given flexibility to work with its stakeholders to develop and pursue national transit research priorities.
  • The Transit Cooperative Research Program should be funded at a minimum of $20 million per year.
  • The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) should have a well-defined scope and responsibility and appropriate funding, in addition to currently authorized research funding, so that it may supplement and support the R & T programs of the modal administrations.

IV. Enhancing Infrastructure Delivery

Key Components:
  • Expedited Project Decision Making
  • Expedited Project Delivery
  • Procurement of A/E Services
  • Core Competencies of Government Agencies

ASCE applauds the array of provisions contained in MAP-21 to increase innovation and improve efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability in the planning, design, engineering, construction, and financing of surface transportation projects. Congress must now provide oversight to ensure that the changes to the law are implemented and the U.S. Department of Transportation will need to interpret the language and seek out input from relevant stakeholders.

Expedited Project Decision Making
While the goal of MAP-21 is a streamlined process, some of the statutory language is complex. Going forward, ASCE supports maintaining the progress made under MAP-21 on project delivery and recommends Congress should take an active role to ensure that these changes are implemented efficiently.

In particular, ASCE is pleased to see that MAP-21 includes the following provisions:

  • Revamp and simplify the regulatory regime affecting infrastructure planning and implementation to be less prescriptive and confining and more performance-based and flexible.
  • Reform the rules to be more concise, outcome oriented, plainly written, common sense oriented and supplemented by best practice models that encourage continuous improvement.
  • Require only the application of relevant Federal guidelines to specific projects.  Though other Federal guidelines may exist, if they are extraneous and would only slow the project decision making process, they should not be utilized.

ASCE is also pleased to see that the legislation included language to conduct concurrent reviews, and the designation of a lead agency to manage the process.  In addition, State and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) transportation planning requirements have been reconciled with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, and combined with better coordination of federal agencies, to eliminate redundancy and streamline the decision making process.

Now that Congress has made vital changes to the project decision making process, ASCE urges for the federal government to implement these measures in an expeditious manner.

Expedited Project Delivery
With structural, safety and service issues spurring the need for renewing, replacing and expanding an aging infrastructure, the nation's long-term economic vitality and quality of life will be affected by whether project planning, financing, and delivery systems can keep up the necessary pace.

The answer lies in reforming processes for planning, financing, and delivery of infrastructure, and doing so in a way that retains and builds upon vitally important and successful principles and practices.  For example, improving the environmental review process cannot be at the expense of protecting and enhancing environmental quality; streamlining project delivery cannot be at the price of weakening market forces, reducing competition, or project quality.

In order to expedite the delivery of surface transportation projects ASCE would support the following recommendations as put forward by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission:

  • Revise Council of Environmental Quality regulations to allow additional factors to narrow the number of alternatives considered as “reasonable alternatives”:
    • Alternatives should be appropriate for project-level (rather than planning-level) decisions
    • Alternatives should reflect community values; and
    • Alternatives should reflect funding realities.
  • Standardize the “risk design” approach under federal regulations so that project sponsors can proceed with design activities for any project during the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.

ASCE supports provisions in MAP-21 that work to expedite the project delivery process. These measures should now be implemented without further delay, including:

  • Handle impact identification and mitigation issues early by considering them in an integrated fashion, looking at overall resources rather than in a sequential, project-by-project basis. This might involve addressing these issues at the programmatic level earlier in the planning process.
  • Require greater coordination among Federal agencies reviewing transportation project permits, including:
    • Setting time limits for review; and
    • Using federal transportation funds to pay for regulatory staff to speed reviews and comply with time limits.

Procurement of A/E Services
Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) Procedures ASCE believes that the selection of professional engineers as prime contractors and subcontractors should result from competition based on the qualifications best suited to complete the work successfully.  Cost of engineering services, while important and meriting careful negotiations and performance accountability, should be secondary to professional qualifications.

Accordingly, ASCE supports the qualifications-based selection (QBS) procedures specified by the Brooks Architect-Engineers Act of 1972 and the American Bar Association's Model Procurement Code for State and Local Governments for the engagement of engineering services.

Architectural and engineering firms are encouraged to submit annually a statement of qualifications to the agencies concerned with the procurement of the firms’ professional services.  The agency must evaluate current statements of qualifications on file with the agency, together with those that may be submitted by other firms and then select in order of preference, no less than three of the firms deemed to be the most highly qualified to provide the services required, based upon criteria which he [the agency head] has established and published.

The agency then enters into negotiations with the firm deemed most qualified, and a contract is let if a fee (comprising the architect's or engineer's cost of performing the services, plus their anticipated profit) that is fair and reasonable to the government can be agreed upon.  In making his determination, the agency head must take into account the estimated value of the services to be rendered and their scope, complexity, and professional nature.

In the event the most qualified architect or engineer is unwilling to perform the prospective services for a fee that is determined to be fair and reasonable to the Government, negotiations are terminated and the agency head must then enter into negotiations with the second most qualified firm. Failing to reach agreement with that firm, negotiations are commenced with the third most qualified firm.

If a contract with any of the highest qualified firms cannot be negotiated, additional firms must be selected in order of their competence and qualification, and negotiations continued until a contract is consummated.  Under this procedure, negotiations are conducted on the basis of a detailed analysis of the cost to perform the required service, plus a reasonable profit.  Architects and engineers know that, regardless of high ranking, their failure to agree to a fee that is fair and reasonable to the government will deprive them of the opportunity to obtain the contract in question and that the government will initiate negotiations with other firms.

Design-Build Source-Selection Procedures ASCE strongly supports the use of the two-phase competitive source-selection process required by the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1996 for design-build contracts awarded by government agencies.  The design-build team must be selected using the modified qualifications-based selection (QBS) criteria specified by the law.ASCE recognizes that federal and state agencies have increasingly relied on the use of design-build service contracts in the construction of public works projects.  The process incorporates the design and construction of projects into a single procurement and allows the federal agency to delegate all responsibility for designing and constructing a project to an outside party through one design-build contract.

A prime contractor or joint venture is commissioned to carry out the design and construction of a project.  A design professional who renders A/E services may be employed directly by the prime contractor as part of the design-build team or the design work may be awarded to a subcontractor by the prime contractor.

The design-build method reduces the owner's administrative burdens by putting the entire project into one overall contract.  This means there is little need for the owner to coordinate among the various project contractors and subcontractors.  The project delivery time may be reduced, and there is an opportunity for construction engineering and techniques to be considered earlier in the project through designer project collaboration.  Finally, design-build also may simplify the implementation of project changes during actual construction.

Core Competencies of Government Agencies
ASCE believes it is appropriate that civil engineers employed both in the public and private sectors are allowed to perform engineering functions and tasks for government agencies.  It is in the best public interest for federal, state and local government agencies performing engineering to maintain expertise within their organizations by employing civil engineers and providing for their professional development.  It is also in the public interest for federal, state, and local agencies not to compete with engineers in private practice.  Public sector engineering projects that can be accomplished more efficiently by private engineering firms should be contracted out with proper oversight by the public agency.  The resulting ratio of in house to contracted engineering services should be based upon the agency's on going project and policy requirements rather than rigid rules or percentages fixed by legislation or regulation.

Approved by the National Transportation Policy Committee on April 22, 2013
Approved by the Policy Review Committee on May 4, 2013
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 12, 2013