The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is soliciting public comments about the upcoming federal surface transportation reauthorization bill. In December, TxDOT released a draft document (pdf) outlining the “policies and principles which should guide Texas’ decision makers through [the reauthorization] process.”
A new federal transportation funding bill is implemented roughly every six years. The current bill, known by its acronym SAFETEA-LU, was set to expire on September 30, but it was temporarily extended by Congress. House leaders released a draft transportation bill this summer, including $350 billion for highways, $100 billion for transit, and $50 billion for high-speed rail, but with Congress distracted by healthcare reform, neither house took action on the bill. No action on the issue is likely until later this year.
The deadline for public comments is Friday, January 15. According to the TxDOT website, “The information gathered will be used to inform Congress of the needs of the State of Texas regarding surface transportation. TxDOT seeks both general ideas and specific recommendations.” The draft policy goals outlined by TxDOT include:
Rate of Return: No single issue serves as the primary focus for the state’s relationship with the federal government on transportation matters more so than ensuring that Texas gets its fair share of the monies the state sends to Washington. The political reality of the issue is that it is highly unlikely that Texas, and other donor states, will be in a position to increase the rate of return without a substantial infusion of new funding. However, if the opportunities arise to improve the state’s rate of return then Texas Congressional Delegation should be in an informed position and ready to take advantage of it.
Clearly Established Goals and Roles: Many have argued that there has been no formally defined goal of the federal highway program since the 1950’s when the focus was on development of the Interstate Highway system. Since that time, the program has focused on, whether appropriately or not, everything from increased environmental requirements to funding many separate programs. There should be a clearly defined federal focus on addressing congestion relief in our metropolitan areas, connectivity between our urban centers, and in maintaining and preserving this nation’s highway assets.
Flexibility in Use of Federal Funds: State and regions should be able to decide where and how to spend federal transportation dollars. Specifically, this flexibility should not only exist but be encouraged across modes and types of projects. As the transportation systems of the future rely more on rail projects and tolled highway projects, the need for this flexibility will become significantly more acute.
Expedite Project Delivery: Perhaps no single issue was more of concern to local and state stakeholders than the concept of removing barriers to the expedited delivery of highway improvement projects. It is possible to deliver highway projects in an environmentally sound manner and do so in a reasonable time frame.
Comments may be submitted online or sent to:
Deputy Director, Government and Public Affairs Division
Texas Department of Transportation
125 East 11th Street,
Austin, TX 78701
Fax: (512) 463-9389
Texas Transportation Commission draft document: Policy Considerations, Reauthorization of the Federal Surface Transportation Program