WASHINGTON — Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood today called on Congress to pass what he called a “comprehensive, forward-looking reauthorization program.”
Addressing the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, LaHood said he recognized that there is a lot of capacity and demand for additional transportation investments across the country that neither stimulus packages nor a newer jobs bill can provide.
The current reauthorization bill expired last year and has been extended by Congress.
“We need to empower regional and local transportation authorities to invest in the kinds of projects that will spur economic growth, enhance livability and preserve the qualities that make each area special,” LaHood said. “To achieve our priorities, we’ll pursue more flexible partnerships with states, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, transportation agencies and local communities. And we’ll continue to break down our ‘stovepipe’ mentality so we can focus on investing our tax dollars in projects that really matter.”
During his address at the meeting, LaHood announced that in a dramatic change from existing policy, he was proposing that new funding guidelines for major transit projects be based on livability issues such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits, in addition to cost and time saved, which are currently the primary criteria.
LaHood revealed the Obama administration’s plans to change how projects are selected to receive federal financial assistance in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New Starts and Small Starts programs.
As part of this initiative, the FTA will immediately rescind budget restrictions issued by the Bush administration in March of 2005 that focused primarily on how much a project shortened commute times in comparison to its cost, LaHood said.
“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” LaHood said. “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”
The change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward. In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects.
“This new approach will help us do a much better job of aligning our priorities and values with our transit investments,” FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said. “No longer will we ignore the many benefits that accrue to our environment and our communities when we build or expand rail and bus rapid transit systems.”
FTA will soon initiate a separate rulemaking process, inviting public comment on ways to appropriately measure all the benefits that result from such investments.
“The bottom line is, we’re going to ensure that our priorities, and the outcomes people care about, drive our investments – and not the other way around,” LaHood said.
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