Transformational’ Change Planned for U.S. DOT

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With the federal transportation bill reauthorization coming later this year, handwritten notes being circulated around Capitol Hill show conceptual plans for narrowing the gap between federal funding of highways and bridges and that of transit, plus “transformational” changes to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

While there was no mention of school buses, the two-page outline by House Transportation Chair James Oberstar (D-MN) being circulated around Capitol Hill says the reauthorization would create “the future of transportation” with a new undersecretary or assistant secretary for intermodalism that would meet monthly with all modal administrators. The outline includes the phrases “national strategic plan” and “mega-projects” in the list of agencies that would take part in the monthly meetings.

The Department of Transportation’s 108 programs would be reduced to four “major formula programs,” those being critical asset preservation, highway safety improvement, surface transportation program and congestion mitigation and air quality improvement. The surface transportation program section suggests the nation’s 68 metropolitan planning organizations receive sub-allocations based on population.

The DOT and states would design six-year targets for each of four performance categories, and the framework would ask for annual reports to DOT and Congress as well as posting data online. This would include transit equity to “level decision-making factors between highway and transit projects/choices” that promote more heavy or light rail lines or bus rapid transit type projects. It would also retain the Safe Routes to School Program, which was created under SAFETEA-LU in 2005, and would include rural roads and railroad grade crossings under necessary highway safety improvements.

A bill is not expected until after the Memorial Day recess amid the need to collect priorities of other committee members and work necessary to determine revenue sources for the highway trust fund, which is expected to be bankrupt by the end of the current fiscal year.