Tuesday, July 3, 2012

MAP-21 or ATLAS-T 1000 ½?

So, to most people’s surprise (including mine) we have a 2+ year Reauthorization bill, with more or less steady spending levels and more or less steady programs.  The sighs of relief can be heard emanating from every state DOT and MPO!
The final bill has the Senate name, MAP-21.  I think of it as ATLAS-T 1000 ½: AT Least it’s an Authorization bill for Surface Transportation (although 1000 days late and one-half the size it should be).
It’s an ungainly combination of current programs, a few relatively progressive Senate provisions, and a few turn-back-the-clock House provisions.  There’s a lot to digest and both congressmen and commentators have begun to point out the flaws (some troublesome transit provisions, setback for Transportation Enhancements, etc.) and some of the opportunities (at least a nominal start on national objectives and performance measures, freight planning, etc.).  I may offer a few thoughts on some of these in the future.
For now, two general comments:
First, the funding for the bill is obviously unsustainable.  It depends on a patchwork of unrelated financing provisions that pay for two years.  Although the creativity of politicians in avoiding revenue issues should never be underestimated, this would seem to be the last hurrah for the current transportation finance system. 
Second, two years is probably the right amount of time for everyone to take a deep breath, get through the election cycle, and focus intently on a new bill.  My preference is to start with a new draft bill that does what really needs to be done:
1.     Double (or more) the size of the program.
2.     Enact sustainable funding.
3.     Reach and maintain a state of good repair for our existing systems.
4.     Double (or more) the mileage of fixed guideway transit.
5.     Create (at least in some places) genuine transit networks that provide the density, frequency, speed, quality, and connectivity that make them an all-purpose mobility system for a majority of users.
6.     Build regional backbones of a national high-speed rail network.
7.     Redesign and rebuild the national highway system as a real “all-weather” network that keeps working in almost all conditions.
8.     Rethink, replan, design, and build community-scale transportation.

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