July 9, 2012 — Well, last week, Congress did something they haven’t done much of lately – agree on something. They were finally able to approve a new transportation bill. Now it was not your typical 5-6 year bill – this one was a 27-month bill. The new bill is called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21. Personally, I am glad we are done with the “TEA” series of bills (ISTEA, SAFETEA-LU).
So, what did we get with this new bill? Well, we now have 27 months of needed funding certainty after almost three years of multi-month extensions. The legislation also includes yet another bailout of the Highway Trust Fund by the General Fund, averting a significant cutback in federal funding as a result of us spending faster than dollars going into the trust fund. Finally, the bill includes significant and needed reforms, including program consolidation, streamlined project delivery, and development of performance measures.
What we didn’t get was the most important thing the program needs – a long-term increase in funding to be able to address the growing transportation needs of our country. This Congress left that action for the next Congress to address. The reforms we did get are significant and needed. The use of performance measures is a good approach to be able to report on the progress we have made towards improving the system…or will it? I find it ironic that a Congress that will not increase needed funding now requires development of performance measures that will document that the condition of our transportation systems continues to deteriorate!
This legislation reminds me of the action taken by our own state legislature in the late ‘90s when, rather than increase the gas tax, they instead required the state to develop an asset management approach to managing our roads and bridges. Don’t get me wrong – that was a great idea, but for the past 10 years we have been documenting the deterioration of our road system and – guess what – they have not passed an increase in funding! I hope we are not about to do this again.
Look to SEMCOG’s Web site for our summary of the key components of the bill. If you are ambitious, you can read the whole report yourself.
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