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MAP-21 Implementation: States and the Future of Transportation

MAP-21 Implementation: States and the Future of Transportation

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Published by CSGovts
The passage of MAP-21, the federal surface transportation authorization bill, by Congress in 2012 provided some certainty for state transportation agencies that had dealt with short-term extensions of the previous bill for nearly three years. Moreover, the legislation included many policy changes they had long sought: the consolidation of federal programs, provisions to accelerate the delivery of transportation projects, an emphasis on performance measurement and an infusion of cash for a popular credit assistance program. But state transportation officials say the implementation of MAP-21 continues to present challenges even as the discussion must now turn to its successor--due in 2014--and the important question of how to fund the federal transportation program going forward.
The passage of MAP-21, the federal surface transportation authorization bill, by Congress in 2012 provided some certainty for state transportation agencies that had dealt with short-term extensions of the previous bill for nearly three years. Moreover, the legislation included many policy changes they had long sought: the consolidation of federal programs, provisions to accelerate the delivery of transportation projects, an emphasis on performance measurement and an infusion of cash for a popular credit assistance program. But state transportation officials say the implementation of MAP-21 continues to present challenges even as the discussion must now turn to its successor--due in 2014--and the important question of how to fund the federal transportation program going forward.

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MAP-21 Implementation:States & the Future of Transportation
This brief is an extended version of an article that appearsin the 2013 edition of CSG’s The Book of the States.
The federal surface transportation bill known asMAP-21, which President Obama signed into law July 6,2012, authorized programs and funding for two years. Inaddition to providing at least a modicum of certainty forstate transportation agencies, the legislation incor-porates important policy changes: consolidating andstreamlining programs to give states added exibility,including provisions designed to accelerate the deliveryof projects, moving ahead with a performance-basedapproach to transportation investment and providinga boost to a popular credit assistance program thatcould help some states tackle expensive projects. Statetransportation ofcials from four states in differentregions of the country say while many of these policychanges are welcome, much remains to be done toensure MAP-21’s success and to ensure the next federalbill addresses the long-term future of the federaltransportation program.
Some Greater Certainty for States
Congress passed legislation to authorize federalsurface transportation programs for two years June29, 2012. Known by the acronym MAP-21—whichstands for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21stCentury—the legislation came as something of asurprise to state ofcials, many of whom may have as-sumed Washington’s partisan gridlock of recent yearsand lack of agreement on how to sustain the federalprogram long term would doom the bill during acontentious election year. It followed nearly threeyears during which Congress extended the previousauthorization legislation—known as SAFETEA-LU—10 times.“It was literally day to day and nobody knew whatwas going to come out of it,” Rhode Island Depart-ment of Transportation Director Michael Lewissaid of the pre-MAP-21 period during a February2013 telephone interview. “Do we get a one-monthextension? Do we get an extension to the end of thescal year? Do we get an extension to the election?What happens beyond that? … There was obviouslyall the discussion (in early 2012) around how theHouse was looking at a six-year (bill) with a reducedlevel of funding and the Senate was looking at twoyears. There was a lot of heat and smoke and energybeing spent wondering what was going to happen, if anything was going to happen.”
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 Indeed, many state transportation ofcials saw thepassage of MAP-21 as a welcome relief after monthsof fearing the worst. It came just months afterCongressman Paul Ryan, the eventual Republicanvice presidential nominee, proposed a budget thatwould have cut transportation spending by 25 to 35percent.
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 “When we saw that future, we were more than hap-py to accept just a two-year bill that kept us mostlylevel while the rest of this gets sorted out,” said PaulaHammond, who retired in March 2013, after a 34-year career at the Washington state Department of Transportation, the last six as secretary.The legislation also included many policy changeslong sought by state governments that seem likely tohave an impact long after the legislation expires inthe fall of 2014.“MAP-21, I think, did a couple of things,” Ham-mond said. “It provided some stability for two yearsas the recession works its way through. … But I thinkmore importantly, what MAP-21 did was start shift-ing the policy framework for how federal transporta-tion funds will be spent.”
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Lewis agreed. “It denitely introduced many of thereforms we were looking for,” he said. “The intro-duction of performance measurement and the like,the consolidation of programs. … All those thingswere good. Obviously what it didn’t bring was a newrevenue stream and I think that’s what really pushedit to be a two-year bill, because they couldn’t affordbeyond a two-year bill.”For that reason, other state DOT ofcials sayMAP-21 did little to relieve their anxiety as theywork to plan transportation projects that won’t actu-ally be built for years.“In our world, two years is not much better thansix months,” said Tennessee Department of Transpor-tation Commissioner John Schroer. “Quite frankly, all(MAP-21) is is another extension.”
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 Where past authorization bills had been ve- orsix-year bills, MAP-21 is two years for one majorreason: Congress was only able to put together thefunding for that long. The Highway Trust Fund, onwhich many federal transportation programs rely,has seen dwindling revenues from the federal gas taxin recent years as fuel efciency has improved andother factors have taken their toll. Congress has hadto make several general fund transfers in recent years just to keep the trust fund solvent. MAP-21 relies onanother general fund transfer of $18.8 billion, as wellas an additional $2.4 billion from the Leaking Under-ground Storage Tank Trust Fund.But beyond the expiration of MAP-21 in Septem-ber 2014, there is no agreement about what happensnext: whether Congress will transfer additional gen-eral funds to again shore up the trust fund, whether itwill raise the gas tax to bring in additional revenues,whether it will cut funding for programs and projectsor whether it will seek new revenues from othersources.“The lack of certainty around the federal contri-bution is a very disruptive force … as we’re tryingto plan long-term, integrated transportation invest-ments,” said Hammond.
Impact of Federal Uncertainty
In many cases, the continuing uncertainty in recentyears has caused states to rethink the kinds of trans-portation projects they pursue.“We have a program within our department we just started doing called right-sizing,” said Schroer.“We’re starting to look at every project and askourselves, ‘Is that really the size project that we needto do or is there something that we can do that’s alot less extensive that might solve the problem andthat we could do quicker?’ … We’re building a lot of smaller projects rather than two big projects. And Ithink in the long run (it) will help with our uncertain-ty because we’re not going to need those big, majoroverhauls for a while.”Schroer said Tennessee’s approach to tackling proj-ect funding manifests itself in numerous ways.“Because we are a non-debt state, we can’t do a$500 million project,” he said. “We just don’t have thecapacity to do that. So we do a lot of $50 million and$60 million projects. We’ll divide projects in thirdsor fourths and work them out that way. … (If) ourlocal partners and our legislators think that I ought tobuild a new four-lane road on new alignment, … whatwe’re trying to do is see if we can x their issues onexisting alignments, maybe building a super two-lane(highway) rather than a four lane, and trying to gureout the minimum we can do to solve a transportationissue without building a Cadillac.“Our goal is to push back our major spendingfurther down the line with smaller spending. That haslots of advantages to it. It makes us turn projects overquicker. It lets us have an impact on our transporta-tion infrastructure a lot faster.”For others, though, the effects of uncertain federalfunding are perhaps more subtle.“We’re identifying what our needs are going for-ward no matter what the funding levels are and whatthe (funding) sources are,” said Rhode Island’s Lewis,who is serving as the 2013 president of the AmericanAssociation of State Highway and TransportationOfcials, known as AASHTO. “That doesn’t change.What changes is somewhat your prioritization, howfar deep you go in your prioritization list based onavailable resources, what the balance between preser-vation and rehabilitation and replacement is. It limitsyour ability to expand capacity because of limitedresources.”Lewis argues that states like Rhode Island don’t nec-essarily face as much uncertainty as other states do.“I’m not sure that it has a complete dampeningeffect on what your planning process is,” he said. “Be-cause for a state like Rhode Island, which isn’t ex-panding capacity—we’re repairing and rehabilitatingour existing infrastructure—and that need is there nomatter what our funding source is. It’s just a questionof how quickly you can get to that need. Can you getthere quickly enough that you aren’t losing ground
“Our goal is to push back our majorspending further down the line withsmaller spending. That has lots of advantages to it. It makes us turnprojects over quicker. It lets us havean impact on our transportationinfrastructure a lot faster.”
— John Schroer, Tennessee DOT
 
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every year? Other states that are in a growth patternare looking at large, multi-year expansion projects. Ithink it is more of an uncertainty for them than someof the states that are more in a x-it-rst mode likeRhode Island.”One byproduct of the uncertainty about federaltransportation funding may be that states are now tak-ing a proactive approach to meeting their own transpor-tation needs, according to Kirk Steudle, director of theMichigan Department of Transportation.“The fact of the matter is we really don’t thinkWashington is going to deal with this problem,”he said. “We don’t see them coming up with moremoney in the future. We don’t think that they havethe ability to do that. We’ve said that we’re taking ourfuture into our own hands and we’re going to addressour infrastructure problems right here at home. AndI think you’re seeing more and more states do that.You’re seeing a lot of states looking at sales tax, gastax, a whole variety of things.
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Program Restructuring Brings GreaterFlexibility for States
MAP-21 restructured core highway formula pro-grams, created new ones and eliminated a long list of discretionary programs. Most projects that previouslyt into those discretionary programs are now eligibleunder other programs.“I think the shrinking or the elimination of a lotof very distinct and controlled programs into fewernumbers gives us good exibility,” said Hammond.“It’s denitely confusing to learn a whole new setof terminology, but we in our state have had a veryinclusive process with our cities and counties and(metropolitan planning organizations) on how wewill split up and share the federal money wherethere’s discretion (allowed). … We looked at someof these programs … and talked a lot about whatwe wanted as a state and how we would make thedecisions and who would make the decisions abouthow some of this spending happens (and) we reacheda good conclusion. We’re comfortable with that as agroup of transportation agencies and we’re ready tomove forward with this new program structure.Schroer believes the restructuring is a signicantimprovement.“Last year, we got funded in 100 different fundcodes and that’s ridiculous,” he said. “We designedour program to t within codes so that we didn’tleave any dollars on the table. The last thing that wewant to do as a state is to leave any federal dollars inWashington. … I like the fact that it’s more stream-lined and it’s more exible and that we don’t haveto spend quite as much time trying to channel ourobjectives to t certain fund codes.”But Rhode Island’s Lewis noted that the elimina-tion of a set-aside program called TransportationEnhancements, which funded numerous bike andpedestrian facilities, among other things, around thecountry, wasn’t popular in all circles.“Some of the advocates of nontraditional trans-portation feel like maybe they were left out,” he said.“We don’t see it that way because I think we havethe exibility to include those projects under the(new Transportation Alternatives) program. … ButI think it gives us some greater tools as a state to goback to the advocates of those kinds of projects andsay, ‘Listen, (in) a state like Rhode Island that has agreater than 20 percent structurally decient bridgecount, we’ve really got to think about where we putthe money that comes to the state that has the great-est effect on the overall economy of the state.’“So I think it gives us some tools to make good de-cisions without excluding any interests or any parties.… Generally people understand if you don’t haveyour bridges in good shape, bike paths are difcult toget to.”Count Michigan’s Steudle as someone whobelieves the transition to the Transportation Alterna-tives program could create challenges for some states.Under MAP-21, states are required to sub-allocate50 percent of their funding under the program tometropolitan planning organizations.“We have turned that (portion) over to (the met-ropolitan planning organizations) and a number of them have come back and said, ‘We like the programthat you have set up that already has a competitiveprocess to it. We’d like you to just continue to dothat for us,’” said Steudle. “So I think implementingsome of those things where there are changing roles(is) going to be a bit of challenge because every timethere’s a process change, people have to get adjustedto a new process and a new way of doing business.
Environmental Streamlining & AcceleratingProject Delivery
Congress also incorporated into MAP-21 a seriesof provisions designed to accelerate transportationproject delivery and to streamline environmentalreview processes, which some believe have becomemajor contributors to project delays.According to a 2011 Congressional Research Ser-vice report, major highway projects can take 10 to 15years to plan and build.
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MAP-21 seeks to accelerateprojects in a number of ways—allowing more phasesof a project to run concurrently, encouraging earliercollaboration among state and federal agencies,reducing and consolidating paperwork and bureau-cratic requirements, and establishing new deadlinesand penalties for delays in permitting processes.The legislation seeks to streamline the environ-mental review process required under the 1970 Na-tional Environmental Policy Act, which put in placean interdisciplinary, environmental impact-focusedapproach to project planning and decision-makingfor projects that receive federal funding.
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MAP-21 restructured core highwayformula programs, created new ones andeliminated a long list of discretionaryprograms.

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