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President Signs 2008 DOT Appropriations Bill

President Signs 2008 DOT Appropriations Bill

President Bush signed the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill on December 27, 2008 that contained funding for Department of Transportation programs. Funds for the remainder of the 2008 Fiscal Year for MCSAP grant programs should be available to the states in the near future.

Reauthorization Process Begins

Surface Transportation Panel Recommends Restructuring of Major Programs Including Highway and Motor Carrier Safety

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, created by SAFETEA-LU, issued its final recommendations on January 15 setting the stage for what promises to be a reauthorization process quite different from those in the past. It may, in fact, be the most significant reauthorization legislation considered since the Interstate Highway System was first created in 1956. It should be stressed at this point that these are only recommendations to Congress. They will be considered at length by the current Congress as well as the new Congress to convene a year from now in January 2009.

What has drawn the most headlines so far is the recommendation which could result in nearly tripling the federal fuel taxes over the next eight years to meet the growing needs of our surface transportation system. But in reality, the other recommendations of the Commission are every bit as newsworthy.

It recommends that all existing programs at the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as well as certain infrastructure programs of the Federal Railroad Administration, be repealed and replaced with ten new programs that would, in many instances, cut across modal and bureaucratic boundaries.

The ten programs would be a system maintenance and “state of good repair” program, a multi-modal national freight program, a congestion relief program for urban areas over one million in population, a consolidated safety program, a suburban and rural connectivity program, a high-speed passenger rail corridor development program, an environmental stewardship program, an alternative fuels development program, a federal lands program, and a research and development program.

The overarching consolidated safety program would subsume current FHWA, NHTSA and FMCSA efforts and would focus on driver-related programs (seat belts, helmets, DUI repeat offenders) as well as safety infrastructure. The report recommends a national goal of reducing annual traffic fatalities by 50% by 2025. The federal share of projects would be 90%. Strategies recommended that should be considered in state and local plans affecting motor carrier safety are:

  • stronger enforcement of safety laws including speed limits, seat belt laws, impaired driving and using technology to do so
  • enhanced adjudication of highway safety laws to impose penalties commensurate with the seriousness of the offenses
  • enhanced motor carrier safety programs to reduce crashes caused by driver fatigue, unsafe operators, and automobile drivers who do not know how to share the road with large trucks
  • highly visible public education campaigns to make everyone aware of the severity of highway safety problems

Buried in another section of the Report covering Congestion Pricing is a recommendation that an adjustment be made to hours-of-service regulations to take into consideration the need for rest breaks to accommodate congested metropolitan areas.

The federal funding for these new programs would be distributed in a very different manner than under existing programs. At present, the funding for these programs is based on a variety of statutory formulas such as how many lane-miles or miles-traveled or taxable gallons sold or transit riders in a given jurisdiction, divided by a national total. Also, under present law, Congress earmarks individual projects or DOT selects projects on its own criteria.

Under the Commission’s plan, existing formulas would be abolished and funds for most programs would be distributed according to a need-based approach where each state or jurisdiction would receive its share of the “cost to complete” the projects necessary to fill those needs. This in effect establishes performance-based standards for each of the ten programs and establishes detailed ground-up state and regional project plans in cooperation with states and localities. Uniform performance and cost-benefit standards for all plans would be required since a consolidated national strategic plan would be the basis for apportioning funds.

The Commission proposes to put the coordination of the plans at arms length from both Congress and the Administration by outsourcing the oversight of this task to a new permanent National Surface Transportation commission (NASTRAC). The models for such a panel are the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and the Postal Rate Commission.

The details of just how this would affect existing FMCSA programs and the MCSAP and other state safety grant programs are not spelled out. About all that can be said is that it would be a “huge leap” from the motor carrier safety funding programs we have been used to ever since MCSAP was created in the 1982 highway reauthorization legislation. We don’t know if ever or when any of these recommendations will actually see the light of day. But you will be hearing and learning much more about them in the days ahead. We have the same learning curve and will try to provide further understanding and insight the best we can.

CVSA’s Reauthorization Committee Begins Job of Establishing Priorities

On January 7 and 8 of this new year, CVSA’s Reauthorization Committee under the Chairmanship of Alan Martin (Ohio Public Utilities Commission) met in Washington, D.C. The first entire day was devoted to hearing from all of CVSA’s safety and industry partners on what their reauthorization priorities are. Altogether the Committee heard from eleven different representatives.

The second day was devoted to discussing the top eleven reauthorization issues that have emerged from the recent membership survey which are:

  1. providing more flexibility in state grant programs
  2. establishing a more effective compliance review process
  3. minimizing or repeal exemptions from federal motor carrier safety regulations
  4. resolving the issue of lack of uniformity of regulations affecting inter and intrastate operations
  5. revising the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) formula
  6. determining a weight threshold for application of the FMCSRs
  7. making the new entrant program work better
  8. establishing a single point of carrier registration, credentialing and safety data access
  9. improving drug and alcohol programs
  10. improving outreach programs
  11. resolving the funding and jurisdictional issues relative to the truck size and weight program

Between now and CVSA’s Spring Workshop in Denver in late March, the Committee will be working to further develop these issues and come up with specific recommendations to be incorporated in the upcoming reauthorization legislation.

Finally, just a very preliminary observation. The Reauthorization Committee’s discussion about the need to provide more flexibility and a performance-based, cost-benefit driven approach to developing a state motor carrier safety enforcement plan seems to be in line with a major theme of the Surface Transportation Commission report discussed earlier in this article. Also, some of the safety strategies in the Commission report appear similar to some of the issues discussed by the Reauthorization Committee.