September 4, 2012 - From the September, 2012 issue

Metro’s David Yale on MAP-21: It’s Shock Therapy for a Flatlining Gas Tax

On August 15th Metro hosted an event on the recent passage of MAP-21, explaining “everything you want to know about the new Federal Surface Transportation Bill.” The bill was passed by Congress this summer, marking the end of years of political wrangling and short-term extensions. TPR is pleased to share the comments delivered at the event by David Yale, Executive Officer of Regional Programming for the Countywide Planning Department of Metro, who focused on how MAP-21 will affect transportation development in California and Los Angeles. Yale’s remarks are followed by a brief summary of the bill by the Federal Highway Administration, outlining its impact on the National Highway System. 


David Yale

"This is a break-even bill for Los Angeles County and for the nation. The gas tax is a flat tax; it has not been adjusted for 18 years in California. Budget cuts of as much as 20% were avoided, both cuts that would have originated as Federal budget cuts and cuts that could have originated as formula cuts. Los Angeles County has avoided both with this bill." -David Yale

David Yale: Make no mistake about it—this federal bill is about taxes versus national debt. It is shock therapy for a flat lining gas tax:  those taxes lose value over time because they are based on the number of gallons sold, not the price of gas.  

California is no stranger to legislative gridlock, and when our gridlock spread to DC, we feared the worst.  That Congress acted at all is a miracle. We should view this as a transitional bill and thank our stars that deeper cuts were avoided.  

This is a break-even bill for Los Angeles County and for the nation. The gas tax is a flat tax; it has not been adjusted for 18 years in California.  Budget cuts of as much as 20% were avoided, both cuts that would have originated as Federal budget cuts and cuts that could have originated as formula cuts. Los Angeles County has avoided both with this bill.

The single most important policy initiative in the bill is the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) changes.  These changes were intended to encourage the use of California’s self-help model: we’ll tax ourselves to pay for transportation and the federal government will help us accelerate projects through low interest loans.  Los Angeles County’s Measure J is a tangible demonstration of this federal policy strategy in action.

State-of-good repair gains on the transit side of MAP-21 come at a critical time because these needs are growing rapidly.  Our success in this formula program depends upon the treatment of busways, like the El Monte busway.  If they are in used the federal formula calculation, we’ll do better.  

The exact impacts on Los Angeles also depend on the actions of the state of California:  Los Angeles County has a population as large as that of the state of Michigan and needs the clarity that can only be gained by implementing legislation.  Every other reauthorization has been followed by an implementing action of the state legislature.

Some Matters are fairly settled: Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality CMAQ - the most important program for the South Coast Air Basin - appears to be non-controversial. 

Some matters are not settled: For the Regional Surface Transportation program (RSTP), the distribution is now 50%/50% regions versus the State as compared to the former 62/38. Program Consolidation has resulted in off-system bridges being combined with the Surface Transportation Program. This is a key issue to resolve in state legislation.

The former TEA program—The Transportation Enhancements Activities program—is now an optional Transportation Alternatives Program and now includes other these programs

And Transportation Museums are no longer eligible – I don’t think Los Angeles County went for one in the first place anyway.

We believe the State of California can and should opt to continue these programs.

Here is another area where the impact on Los Angeles County of the consolidation of programs under MAP-21 depends on state legislation. Again, every other reauthorization has had such legislation.

On the transit side, the state of good repair program could be our biggest win in the bill, and the need here is where we may need the most help.  We are currently studying these needs and are finding a backlog of transit state-of-good repair needs that must be addressed.  The answer to the question of state of good repair formula funding results depends upon a national data set of busways that does yet exist:  so we can’t be sure of our success yet.

Finally, we are of course very excited to take advantage of the America Fast Forward provisions of the bill.

Los Angeles County is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of this program.

Environmental clearances are completed or nearly completed for many projects:  We have been working ahead, and the advantages of moving to construction now are enormous. Bids are still competitive in this down economy. Interest rates are at historic lows due to the flight to safety.  Metro bonds and treasury bills are both considered very safe. And transportation jobs are sorely needed with unemployment in double digits in Los Angeles County.

The TIFIA program and the acceleration it could afford Metro is a good government thing:  Uncle Sam loans us the money, we pay them back at their interest rate cost, and we employ people on long term projects whose life exceeds the term of the loans used.

Our ask in not large over a decade:  If the TIFIA loans are expanded each year for a decade, we need only 4% of the national lending capacity to make our project acceleration plans a reality.

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Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/summaryinfo.cfm)

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005. MAP-21 represents a milestone for the U.S. economy – it provides needed funds and, more importantly, it transforms the policy and programmatic framework for investments to guide the growth and development of the country’s vital transportation infrastructure.

MAP-21 creates a streamlined, performance-based, and multimodal program to address the many challenges facing the U.S. transportation system. These challenges include improving safety, maintaining infrastructure condition, reducing traffic congestion, improving efficiency of the system and freight movement, protecting the environment, and reducing delays in project delivery.

MAP-21 builds on and refines many of the highway, transit, bike, and pedestrian programs and policies established in 1991. This summary reviews the policies and programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration. The Department will continue to make progress on transportation options, which it has focused on in the past three years, working closely with stakeholders to ensure that local communities are able to build multimodal, sustainable projects ranging from passenger rail and transit to bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Setting the course for transportation investment in highways, MAP-21:

• Strengthens America’s highways:

MAP-21 expands the National Highway System (NHS) to incorporate principal arterials not previously included. Investment targets the enhanced NHS, with more than half of highway funding going to the new program devoted to preserving and improving the most important highways --the National Highway Performance Program.

• Establishes a performance-based program: Under MAP-21, performance management will transform Federal highway programs and provide a means to more efficient investment of Federal transportation funds by focusing on national transportation goals, increasing the accountability and transparency of the Federal highway programs, and improving transportation investment decisionmaking through performance-based planning and programming.

• Creates jobs and supports economic growth:

MAP-21 authorizes $82 billion in Federal funding for FYs 2013 and 2014 for road, bridge, bicycling, and walking improvements. In addition, MAP-21enhances innovative financing and encourages private sector investment through a substantial increase in funding for the TIFIA program. It alsoincludes a number of provisions designed to improve freight movement in support of national goals.

• Supports the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) aggressive safety agenda

MAP-21 continues the successful Highway Safety Improvement Program, doubling funding for infrastructure safety, strengthening the linkage among modal safety programs, and creating a positive agenda to make significant progress in reducing highway fatalities. It also continues to build on other aggressive safety efforts, including the Department’s fight against distracted driving and its push to improve transit and motor carrier safety.

• Streamlines Federal highway transportation programs.

The complex array of existing programs is simplified, substantially consolidating the program structure into a smaller number of broader core programs. Many smaller programs are eliminated, including most discretionary programs, with the eligibilities generally continuing under core programs.

• Accelerates project delivery and promotes innovation.

MAP-21 incorporates a host of changes aimed at ensuring the timely delivery of transportation projects. Changes will improve innovation and efficiency in the development of projects, through the planning and environmental review process, to project delivery.

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.