The following report of the Baltimore Workshop proceedings was prepared by a consultant, Harrington-Hughes & Associates. It contains statements from the Workshop participants; however, this does not imply that consensus was reached on any of the issues mentioned. The statements do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Highway Administration.
The Corridors and Borders program workshops kicked off in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 12, 1999. The 2-day workshop was designed to publicize the corridors and borders program and explain the application process. Participants included Federal, State, and local government employees; Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) staff; and representatives from trade and citizen groups.
The National Corridor Planning and Development Coordinated Borders Infrastructure programs were established by the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The corridor program is designed to provide allocations to States and MPOs for the coordinated planning, design, and construction of corridors of national significance, economic growth, and international or interregional trade. The border program has the goal of improving the movement of people and goods across the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. The two initiatives, known as the Corridors and Borders program, were funded jointly under TEA-21. Together, they constitute one of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) flagship initiatives.
"Through this program, we hope to foster better partnerships between institutions," said Cindy Burbank of FHWA. Other key areas of emphasis for the program that she cited were applying intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies, addressing infrastructure deficiencies, and supporting enforcement programs at border crossing areas.
The first day of the workshop featured a panel discussion with Jill Hochman of FHWA, Clement Thomas of Transport Canada, James Phillips of the CAN/AM Border Trade Alliance, and Irving Rubin of the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition (EBTC). The panel discussed the purpose of having the Corridors and Borders programs. As Phillips noted, "border crossing gateways are vital links in the transportation network. Each major trade corridor is singularly essential to the area it serves." He also noted that "the efficient movement of goods and people is what we're all about." A key decision for the program to make, said Phillips, is "do we do a lesser number of projects to completion or do we fund a larger number of projects to partial completion?" This is something that has to be decided.
Irving Rubin of the EBTC noted that U.S. trade with Canada averages a billion dollars a day. The efficiency of the trip determines the costs for both the manufacturer and the consumer. He advocates that FHWA allocate the largest portion of its funds to the corridors program. He sees the purposes of the Corridors and Borders program as being to learn more about corridors and borders needs and to identify and fund a few projects. However, earmarking is threatening a program whose very essence is competition.
Sylvia Grijalva of FHWA then covered the program's FY 2000 application process. Only States and MPOs can receive direct grants. Projects eligible for corridor program funding include:
More than 150 applications for grants were received in FY 1999, the first year of the program. Fifty-five projects were funded, with a total of $123 million in grants awarded. Twenty-one of the grants provided full project funding, while 34 were partial funding awards. The money was divided among 32 States.
Grijalva noted that in last year's application process, positive factors noted on applications included demonstrating leveraging of funds and the availability of local funding, and emphasizing efficiency, safety, economic development, and the opportunity for ITS development. Negative factors that counted against an application included needing a STIP/TIP amendment, not having a corridor plan review, not knowing the status of the project's environmental clearance, and leveraging with demo funds. Grijalva also noted that a new evaluation factor that has been added is whether or not the project's performance measures support FHWA's strategic goals. In addition, emphasis areas for the administration include motor carrier facilities, trade processing systems at the border, and multistate freight planning.
The application deadline for the FY 2000 grants was November 29, 1999. An application format was not specified for either the 1999 or 2000 programs, but a recommended format was included in the August 30, 1999, Federal Register Notice announcing the solicitation of applications. The application time was also increased from 60 days to 90 days.
FHWA division review of the FY 2000 applications was scheduled to be completed by December 21, 1999, with FHWA headquarters review due by the end of February 2000. Project selection was then to be made by FHWA Administrator Kenneth Wykle and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater by the end of March. Of the $140 million allocated for the program in FY 2000, approximately $90 million had already been designated by Congress to specific projects.
The workshop also featured presentations on four projects that received FY 1999 corridors and borders funding. A multistate project involving Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia received $500,000 in corridors and borders funding to study improving a north-south corridor in Appalachian sections of the States. The States' goals are to encourage economic development and improve quality of life, while protecting and enhancing the environment. The $500,000 grant will go toward consultant services, with the States contributing an additional $125,000. The Mon/Fayette Pennsylvania project focuses on High Priority Corridor No. 31, which includes the Mon/Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway. The corridor begins at Pittsburgh and extends south to I-68 near Morgantown. Among the goals of the corridor construction are promoting economic redevelopment of brownfield sites in the Mon Valley, reducing urban congestion near Pittsburgh, and providing improved accessibility for commerce across State borders. Pennsylvania and West Virginia received $4 million and $3 million, respectively, in FY 1999 funding for the corridor.
The third case study presented was on the New Jersey Port/Rail/Highway Project. Known as Portway, this project focuses on upgrading the frontage road that connects the New Jersey seaport. Fifteen-thousand trucks travel to the port each day, with most trips taking 30 to 50 minutes. Portway will cut both trip times and costs in half. The project received $1 million in Corridors and Borders funding in 1999.
The final case study highlighted was the Tolsia Highway Project. This project's goal is to reconstruct US-52 between Huntington and Williamson, West Virginia, expanding it from a two-lane road to a four-lane road, with partial access control. The existing road has many safety issues, with a death rate more than double the national average for that type of road. West Virginia received $3.5 million in Corridors and Borders funding in 1999.
Over the course of the 2 days, several open mic listening sessions were held where participants could ask questions about or make comments on the corridors and borders program. Questions asked at the workshop included a request for clarification of what constitutes a border region: Can it be a water border? FHWA answered yes, noting that it received applications from ports for 1999 funding. Another participant asked if it is required that the STIP/TIP amendment be in place at the time of the application. FHWA said that it encouraged this, as it improves your rating to already have it. For MPOs who can't put projects on the TIP until they have funding, FHWA suggested putting a note on the application stating that they are in the process of identifying the project on the TIP. Another suggestion is to put the project on the TIP with a note declaring that the project will not advance if the discretionary grant is not awarded.
Comments made by participants during the open mic sessions included the suggestion that protecting the environment be made an additional key strategic goal for the program. Another participant commented that unless some closure is achieved at these workshops, participants are right back where they started.
The second day of the workshop was primarily devoted to breakout sessions. Workshop participants were divided into three groups and given seven questions (three in the morning session and four in the afternoon) to discuss, with a facilitator leading the discussion andrecording comments. Each group then presented a summary of their comments to the larger assembly of workshop participants. The questions were:
On the first question, participants were evenly split as to whether to evaluate the programs individually or in a combined way. One attendee, noting the problem, commented that "the two programs have different issues. Do an overall evaluation of the two programs, but then discuss the uniqueness of each." On the second question, several respondents noted that "you need 2 or 3 years to see how the program is doing." Others thought that the review should be ongoing, while one suggested evaluating the program at the midpoint in time and then again at the end. When it comes to who should evaluate the program, the U.S. Department of Transportation received the most votes. Other entities that received votes were State transportation agencies, MPOs, transportation system users, members of the private sector, and an independent panel of experts.
Participants thought that the success of the program should be measured by such factors as mobility and improvement in facilitation of trade. Other participants suggested comparing the beneft/cost ratio for projects; looking at whether the program fostered multistate agreements; and evaluating if the program was successful at increasing efficiency, decreasing congestion, and cutting traffic delays at the border.
Expectations for the program included striking the appropriate balance between borders and corridors initiatives, focusing on international development, and improving mobility at border crossings. Other expectations ranged from reducing costs to improving ontime delivery, system reliability, and predictability. Some see the Borders and Corridors program as only the precursor of a larger program, with one participant commenting that it "sets the stage for the next program."
Many participants were emphatic in declaring that the first round of awards did not meet their expectations, with comments ranging from "awards were too small" to "too few borders programs were selected." Many also felt that there was too much of a focus on earmarks. However, one breakout group was more positive, stating that "Yes, the DOT exhibited a balanced and generally adhering approach to legislative goals." Others in that group answered "Yes, but with reservations. Money was spread too thin. Perhaps there should be more targeting of nationally and regionally significant projects."
Participants suggested that for future grant solicitations, there should be more emphasis placed on transportation systems. Other suggestions included "separate construction and planning," "earmarked money should be put back into general funding pot," and "solicit earlier." One participant, however, was satisfied with the current solicitation process, noting that "selection criteria are detailed in the FY 2000 Federal Register Notice. Don't add to these."
In answer to the question, "Do any of the selection criteria need to be adjusted," two of the breakout groups voted "yes," with suggestions ranging from "emphasize trade and gateway corridors," to "focus on intermodal trade and economic development." The remaining breakout group was satisfied with the current criteria.