The following report of the Phoenix 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 final Corridors and Borders program workshop was held November 16-17, 1999, in Phoenix, Arizona, 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 citizens 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.
The first day of the workshop featured a panel discussion that offered perspective on the reasons for having the Corridors and Borders program. The panel consisted of Jill Hochman of FHWA, Joe Medina of the California Department of Transportation (DOT), Ray Alexander of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department, Ed Wueste of Texas DOT, Mary Peters of Arizona DOT, and Major Lester Mills of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Medina noted that California's increased trade with Mexico, which totals $14 billion annually, has meant increased truck traffic at the borders. California DOT has set up a "truck desk" to work with trucking companies and make the border crossing process smoother. Peters commented that many of the products that come across the Arizona border are produce and that therefore trucking companies need to be able to cross quickly. She advocated that the application process for the Corridors and Borders program be held earlier in the Federal fiscal year. She also noted that ensuring full funding of the Corridors and Borders program is very important.
Mills offered the law enforcement perspective. He noted that border stations are only able to inspect about 1.6 percent of the total vehicles that cross, which is not acceptable. They need more money to do their job.
Sylvia Grijalva of FHWA then covered the FY 2000 application process. Projects eligible for corridor program funding include:
Grijalva stated that in last year's application process, positive factors noted on applications included demonstrating leveraging of funds; obtaining local funding; and emphasizing efficiency, safety, economic development, and the opportunity for ITS development. Negative factors that were 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 planning 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.
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.
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 suggested limiting an application to 12 pages. If extra material must be included, then it should be placed in an Appendix.
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 first day of the workshop also featured case study presentations on four projects that received 1999 Corridors and Borders funding. The Hoover Dam Bypass Project aims to solve the major bottleneck that the Hoover Dam presents on the highway between Phoenix and Las Vegas. The Arizona DOT, Nevada DOT, National Park Service, and Bureau of Reclamation have all been partners in studying the problem. After much discussion of four different options, the preferred one seems to be building a bridge across Sugarloaf Mountain. As the lead State, Arizona received $2 million in Corridors and Borders funding for the project.
The Pharr Border Project involves making improvements at three sections of the Hidalgo County Point of Entry system. The project team includes the cities of Pharr, McAllen, and Weglasco; B&P Bridge Company; Hidalgo County MPO; Texas DOT; U.S. DOT; U.S. Customs Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture; and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. The project received $1.9 million in funding in 1999.
The State Route 95 project in California involves building a six-lane freeway at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, in order to better accommodate the increasing truck volume at the Mexican border. Construction is slated to begin in 2002 and be completed in 2004 or 2005. The Peace Bridge New York Commercial Vehicle Processing Center (CVPC) aims to streamline the border crossing process at the bridge. All trucks bound for the United States from Canada enter the CVPC; prepared carriers can then proceed directly across the U.S. border, while trucks without the proper documentation remain until they can be processed. The project received $960,000 in 1999 Corridors and Borders funding.
Workshop participants had several opportunities throughout the 2-day event to ask questions and make comments about the Corridors and Borders program. The questions included, "In terms of geographic distribution, do you start over every year in choosing projects?" FHWA answered that, yes, it starts fresh every year. Another question was, "Are you tracking whether projects come out of the corridor management plan or are linked?" FHWA stated that while it is not doing that right now, it is an excellent suggestion.
During the comment period, Tiffany Newsome, Executive Director of the North American Super Highway Coalition, stated that the legislation should be changed to allow international trade coalitions to apply for funding. She also questioned whether States could sign on to her organization's projects without displacing their own prioritized projects. FHWA responded that while it does ask States to prioritize, multijurisdictional applications can be separated out from the State's other applications.
The second day of the workshop was primarily devoted to breakout sessions. Workshop participants were divided into four groups and given seven questions (three in the morning session and four in the afternoon) to discuss, with a facilitator leading the discussion and recording comments. Each group then presented a summary of their comments to the larger assembly of workshop participants. The questions were:
Workshop participants were divided as to whether the programs should be evaluated in a combined way or individually. Two of the breakout groups voted for evaluating them together, with one participant noting "since funding is small, place programs together. Look at it as a unified, national program." The other two groups thought that the evaluation should be done separately. Their reasons included "corridor needs are different" and "different stakeholders."
Thoughts on who should evaluate the programs included DOT, FHWA, local and State governments, trade experts, industry groups, and the public. While some thought that evaluation should begin right now, others advocated evaluating the program in the middle, so that the evaluation leads into the development of future legislation. Other comments included "evaluate annually," "evaluate long-term," and "evaluate within authorization period."
Participants would measure success for the programs by such factors as safety, mobility, productivity, customer satisfaction, cargo movement, and partnerships formed. They would also look at the success in leveraging funds for other projects: have other related projects followed? Other suggestions included looking at how the projects mesh with the DOT flagship issues and strategic plan, as well as what their impact is on local roads.
Expectations for the program included identifying weak links in the transportation system and then allocating resources to those weak links, as well as promoting public/private partnerships. Participants would also like to see increased funding for the program and less earmarking. Instead of earmarking projects, initiatives should be judged on their merits.
For most participants, the first round of awards did not meet their expectations. The comments included "inadequate funding for needs," "unfair project selections," and "money spread too thin." Suggestions for modifying the program included "consider fewer projects but fund fully," "fund projects with greater impacts," "allow more time for submissions," and "guarantee that grant funding will be available consistently over a number of years."
Participants would adjust the selection criteria so that the term "border" is better defined. They would also put more of an emphasis on joint and multijurisdictional applications. As one attendee commented, " There should be a 'plus' selection factor for multistate projects."