The following report of the Seattle 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 fourth Corridors and Borders program workshop was held November 8-9, 1999, in Seattle, Washington. 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.
Paula Hammond of the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) welcomed participants. Lynn McClelland of the Federal Maritime Administration then provided an overview of the borders and corridors initiative. Improvements in corridors and borders, she noted, will help improve safety and reduce transportation costs, which will lead to business growth.
The first day of the workshop featured a panel discussion on the reasons for having the Corridors and Borders program. The panel members were Jim Miller of the Whatcom County Council of Governments, George Edgerton of the California Trucking Association, Gary Tonkin of the National Scenic Byways Resource Center, and Peter Beaulieu of the Puget Sound Regional Council. Edgerton noted that cross-border trade has increased by 200 percent since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He said that the program should not just look at infrastructure but should address operational issues, as well. For example, this could mean making sure that there are a sufficient number of inspectors at border crossings.
Tonkin commented that the country has a trade-driven economy, but that this has not always been factored into funding. This has changed with the Corridors and Borders program. It has forced the U.S. DOT to look at partnering with the business community. Miller noted that there are four border crossings in Washington State, with the third busiest border crossing in the country located in Whatcom County. This crossing faces the problem of urban loads of congestion but only receives rural levels of funding. However, the Corridors and Borders program has helped bring about better partnerships between the private sector and all agencies that are involved with the border crossing.
Martin Weiss of FHWA then went over the fiscal year (FY) 2000 application process. Projects eligible for corridor program funding include:
Border projects eligible for funding include:
Weiss 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 intelligent transportation system 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. Weiss 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 RegisterNotice 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 included case study presentations on several projects that received 1999 Corridors and Borders funding. The FAST Corridor in Washington State is a project jointly sponsored by the Washington State Department of Transportation's Office of Urban Mobility and the Puget Sound Regional Council. It involves a partnership of 14 local and regional agencies, three ports, and two railroads. The partners' goal is to improve mobility across modes by reducing highway delays and providing more efficient freight and rail passage through Puget Sound communities.
The I-5 project is a multistate initiative involving both Oregon and Washington. The States are looking at building a new bridge on the I-5 trade corridor to ease congestion and facilitate the movement of freight. The Pre-Clearance project in Washington State, meanwhile, is examining the potential of increasing the use of pre-approved cross-border travel programs in the United States and Canada. The project will also look at developing and implementing a marketing effort to promote the programs and submitting recommendations on how the Canadian and American pre-approval programs could be jointly administered.
The U.S. 95 initiative in Idaho was awarded $1.2 million in corridors and borders funds in 1999 to undertake environmental and location studies and concept design work for improving this Congressional high priority corridor.
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, "Why is there all this emphasis on rural issues? This is a program dealing with freight, not rural issues." FHWA replied that small rural communities near borders often feel ignored by highway agencies. It is trying to get them involved in MPOs and other organizations. One participant commented that "these programs are good. They allow us to walk before we run." Other participants commented that more funding is needed for the programs. Ken Miller of the North America Superhighway Coalition submitted a prepared statement. Among other things, he asked that trade corridor coalitions be allowed to apply for funding through the Corridors and Borders program.
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 and recording comments. Each group then presented a summary of their comments to the larger assembly of workshop participants. The questions were:
The majority of participants favored evaluating the two programs separately. One breakout group noted that the "borders program seems to be more well defined. It will be more difficult to evaluate the corridors program." In doing the evaluation, participants would look at whether a program contributed to such things as an integrated systems approach or intermodalism in a corridor. They would also look at whether the project advances the ONE DOT concept or fosters economic efficiency.
Suggestions for who should evaluate the programs included the Transportation Research Board, an oversight committee of independent experts, and the General Accounting Office. As for the timeline of the evaluation, comments ranged from "do quickly to influence reauthorization" to "evaluation should be ongoing and should be completed in time to affect next year's appropriations process."
Participants would measure success for the programs by such factors as the ability to deal with bottlenecks in corridors and move trade across borders. They would also look at whether the project enhanced connectivity within the national transportation system and improved safety. One breakout group noted that some project data is incomplete or still needs to be collected, such as traffic counts, costs of congestion to businesses, and value of shipments.
Expectations for the program ranged from focusing on corridor bottlenecks to building coalitions for corridor improvements to setting aside funds for special projects that are not eligible for other funding. Other expectations included fully funding selected projects instead of only a percentage and funding national priority projects that will bring the "most bang for the buck."
For the majority of participants, the first round of awards did meet their expectations. However, one group noted that it was concerned about the second year of the program, "because the earmarks will cause problems." Another group noted that "infrastructure that could be funded with other funds should be funded with other funds."
Suggestions for improving program delivery included holding workshops earlier in the year, reviewing applications faster (60 to 90 days), and having applicants make oral presentations in order to aid in the selection process. One participant noted that FHWA should consider "two separate application processes and pots of money--one for corridors and one for borders, to avoid competition between corridors and borders."
Participants would adjust the selection criteria to emphasize innovation in areas other than finance. They would also add a focus on international trade as an important criteria. In addition, participants suggested establishing an earmark management system at the congressional level and recognizing model projects.