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Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program

Corridors and Borders Program Workshops : Summary Report

The following summary report 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.

Introduction

From shortening the time spent crossing the U.S. and Canadian border near Detroit to improving a road in West Virginia, projects funded by the National Corridor Planning and Development Coordinated Borders Infrastructure programs are contributing to smoother travel, increased international trade, and economic growth across the country. The corridor program is designed to provide allocations to States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) for the coordinated planning, design, and construction of corridors of national significance, economic growth, and international or interregional trade. The border program, meanwhile, 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 the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Together, they constitute one of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) flagship initiatives.

While the Corridors and Borders program was established by TEA-21, interest in funding corridors and borders improvements dates back to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). This act designated a number of high priority transportation corridors, with subsequent legislation designating additional corridors. On the borders side, several studies since 1991 have identified infrastructure and operations deficiencies near the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. The corridors and borders program was established to meet both those needs, as well as to give corridors and borders issues a higher profile nationally.

Projects eligible for corridor program funding include:

Border projects eligible for funding include:

In fiscal year (FY) 1999, the first year of the grant program, more than 150 applications for grants were received. Fifty-five projects were funded, amounting to $123 million in total 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. While an application format was not specified for either the 1999 or 2000 programs, 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 division review of the FY 2000 applications was completed, followed by FHWA headquarters review. Project selection was then made by FHWA Administrator Kenneth Wykle and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.The programs had a combined authorized funding of $140 million for FY 2000, with approximately $122 million available for allocation.

Workshops

To publicize the Corridors and Borders program and explain the FY 2000 application process, FHWA held a series of workshops in the fall of 1999 in Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Seattle, Washington; and Phoenix, Arizona. In announcing the workshops, Secretary Slater said, "The Borders and Corridors program is a key part in President Clinton's goal to support the North American Free Trade Agreement by providing safe highways for moving people and goods between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. These workshops will benefit States and communities that want to take advantage of the program."

The workshops were also designed to solicit input from participants on evaluation measures for the program, as well as the program's future direction. Participants included Federal, State, and local government employees; MPO staff; and representatives from a number of trade and citizen groups.

The 2-day workshops included an overview of the corridors and borders flagship initiative, a discussion of the FY 2000 grant application process, presentations on regional projects that received FY 1999 corridors and borders funding, and opportunities for participants to ask questions of the grant recipients and FHWA staff. The second day of each workshop was devoted primarily to group breakout sessions that evaluated the success of the program and examined its future directions.

Case Studies

Over the course of the five workshops, 19 different case study presentations were made by recipients of FY 1999 corridors and borders grant funding. The presentations were representative of the diverse range of projects funded, including bridge, rail, port, highway, and ITS initiatives. They afforded workshop participants an opportunity to learn about the types of projects that have been funded and how grant recipients put their winning proposals together, as well as to ask questions of the recipients. For a summary of the case study presentations, see Appendix A.

Questions/Concerns

Throughout the workshops, participants had the opportunity to ask questions at open mic listening sessions and to offer comments on the corridors and borders program. A full listing of questions and answers from the listening sessions can be found in Appendix C, organized under the categories of earmarks, eligibility, funding concerns, and administrative.

The most commonly expressed concern was unhappiness with earmarked funds. Most participants felt that earmarking is undermining the intent of the program. Another common theme was the opinion that grant money is being spread too thin (i.e., too many projects receiving too few dollars rather than fewer projects receiving more dollars each). An additional concern is that corridor projects are receiving too much of the funding, with border initiatives being neglected. Workshop participants also made the point that not many of the projects being funded are intermodal in nature.

One reoccuring question was the STIP/TIP conundrum. States need to get projects listed on the STIP or TIP to receive corridors and borders grants, but many find it difficult to get projects listed ahead of time. Many of the workshop participants were looking for guidance on how to handle that situation. FHWA offered several suggestions, including putting a note on the application explaining that the State is in the process of identifying the project on the TIP. Another suggestion is to put the project on the TIP with a note stating that the project will not advance if the discretionary grant is not awarded.

Participants also had many administrative questions, including asking for clarification of what constitutes a border region and whether a water border meets the definition. FHWA staff assured participants that water borders are eligible for funding, noting that they received applications from ports last year.

Comments made by participants included the suggestion that protecting the environment be made an additional key strategic goal for the program. Other participants were concerned about multiyear funding of projects. They pointed out that many of the projects are large and expensive and if the Corridors and Borders program funds them for only 1 year, the State is going out on a limb in starting them.

Breakout Sessions

The second day of each workshop was primarily devoted to breakout sessions. Workshop participants were divided into two to 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:

The breakout groups produced a diverse collection of comments. There was no clear consensus on whether the corridors and borders programs should be evaluated together or individually, with participants splitting their votes between the two. The suggested criteria for evaluating the programs ranged from measuring how well projects support the DOT's strategic goals (environment, safety, mobility, productivity, and national security) to examining whether a project contributes to an integrated systems approach in a corridor. One participant suggested looking at economic growth and trade, asking "has the program fostered economic efficiency in accommodating increases in the movement of goods and people?" Another participant advocated looking at whether or not the project improved an area's transportation system.

Workshop attendees were also split on who should evaluate the program. FHWA and DOT were the most frequently named evaluators, but other suggestions included State DOTs, MPOs, an independent oversight committee, the Transportation Research Board, and transportation system users. One attendee suggested holding public listening sessions. Some participants thought that the program should be evaluated annually, while others felt that it just needed to be evaluated before the next transportation bill reauthorization. As one attendee noted, "you need 2 or 3 years to see how the program is doing." Another attendee was in favor of a faster approach, suggesting that the evaluation be "done quickly in order to influence reauthorization."

How would participants measure the success of the program? The answers ranged from looking at the program's economic development impact to examining its success in increasing the facilitation of trade. Many participants would also look at whether a project reduced traffic delays; cut congestion and travel time; and increased safety, productivity, and mobility. A project's success in fostering partnerships and enhancing connectivity within the national transportation system, in addition to the initiative's impact on local roads, were also deemed to be important.

Expectations for the program ranged from achieving an appropriate balance between borders projects and corridors projects to focusing on congressional high priority corridors. Other expectations included improving system mobility and helping States cope with the ramifications of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Many participants felt that the first round of awards did not meet their expectations. The primary complaints were that too many projects were selected, the money was spread too thin, and there was too much Congressional earmarking of funds. Other comments included the opinion that more multistate projects were needed and that funds should be spent more on planning than on construction. As one participant noted, "infrastructure improvements that could be funded with other funds should be funded with other funds."

Suggestions for improving the grant program included guaranteeing that grant funding will be available consistently over a number of years, limiting earmarks, and giving a preference to multistate applications. Other participants suggested setting up two separate programs, one for corridors and one for borders, in order to avoid competition. On the administrative side, the proposals included allowing more time for application submissions and scheduling the informational workshops earlier.

Participants also proposed adjusting a number of the selection criteria, including defining "border" and emphasizing multijurisdictional joint applications. Other suggestions included eliminating the STIP/TIP requirement, clarifying exactly who can submit applications, and placing more of an emphasis on economic efficiency.

Updated: 12/03/2012
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