In December 1991, President Bush signed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 providing authorizations for highways, highway safety, and mass transit for the next six years. Total funding of about $155 billion was available over fiscal years 1992-1997.
The purpose of the Act was clearly enunciated in its statement of policy:
"to develop a National Intermodal Transportation System that is economically efficient, envinronmentally sound, provides the foundation for the Nation to compete in the global economy and will move people and goods in an energy efficient manner."
The provisions of the Act reflect these important policy goals. Some of the major features included:
A National Highway System (NHS), consisting primarily of existing Interstate routes and a portion of the Primary System, was established to focus Federal resources on roads that are the most important to interstate travel and national defense, roads that connect with other modes of transportation, and are essential for international commerce.
State and local governments were given more flexibility in determining transportation solutions, whether transit or highways, and the tools of enhanced planning and management systems to guide them in making the best choices.
New technologies, such as intelligent vehicle highway systems (now known as Intelligent Transportation Systems or ITS) and prototype magnetic levitation systems, were funded to push the Nation forward into thinking of new approaches in providing 21st Century transportation.
The private sector was tapped as a source for funding transportation improvements. Restrictions on the use of Federal funds for toll roads were relaxed and private entities were entitled to own such facilities.
The Act continued discretionary and formula funds for mass transit.
Highway funds were available for activities that enhance the environment, such as wetland banking, mitigation of damage to wildlife habitat, historic site, activities that contribute to meeting air quality standards, a wide range of bicycle and pedestrian projects, and highway beautification.
Highway saeety was further enhanced by a new program to encourage the use of safety belts and motorcycle helmets.
State uniformity in vehicle registration and fuel tax reporting was required. This was meant to ease the recordkeeping and reporting burden on businesses and contribute substantially to increased productivity of the truck and bus industry.
Many of the provisions originated in ISTEA have been continued or expanded in its follow-up legislation, the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).