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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 69 · No. 5 > Guest Editorial

Mar/Apr 2006
Vol. 69 · No. 5

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-2006-003

Guest Editorial

SAFETEA-LU for Meeting Today's Challenges

A Photo of Frederick G. 'Bud' Wright, Executive Director of Federal Highway Administration This year, the United States celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, which connects communities across the Nation, serves as the backbone for economic prosperity, and supports a way of life that Americans have grown to enjoy and expect. As the success of the interstate system grows, however, so do the challenges facing transportation officials. The burden of maintaining and rebuilding the network of highways and bridges continues to increase—and more cars and freight mean more congestion, safety concerns, and wear on the system. The ability of the transportation community to learn from the past, apply these lessons, and recognize and address new challenges will affect the success of the entire system.

In this issue of Public Roads, the article "The Straight Scoop on SAFETEA-LU" describes the major features of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)—the largest highway program authorization in U.S. history. The hefty infusion of funding reflects the high priority given to transportation and carries with it a tremendous responsibility for the transportation community. As with past legislation, SAFETEA-LU contains provisions that offer States more flexibility in using resources to meet the most critical national and State goals.

For example, of all the challenges, none is more important than saving lives and reducing injuries resulting from highway crashes. SAFETEA-LU elevates safety to a stand-alone core program. The legislation provides more than $5 billion in Highway Safety Improvement Program funds to help States advance highway safety in a comprehensive, strategic manner. In addition, SAFETEA-LU provides targeted funding for specific safety issues such as work zone safety and programs such as Safe Routes to Schools and the High Risk Rural Road Safety Improvement Program.

SAFETEA-LU also contains the first substantive revision in almost 40 years to Section 4(f) (of Section 138 of Title 23 and Section 303 of Title 49, United States Code) to simplify the processing and approval of projects that have only de minimis impacts on lands protected by Section 4(f). Other provisions aim to streamline the environmental review process while preserving environmental quality. These provisions will help cut red tape, reduce delays, and enable officials to make timely decisions during environmental reviews. Since the signing of SAFETEA-LU on August 10, 2005, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has issued guidance calling for increased collaboration between Federal and State officials involved in environmental actions. This is just the beginning. FHWA is committed to fully implementing SAFETEA-LU in a way that will accelerate the review process without diminishing environmental protections.

Although the level of funding provided by SAFETEA-LU is at an all-time high, needs exceed the resources available. To address this shortfall, SAFETEA-LU makes more opportunities available for States to explore innovative financing solutions such as private activity bonds, tolling and other road pricing, and loans under TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). SAFETEA-LU also continues and expands the State Infrastructure Bank program. The array of tools in SAFETEA-LU furnishes additional opportunities for States and strengthens their ability to attract private investment and participation.

By building on the firm foundations of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21stCentury (1998), SAFETEA-LU furthers equity in the distribution of funds, including increasing minimum rates of return on States' Highway Trust Fund contributions and delivering increased flexibility to explore creative solutions to the growing challenges.

SAFETEA-LU is not the end to the means but rather the means to the end. As the transportation community implements SAFETEA-LU, the key question is: What will the transportation community need to meet tomorrow's challenges? FHWA is committed to working with State departments of transportation and other partners to find the answers.

Frederick G. "Bud" Wright

Executive Director

Federal Highway Administration

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