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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 60· No. 3 > Keep the Good Times Rolling: ISTEA Success Stories

Winter 1997
Vol. 60· No. 3

Keep the Good Times Rolling: ISTEA Success Stories

Cheryl Hoffman and Lawrence Paulson

ISTEA logo Cyclists in Maryland commute from neighborhood to neighborhood along a serene bike trail that circles the state's busiest airport.

Officials in the San Francisco Bay area cut through red tape and ignore jurisdictional boundaries to get regional transportation programs off the drawing board and into operation.

Riders of commuter buses in Dade County, Fla., look forward to a smooth and rapid trip because their route is a dedicated bus corridor that follows an old railroad right-of-way and lets them avoid the traffic snarls of U.S. Highway 1.

These projects and countless others are the faces of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), the landmark law that has transformed the relationship between the federal government and states and localities in terms of funding transportation projects. The law's emphasis on intermodalism -- the seamless linking of highway, rail, air, and marine transportation -- and its promotion of flexibility and the forming of partnerships with states and localities represent a significant departure from previous highway legislation.

With ISTEA due to expire in 1997, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has become increasingly involved in the design of the succeeding legislation. As part of this effort -- called reauthorization -- FHWA has conducted the most extensive program of outreach in its history. This outreach has included cross-country road tours, regional forums, open houses, and more than 100 focus groups. The agency has asked local government officials, environmentalists, labor union leaders, civic activists, and ordinary citizens whether ISTEA has been a success and to what extent its principles should be embodied in the legislation that will take its place. What FHWA has heard is that, while no law is perfect, ISTEA is working.

Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater has been a major proponent and participant in the outreach program. He has participated in several road tours, in which he has talked with officials and citizens from virtually all over the United States from sea-to-sea and from the Canadian border to our border with Mexico.

Slater's first road tour was in April 1994. During this 14-day, almost 6,000-kilometer trip from Buffalo, N.Y., to Laredo, Texas, he made a stop in Henning, Tenn. The mayor of Henning gave Slater a tour of the boyhood home of the late author Alex Haley. Haley's home is now a museum celebrating the life of Haley and the characters in his epic novel Roots. As Slater was departing from the museum, he noticed a slab of concrete on the front lawn and discovered that this was Haley's grave. The administrator was moved by the inscription on the grave -- "Find the Good and Praise It." This phrase captured the essence of the road tours and has become the motto of the entire outreach program.

FHWA is not only finding the good and praising it; the agency is finding the exception and making it the rule -- that is, finding the exceptionally good and using it as a model for continual improvement. In the outstanding work of the FHWA staff, including the field offices, and of FHWA's governmental, industrial, and academic partners, there is much to praise -- not only for their thinking "outside the box" but also for their excellent performance in enhancing the overall condition of the transportation system. Any effort to "push the envelope" can only be successful when it builds on a solid foundation, and FHWA's push for innovation, greater efficiency, and continual improvement is in the context of -- not at the expense of -- its traditional programs and responsibilities. FHWA is working now to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and with the support of Congress, as demonstrated by a record level of funding, FHWA is making real progress toward "making the exception the rule."

As part of its preparation for reauthorization, FHWA has been looking for the exceptionally good projects and programs. Here are some of those real success stories.

Houston, Texas: TranStar

Traffic jams can seem like a way of life in Houston. Because of the need to travel between widely scattered employment, shopping, and residential areas, Houstonians rely on the city's vast network of freeways to get them where they need to go. All too often, though, their trips are neither fast nor efficient. Houston suffers from an average of 200 major and 4,000 minor road blockages a year. And the tie-ups are not just an inconvenience; the stop-and-start traffic and the idling of engines contribute to the region's serious air pollution problem.

Cutting-edge technology is providing at least a partial solution. Funded in part by ISTEA's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, Houston's $11.4 million TranStar traffic management center monitors traffic conditions on a real-time basis, decreasing the time between the occurrence of accidents and breakdowns and their detection and clearance. The center has reduced the average time for authorities to respond to traffic incidents by one-third, from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Blockages are cleared more quickly, enabling motorists to maintain higher and more constant speeds.

The city of Houston, Harris County, the Metropolitan Transit Agency, and the Texas Department of Transportation work together to operate TranStar, managing almost 500 kilometers (km) of freeways and a 170-km high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) system. The facility provides ramp metering and surveillance services, controls message signs, and provides incident management and regional signal coordination services.

"TranStar brings together four agencies that share a common vision and purpose to manage transportation," says Douglas Wiersig, TranStar executive director. "The use of technology helps us perform that work and serves as a rallying point to allow the agencies to overcome institutional barriers and work together."

It's a prime example of the kind of regional coordination and partnerships that ISTEA and its CMAQ program were designed to promote.

CMAQ has transferred a far greater percentage of funds to transit improvements than has any other flexible funding program in ISTEA. As Administrator Slater said, "The CMAQ program is now solidly established and has fostered closer coordination between federal, state, and local governments, helping all of us to better serve our customers."

Providence, R.I.: Waterfront Renovation

The citizens of Providence needed to be reintroduced to the city's waterways. The Providence River and its tributaries played an important role in the city's early history, but for decades they lay hidden under bridge decks and railroad tracks. When the tracks were removed during construction of the Civic Center interchange along Interstate 95, city residents and officials got a new glimpse of their rivers and an inkling of how city life could be improved if residents had access to these waterways. The reopening of the waterfront generated some new development in the 1980s, but much of the area still remained covered and underused. It took the vision of city leaders, the need to construct a more efficient roadway network from the new interchange into downtown, and ISTEA to give the waterfront back to the citizens of Providence.

The plan drawn up by the city of Providence, the state of Rhode Island, and the Providence Foundation for the Capital Center Project was anything but routine. It called for moving two rivers, the Woonasquatucket and the Moshassuck, to bring them out of hiding and make room for a new road through downtown Providence. The feat was carried out by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), which shifted the tributaries about 60 meters (m) to the east by digging new channels lined with granite stones, then breaking the old retaining walls, allowing the rivers to flow along new beds. This opened up land needed to construct Memorial Boulevard, which connects the Civic Center interchange to downtown and I-195 farther to the south, greatly enhancing traffic flow.

Also as part of the project, RIDOT removed a wide concrete deck that covered much of the Providence River and replaced it with an attractive riverside walkway and nine pedestrian and vehicular bridges. Each bridge, integrated into the downtown street network, is designed to reflect the waterfront's historic character.

"The project has had a tremendous impact on the city," says Wendall Flanders, chief engineer for the Capital Center Project. "It's brought people back into the city by droves and has had a very positive effect on the economy."

The Providence waterfront renovation project.

The Providence waterfront renovation project.

Maryland: BWI Bike Trail

When you think about airport transportation, bicycles don't usually come to mind. But a 23-km bike trail circling Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is the centerpiece of a unique intermodal project that was the first transportation enhancement project to receive FHWA funding under ISTEA. When the BWI Trail is completed in 1998, it will link five modes of transportation: rail, transit, highways, aviation, and bicycle-pedestrian facilities. It will connect communities around the airport with the Linthicum Light Rail Station to the north, the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail to the east, and an Amtrak station and Patapsco State Park to the west.

The trail, whose development has involved close partnerships among five state and county agencies and numerous community groups, is already serving to link communities and neighborhoods and to create new options for commuters. The 10-m-wide trail, made of asphalt and wooden boardwalks, is separate from roadways for most of its route, winding through woodlands and residential areas, around wetlands, and across scenic overlooks. Lou Maddox, a member of the board of directors of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association, says, "The new trail connects communities the way railroads did. But unlike the railroads, you don't have to board at the station. You can get onto the trail right from your home or from a busy street."

A bike trail circling, Baltimore-Washington International Airport will link five modes of transportationwith the surrounding communities.

A bike trail circling, Baltimore-Washington International Airport will link five modes of transportationwith the surrounding communities.

Highway Bridge Program

Keeping track of the nation's highway bridges is no minor matter. FHWA's Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (HBRRP), which provides dedicated federal funding under ISTEA to replace or rehabilitate deficient highway bridges, has more than 576,000 bridges in its inventory. The inventory is used to identify deficient bridges that are eligible for HBRRP funding, based on the criteria of the National Bridge Inspection Standards. Those standards cover all highway bridges located on public roads and include specific requirements for inspection procedures, the frequency of inspections, qualifications for inspectors, and bridge inventorying. HBRRP is a needs-based program under which funds are allocated to states annually based on the square footage of deficient bridges in each state.

"The bridge program is an extremely successful and effective one; more than 43,385 deficient highway bridges have been replaced or rehabilitated with HBRRP," Administrator Slater told the House Surface Transportation Subcommittee in June 1996. But he warned that bridge maintenance is an uphill battle and stressed that FHWA continues to advocate the use of comprehensive bridge management systems, even though the use of this decision-making tool by the states is now optional.

Slater also said that for the management of older bridges, FHWA is developing a "high-technology approach with a back-to-basics name: the Find It and Fix It Program." This nondestructive and objective evaluation of in-service bridges will use such technologies as fiber optics, imaging radar, and laser scanning to find hidden problems such as steel corrosion or fatigue cracks that are buried under layers of paint. The materials being developed to repair or eliminate these problems are equally advanced and include high-performance steel, high-performance concrete, and fiber-reinforced plastic. Unlike conventional steel, these materials are noncorrosive and have twice the strength of traditional concrete.

"These 'find-it' technologies can greatly improve the speed, accuracy, and quality of bridge inspection," Slater said. "The 'fix-it' technologies will improve the strength and length of service of bridges and will reduce the time necessary for their repair, making this work safer for bridge inspectors and repair crews and less disruptive to the traveling public."

Fiber optics transmit information about the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to a remote data receiving site.

Fiber optics transmit information about the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to a remote data receiving site.

Spencer, N.C.: Roundhouse Restoration

No other structure is as evocative of the nation's golden era of railroading as the railroad roundhouse. The largest surviving roundhouse in the nation, the Spencer Railroad Shops Roundhouse in Spencer, N.C., has gotten a new lease on life thanks in part to transportation enhancement funds from ISTEA. The 37-bay roundhouse, built in 1924, served as the Southern Railway's largest repair center for steam engines until after World War II.

The roundhouse's new function is to house the North Carolina Transportation Museum. The building's location, just off I-85 about 45 minutes north of Charlotte, will ensure a steady stream of visitors to the museum, which opened Sept. 15. Exhibits interpret railroad history and the lives of the thousands of railroad workers who helped repair the locomotives at Spencer Railroad Shops. Visitors can see actual demonstrations of railroad repair work as it was performed in the shops' heyday, as well as take a 25-minute train ride around the 23-hectare site.

"We've had a wonderful turnout from the public," says Julie Leonard, director of public information. "It's been beyond our expectations. And the visitors have been tremendously impressed with the museum. If you knew what the roundhouse looked like two years ago -- it's like a different building."

Like other projects funded by ISTEA, the museum is a partnership effort. The official project sponsor is the North Carolina Transportation History Corporation. The North Carolina Departments of Transportation and Cultural Resources are part of the project management team, and an oversight committee includes representatives from other state agencies.

Moab, Utah: State Route 313 Reconstruction

The spectacular scenery around Moab, Utah, attracts motorists and bicyclists from all parts of the nation. But the experience of viewing the area's dramatic rock walls and canyons wasn't enhanced by the condition of state Route 313, an access road connecting U.S. 191 to Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island-in-the-Sky Recreational Area of Canyonlands National Park. The narrow, winding road with steep grades -- reaching 12 percent in some places -- was often impassable to large vehicles, preventing some visitors from reaching the parks and enjoying the highway's superb views. Bicyclists were unable to use the road safely.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), working with FHWA and the National Park Service, determined that the solution was to reconstruct Route 313. In planning the project, UDOT adhered to the original alignment as much as possible to avoid affecting the surrounding natural and cultural environment. The result was an improved highway that preserved the aesthetic qualities of the old route.

For bicyclists, road planners created broad outside shoulders and bicycle pullouts. Signs were posted along the highway to warn motorists of the adjacent bicycle traffic, and Canyonlands National Park is now actively promoting bicycling opportunities in the area. As a result, the number of bicyclists using Route 313 is growing.

"There was a tremendous amount of partnering on that project," says Frank Ularich, former district design engineer for UDOT and now a private consultant. "In fact, partnering -- and ISTEA -- was what enabled us to carry it out."

Signs posted along Utah Route 313 warn drivers of the adjacent bicycle traffic.Signs posted along Utah Route 313 warn drivers of the adjacent bicycle traffic.

Red-Light Running

In some cities, red-light running (RLR) seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Disregarding traffic signals is a leading cause of vehicle accidents in urban areas, costing Americans $7 billion a year in medical bills, lost work hours, insurance cost increases, and property damage. FHWA has developed a public education campaign to persuade drivers to stop this dangerous practice and has awarded RLR implementation grants to 32 communities. The RLR grants, averaging $18,000 per community, are seed money, intended to be leveraged through contributions by state and local governments, local businesses, and other interested parties. Thus far, the RLR grants have been matched by more than $1.2 million from local sources, and the campaign was recognized by the 1996 National Performance Review Status Report as a model of partnering with state and local organizations.

The response to the program from around the nation has been overwhelming. The 32 RLR campaign sites encompass a population of 22 million and span the country from Anchorage, Alaska, to Boston, Mass. In addition, RLR materials have been provided to more than 50 communities that intend to implement local campaigns. But perhaps more significantly, the FHWA program has generated a great deal of publicity and spurred the interest of law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, manufacturers, private foundations, the automobile industry, driver education providers, and many others, including representatives from England, Italy, New Zealand, and Poland. This response reflects the true "putting people first" spirit of ISTEA.

New York City: Red Hook Barge

Even in an age of highways, sometimes the best transportation route isn't over land but across the water. That's the direction transportation planners in metropolitan New York took in an effort to cut urban air pollution. Their efforts led to the establishment of a barge service that will ship containers of freight from New York to New Jersey across the Hudson River rather than trucking them across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

The primary route for cargo shipments from the Red Hook Container Terminal in New York to Port Newark­Elizabeth in New Jersey is over the Gowanus Expressway and across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. But the Gowanus Expressway was expected to be under construction for at least seven years, reducing traffic lanes by up to 50 percent. The solution was developed by a unique partnership across state lines involving the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the New York and New Jersey departments of transportation, the New York Urban Development Corporation, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Council, and the New York City Economic Development Commission. Rather than exacerbate congestion on the already limited expressway by continuing to use the route for freight, the collaborating agencies determined that shipping goods by barge was a practical, economically feasible method that would avoid highway delays and alleviate the resulting start-and-stop traffic with its harmful emissions.

The barge is expected to remove tens of thousands of truck trips annually from major highways in New York and New Jersey, thus turning a potential traffic disaster into an opportunity to better meet the region's freight needs and improve air quality. Pending an analysis of the operational, financial, and environmental feasibility of the interim barge service, a permanent, self-sustaining trans-harbor freight service may be established to operate even after construction on the Gowanus Expressway is completed. It's another success story for ISTEA's CMAQ program, which provided the majority of the funding.

The Red Hook barge carries freight across the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

The Red Hook barge carries freight across the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

Missouri: Ozark Mountain Highroad

Sometimes, it makes sense to take the high road. The motorists in the Branson, Mo., area will soon have that option. A byproduct of the success of Branson as a country music mecca for tourists has been congestion and urban sprawl. The situation was so serious that the governor declared an economic emergency in the area and told the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department to come up with transportation improvements in record time.

The solution, funded in part by ISTEA, was the 29-km parkway loop called the Ozark Mountain Highroad. It's a notable project for a number of reasons, including its environmentally friendly construction practices such as grinding wood residue into mulch on site and using it to control erosion. This kind of environmental sensitivity has been built into the project since its inception. When it's completed, the project is expected to benefit all segments of society. The project research team estimates that by the year 2015, the road will save 4.5 to 6.8 million liters of fuel annually and will reduce harmful emissions by 13 to 18 percent and traffic delays by more than 10 million person-hours.

The Ozark Mountain Highway Road will reduce traffic congestion in and around Branson, Mo.

The Ozark Mountain Highway Road will reduce traffic congestion in and around Branson, Mo.

Motor Fuel Tax Evasion

Tax avoidance hurts just about everyone. Motor fuel tax evasion schemes were first uncovered in the New York metropolitan area in the mid-1980s, and these fraudulent practices have since spread to all areas of the country. FHWA's work with the Internal Revenue Service, Justice Department, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Office of the Inspector General, states, and dozens of other governmental and industrial groups to bring an end to these schemes exemplifies ISTEA's spirit of partnership.

Since 1986, FHWA and IRS have worked together to reduce fuel tax evasion by supporting changes in tax-collection procedures and additional enforcement resources. Enforcement activities directly contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and state transportation funds with an estimated rate of return of $10 to $20 for every dollar spent on enforcement.

Since fiscal year 1990, FHWA has provided funding to supplement state and IRS fuel tax enforcement efforts under the auspices of the Joint Federal/State Motor Fuel Tax Compliance Project. ISTEA has provided $5 million annually in HTF contract authority for the joint project. Of the $5 million, $3 million is allocated to the states for participation in regional motor fuel tax enforcement task forces, and $2 million is provided to IRS to supplement its fuel tax enforcement efforts.

Dade County, Fla.: U.S. 1 Busway

Bus riders in Miami's southern suburbs will be able to laugh at traffic congestion. While their colleagues in private cars fume and sweat on congested U.S. 1, the bus riders will travel to and from work on their own dedicated busway, an abandoned Florida East Coast Railroad right-of-way that was purchased by the state in 1988. It runs for almost 13 km from the community of Cutler Ridge to Dadeland Mall, and it is connected at its northern end to the existing 34-km-long MetroRail elevated train system.

The busway is expected to cut average travel time for riders by as much as one-third. But the busway will benefit those U.S. 1 motorists as well. As anyone who has driven behind a bus knows, the stops and starts at bus stops slow traffic. By giving buses their own right-of-way, everyone's trip will be shortened.

"It will give bus riders a better ride and drivers a better drive," says Kimberley Coleman, director of the Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) Office of Public Information. "The busway will also encourage multimodalism. When you're sitting in your car, stopped in traffic, and see those buses whizzing by, you're going to wish you were there."

The busway, developed by the Metro-Dade Transit Agency, FDOT, and FHWA and funded in part by ISTEA's CMAQ, is part of a more comprehensive plan to improve Miami's transportation system. Another feature will be a 3-m-wide walkway/bicycle trail that will be part of a proposed 320-km trail system in South Dade.

The 13-km dedicated busway in Dade County, Fla. reduces travel time by 30 percent.

The 13-km dedicated busway in Dade County, Fla. reduces travel time by 30 percent.

California: Bay Area Partnership

It's rarely in the news, and you won't find it in the telephone book. But if you want to understand why transportation in the San Francisco Bay region is receiving national attention, you need to know about the Bay Area Partnership. The partnership board is made up of the top managers from 31 agencies responsible for transportation and environmental protection in the bay area. The board members come together to share ideas, work together on mutual problems, and generally cut through the layers of bureaucracy and red tape that normally surround interagency activities. The partnership was designed from the start to be a nonhierarchical institution that operates on the basis of mutual interest and cooperation.

The partnership's key program, JUMP (Joint Urban Mobility Program) Start, is designed to expedite low-cost, high-payoff projects that can smooth traffic flows, make public transit and car pooling more attractive, enhance system safety, reduce pollution, and streamline the planning process. JUMP Start projects are those that require two or more agencies to work together or involve multiple transportation modes -- exactly the kinds of projects that are usually the most difficult to get off the ground.

The JUMP Start program has had a number of notable success stories of its own. It initiated the Freeway Service Patrol, a fleet of tow trucks that roam 350 km of the area's most congested freeways, especially during rush hours, to help disabled motorists and clear accident debris. It assisted five agencies in establishing a joint shuttle bus service to deliver transit riders from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Dale City Terminal to San Francisco International Airport. And it initiated a test of the concept of a bay area-wide "superpass" that can be used on three interconnecting systems: BART, County Connection buses in Contra Costa County, and BART Express buses.

The Bay Area Partnership could not have come into existence without ISTEA. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the agency charged with planning, financing, and coordinating transportation for the nine-county San Francisco Bay area, had long been interested in system integration. But the passage of ISTEA, with its emphasis on partnership and integrating transportation modes, provided the tools to accomplish the MTC's goals. In January 1992, just weeks after ISTEA was signed into law, MTC convened the Bay Area Partnership.

MTC Deputy Director Bill Hein notes that the partnership "has brought together agencies that haven't had a history of working together." Its record has earned it awards from the American Planning Association for its "outstanding effort in forging interagency cooperation" and from the National Association of Regional Councils for being "an outstanding example of how regions can respond to the requirements of legislation in a manner that is truly cooperative and responsive to local problems."

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Even highways can get smarter. Since 1993, FHWA has been a leader in efforts to advance Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) that make use of computer and communications technology to improve traffic flow and enhance highway safety. In May 1994, the ITS Joint Program Office was established to coordinate ITS development and implementation.

Forming the foundation of FHWA's work on ITS are five major accomplishments: (1) A joint public-private national program plan has been developed for ITS deployment. (2) A national ITS architecture is being produced to reduce deployment risk and spur the marketplace. (3) A long-term ITS research program, including Automated Highway System (AHS) research, has been launched. (4) The results of 70 operational tests are being used to determine low-risk technologies that are ready for immediate deployment. (5) Early-deployment plans are being developed for about 75 metropolitan areas.

In January 1996, Transportation Secretary Federico Peña announced a national goal to build a U.S. Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure (ITI). ITI consists of traffic detection and monitoring, communications, and control systems required to support a variety of ITS products and services in metropolitan and rural areas. It provides the building blocks to deploy and operate a variety of systems, including traffic signal control, freeway management, transit management, incident management, electronic fare payment, electronic toll collection, and multimodal traveler information. The first initiative of ITI is Operation TimeSaver, which encourages state and local transportation officials to invest in ITI with the objective of shaving 15 percent from the daily travel time of Americans by 2005.

Boise, Idaho: Clean-Fuel Buses

In Boise, what may be the bus fleet of the future is in operation right now. Using CMAQ funds, the city is replacing 28 of its outdated diesel buses with a fleet of small and medium-sized buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). While 22 new buses will serve the city's existing bus routes, the remaining six buses will serve new routes. One of these new routes extended transit service to Boise State University in a partnership that has increased bus ridership and improved mobility around campus. A CNG fueling facility was also constructed in conjunction with the transition to alternative fuel buses, and in a second partnership, Intermountain Gas Company provided a service line for the CNG fueling facility free of charge, saving taxpayers $76,000.

In line with ISTEA's goal of citizen participation in transportation decisions, Boise encouraged residents to attend CMAQ hearings and contribute to the project selection process. City officials believe this approach has laid the groundwork for even more productive citizen participation in the future.

Debbie Ruggles, general manager of Boise Urban Stages, the city's bus service, says the CNG project has had tremendous community support. "CNG buses are very popular because they don't produce the black smoke that people traditionally associate with city buses. So they've produced a public relations benefit as well as a clean air benefit. Without CMAQ funds, we wouldn't have been able to replace any of our buses, let alone get clean-air vehicles. It's been a tremendous benefit to replace a very aged fleet."

Michigan: Funding Impasse Averted

Editorial cartoon published in the April 1996 Detroit News.Under ISTEA, cooperation and negotiation between different levels of government is a must. Before a state can spend the federal-aid highway funds apportioned to it, it must work with local metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to set priorities for projects. In broad terms, the system works this way: Each MPO draws up its own transportation improvement program (TIP) and submits it to the state. The state takes these TIPs and, working with the MPOs, draws up a state transportation improvement program (STIP). In order to gain federal approval, the state's plan must be financially constrained -- that is, the state must show that it has sufficient money to meet proposed costs.

Most of the time, this system works smoothly. But in Michigan in 1995, the process threatened to fall apart. In the spring, Michigan began developing its STIP for fiscal years 1996 through 1998, assuming the passage of a fuel-tax increase. The state legislature defeated the tax increase, leaving the state without enough revenue to meet its STIP obligations and without enough time to revise the plan before the Oct. 1, 1995, start date.

Seeing the problem, the FHWA division office stepped in, proposing an interim agreement that would permit previously conforming and air quality­neutral projects to advance while the STIP was being amended. The amendment process was complicated by the governor's proposal to redirect to state projects federal aid that was normally set aside for local agencies. FHWA staff met several times with state officials to make sure there was no misunderstanding about ISTEA's requirement that state and local organizations had to agree. After much intense debate, especially in more urbanized areas of the state, resolutions were reached with all local agencies except the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), which covers Detroit and the surrounding area.

Negotiations there were particularly contentious. At stake was $850 million in road funds, of which $640 million were federal dollars. Administrator Slater and other FHWA officials met extensively with the parties involved, serving as mediators and facilitators in the hope of reaching an agreement in time for work to be done during the 1996 construction season.

An agreement was finally reached in April 1996. The key to breaking the impasse, FHWA officials said, was the state's willingness to make greater use of advance construction and phased-reimbursement techniques for both state and local projects so that the program would be within estimated resources. FHWA's intervention drew favorable notices from many sources. The Detroit News ran an editorial cartoon showing a federal official marrying the state and SEMCOG. Rep. John Dingell sent a letter to Secretary Peña, praising Slater and FHWA staff who had participated in the negotiations. Also, in a letter to Slater, SEMCOG Executive Director John Amberger wrote that FHWA's assistance "facilitated a solution that recognizes the important role of local elected officials in transportation decision-making while maintaining a win-win for the state of Michigan."

Lincoln, Neb.: Heated Pedestrian Viaduct

Want to keep the ice and snow off your walkway? Just turn up the heat. It sounds like a weary snow shoveler's daydream, but it's a reality in wintry Lincoln, Neb., where ISTEA funds helped construct the nation's first heated pedestrian bridge. The 170-m-long viaduct is located just north of the central business district and adjacent to the campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) and provides access to UNL for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

The hydronic bridge heating system includes a gas boiler that heats a propylene glycol-water solution. The solution is pumped on cue through hoses encased in the deck of the viaduct, keeping the concrete deck surface warm enough to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. Automatic operation of the system is accomplished by moisture and temperature sensors.

The project is providing valuable information that will greatly assist communities planning similar installations. One piece of good news was that the technology did not require specialized construction equipment or specially trained personnel to be installed.

Partnerships With Private Industry

Partnerships are the keystone of ISTEA, and FHWA has long recognized the importance of alliances with private industry in transportation planning. One example is the National Freight Partnership, a collaborative effort with other USDOT agencies and more than 170 executives from all carrier modes to consider improvements for freight movement. Another notable partnership is the National Quality Initiative (NQI), consisting of FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Public Works Association, and seven other national associations representing the highway design and construction industry.

FHWA also seeks input from private industry about particular government programs and regulations. In May 1995, the FHWA Office of Motor Carriers responded quickly to concerns about the implementing regulations of the Intermodal Safe Container Transportation Act of 1992. The office delayed implementation of the act and is working with shippers, carriers, and others to develop alternatives.

Toledo, Ohio: Central Union Terminal

Buildings, like people, can slip into oblivion -- victims of bad timing. That appeared for years to be the fate of Toledo's Central Union Terminal. The terminal, the last of the nation's great railway passenger stations to be built, was inaugurated in a week-long celebration in 1950. No sooner had the $5 million art moderne structure, designed to handle 70 trains a day and 1 million passengers a year, opened its doors than the railroads began their long decline. In 1972, passenger service through the terminal was discontinued altogether.

Amtrak restored some service in 1975, and passenger use grew through the 1980s. At 100,000 passengers a year -- one-tenth of the design capacity -- Central Union Terminal is the busiest rail passenger station in Ohio. The building itself fell into great disrepair over the years. Amtrak, which had no need of such a large facility, threatened in 1991 to pull out of the increasingly ramshackle structure and build a new station elsewhere. That would almost certainly have destined the building for the wrecker's ball.

Amtrak's threatened departure galvanized local officials, who began searching for a way to save the terminal as a passenger station. In 1992, the Toledo Port Authority took on the role of lead agency for the effort. At about the same time, ISTEA was passed. Officials at the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) quickly recognized the importance of the transportation enhancement (TE) funds included in the act and helped secure approximately $4 million toward the effort to rescue Central Union Terminal. Karen Young, enhancements/bicycle coordinator for ODOT, said the department "wouldn't have been able to assist them without TE funds."

On Sept. 22, 1996, exactly 46 years after Central Union Terminal's official opening, Central Union Plaza, as it is now known, was rededicated, capping a three-day celebration. The refurbished building is a multiuse facility. Amtrak passenger operations occupy the first floor. The grand lobby on the third floor has been restored to its original state. The second through fourth floors have been converted to offices. Tenants include the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments and the Lucas County Educational Services Center. The facility is also served by Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses.

"We see Central Union Plaza as an anchor in the neighborhood for the redevelopment that's going on in the area," said Rob Greenlese, director of surface transportation and logistics for the Toledo Port Authority. The $8 million invested in the project from various funding sources "was taken as a sheer vote of confidence and has given businesses in the area the confidence to stay in the area and invest themselves," he said, noting that the ISTEA funds "really fired up the project."

Renovated interior of the Toledo Central Union Plaza.

Renovated interior of the Toledo Central Union Plaza.

Nashville, Tenn.: Regional Ridesharing

There's really nothing to it. You complete a form, mail it in, and receive a list of possible car pool matches. The Middle Tennessee Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) calls it Ride Instead of Drive, it's Easy (RIDE), and hopes it will clean the air and reduce congestion in the Nashville area.

RIDE, a regional program sponsored by a coalition of transportation agencies, uses several approaches to encourage ridesharing. Like most such programs, it matches commuters interested in joining car pools and van pools, but it also provides financial incentives for starting van pools and features a unique Guaranteed Ride Home Program for commuters who have to leave work early or stay late and thus miss their normal ride.

Also provided are 12 free park-and-ride lots that allow commuters to leave their cars behind and meet their car or van pools. In addition, an HOV lane along Interstate 65 between Armory Drive and Concord Road provides an extra incentive not to drive to work alone. And a new commuter bus service is now being offered.

RIDE began in the fall of 1992, and the HOV lane was built in September 1993. Local employers like RIDE's low startup and operational costs, and the program has been so popular with employees that there is a waiting list for van pool services. In the last two years, van pooling has increased by more than one-third.

The partnership currently involved in the program includes the MPO, the RTA, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Transportation Management Association Group, Tennessee Vans, FHWA, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. RTA Executive Director Marian Ott says ISTEA funds, especially from CMAQ, "have allowed increased significance and effort to be put into the program" and have also allowed new elements, such as the park-and-ride lots and a bus demonstration program, to be introduced.

State Infrastructure Bank

It provides flexibility that states can bank on. The State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) pilot program, approved by Congress in the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995, makes funds available for vital construction projects that would otherwise have to be scrapped or delayed. The program is designed to meet today's transportation infrastructure needs by providing increased flexibility and multiple funding strategies. States can deposit about 10 percent of their federal-aid funds to capitalize SIBs, which can then make loans, enhance credit, and otherwise support transportation financing and credit. Once the initial funds are provided, states can further increase the amount available by issuing bonds, thus leveraging the SIB.

Twenty states expressed interest in the program, and USDOT was able to approve 10 state SIBs. They plan a variety of approaches to infrastructure projects, taking advantage of the program's flexibility. For example:

Missouri is considering supporting construction of Highway 179 in Jefferson City and Cole County. For this project, SIB might provide either the county or city with debt service reserves for debt issuance. This means SIB would hold funds as collateral for the bond issuance.

Oklahoma has proposed to provide low-interest loans to local governments to improve safety at rail and grade crossings. The local government might use a sales tax to repay the loan.

Ohio plans to provide a $10 million preconstruction loan to the Butler County Transportation Improvement District for right-of-way acquisition for a series of realignment, widening, and interchange projects for state Route 129. The loan would be repaid from toll-backed bonds issued at the start of construction.

On March 1, 1997, the secretary of transportation will report to Congress on the SIB pilot program. The program's goal is to determine how SIBs can leverage federal dollars to increase infrastructure investments as ISTEA reauthorization legislation moves forward.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Schuylkill River Park Bikeway and Pedestrian Trail

It hasn't been simple. The Schuylkill River Park project, coordinated by the Schuylkill River Development Council, has required years of work by numerous local, state, and federal agencies in complex land acquisition negotiations and a lengthy permit process. But when it is completed, this project will help bring Philadelphia residents closer to the beautiful river that runs through their city and to the city's historic surroundings.

The bikeway segment of the project, made possible by ISTEA transportation enhancement funds, is a trail along the river that will link Philadelphia's Center City with a trail system that extends 35 km to historic Valley Forge. The route into Center City will be free of vehicular traffic. Once in the downtown area, bikers and pedestrians will have a choice of five exits from the trail. John Randolph, executive director of the Schuylkill River Development Council, says bridges over the bikeway carry city streets served by numerous bus lines, and there are plans to construct bike storage facilities in these areas. "It's a tremendous opportunity to relieve congestion," he says.

U.S. 301 Corridor

To solve a problem, sometimes you just have to get everyone sitting around the same table. In suburban Washington, D.C., population growth in the Southern Maryland counties of Prince Georges, Calvert, Charles, and St. Marys has overburdened the existing road system. The main north-south highway through the area, U.S. 301, was originally built through rural land in Prince Georges and Charles counties as a bypass of Washington, but as the suburbs spread eastward, commercial development occurred along the highway, and residential neighborhoods developed nearby. The existing highway is four lanes wide, has 23 traffic lights, and provides local access to commercial and residential developments. The mix of through and local traffic has produced significant congestion.

In the 1980s, the U.S. 301 corridor was studied as the possible location of a new limited-access eastern bypass, but this proposal was rejected by state and local officials after it generated strong citizen opposition. Clearly, another plan had to be found, and federal, state, and local officials found the means to begin devising that plan through the Major Investment Study (MIS) process. An MIS provides a flexible, integrated process to improve transportation planning decisions through consideration of multimodal alternatives, collaborative decision-making, proactive public involvement, and early consideration of environmental factors. The MIS process enables communities to focus on issues and determine solutions to transportation problems that maximize their investments.

For the U.S. 301 corridor, a 76-member task force was assembled to examine a broad range of strategies, each emphasizing a different mix of travel modes and transportation improvements. "The task force is not just advising us but actually guiding the study and making the decisions during the study process for us," says Neil Pedersen, director of planning for the Maryland State Highway Administration. The group's recommendations -- which include a six-lane controlled-access highway, land use and development recommendations, a light rail line, HOV lanes, and increased bus service -- have been submitted to Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening. An intergovernmental working group will take the project into the next phase, creating an action plan and championing the task force's recommendations.

The U.S. 301 process has received rave reviews. Dr. Gridlock, the commuter columnist for the Washington Post, called it "the kind of thoughtful, exhaustive transportation examination that is needed for many other highway corridors in the metropolitan area." Heidi Van Luven, project manager, Maryland State Highway Administration, says the process set up for the study "provided the opportunity to let us do what was needed for this area. It got folks to understand what the needs were."

International Projects

With foreign competition becoming an increasingly important issue for U.S. businesses, it's appropriate that ISTEA has a global outlook. Here are some international success stories:

FHWA has established an International Technology Scanning Program to seek new ideas and technologies developed abroad that can be adapted and used in the United States. Also, FHWA works closely with U.S. industry to improve the competitive position of this country in foreign markets and to help U.S. firms capture more of the estimated $9.5 trillion world highway market over the next 20 years.

FHWA has promoted technical assistance activities with the Russian Federal Highway Department. In December 1994, Administrator Slater signed a project agreement to establish a federal-aid highway program in Russia and to administer a $300 million World Bank Highway Rehabilitation and Maintenance Program loan. FHWA has provided contracting administration assistance and guidance on pavement testing and has assisted in the development of grant proposals.

In cooperation with the U.S.-Mexican border states, FHWA signed an agreement with the government of Mexico for cooperation on binational land transportation planning. As a result of this agreement, there is now a border technology exchange program in effect, a borderwide binational communication system under development, and a $2.5 million effort to create a binational planning process under way. FHWA hopes this will lead to more projects, such as the recently completed $10.6 million loop in Webb County, Texas, which provides a route for truck traffic heading to Mexico through the border crossing at Laredo.

FHWA, Canada, and Mexico have been working toward harmonizing motor carrier safety standards without adversely affecting U.S. highway safety. Under agreements already reached, vehicles operating in the United States will have to meet the same requirements and be subjected to the same carrier inspection standards as U.S. carriers. In addition, the United States, Canada, and Mexico have agreed to work toward the deployment of a system to exchange commercial motor vehicle information electronically. And the United States and Canada are in the process of implementing an audit reciprocity agreement that will allow each country to accept safety ratings developed by audit/investigative officials in the other country.

NEPA Streamlining

Themes in government circles for the past few years have been "reinventing government," "streamlining" processes of various kinds, and "reducing the paperwork burden." Ohio's experience with streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act- (NEPA-) directed reviews for minor state and local transportation projects shows that these can be far more than buzzwords.

Within the past three years, FHWA's Ohio Division has developed two memoranda of agreement (MOA) with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to streamline transportation project evaluation and coordination.

Taking advantage of the increased flexibility afforded by ISTEA in administering surface transportation programs, the Ohio Division in May 1994 entered into a substantially expanded programmatic categorical exclusion agreement with ODOT. Under the agreement, ODOT agreed to act on FHWA's behalf to assure compliance with all applicable federal environmental and related requirements on projects that meet the criteria for categorical exclusion (CE) -- that is, projects of types known not to require an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.

Under the agreement, the only information that ODOT must routinely submit to FHWA is an informational copy of its final decision on the applicability of the programmatic CE approval to a specific project.

After the first year's results were reviewed, the agreement was amended in September 1995 to give ODOT more flexibility to allow its district offices to make categorical exclusion determinations.

An evaluation of the categorical exclusion program shows that a savings of more than 10,000 hours of state staff time a year has been achieved. At the division office level, a savings of more than 800 hours a year is estimated. And overall, FHWA has been removed from involvement in 85 to 90 percent of all federal-aid projects, including most local projects.

Theodore J. Stitt, administrator of ODOT's Office of Environmental Services, now retired, said the streamlined program allows decisions to be made on the lowest levels practicable -- thus stripping away layers of review -- while still maintaining environmental quality. "It allows state and federal agencies to concentrate their efforts on projects with a higher environmental risk," he said. And earlier environmental clearances mean that projects get programmed more quickly for design and construction.

ODNR is also enthusiastic about the results of streamlining under the interagency MOA. In a Dec. 20, 1995, memo, Kim Baker of ODNR's Division of Real Estate and Land Management, wrote: "Based on consultations with ODOT, we estimated a 70-75 percent reduction in ODOT project reviews would be realized. Well, we were wrong." ODOT project reviews were reduced by 93 percent; nearly 600 staff hours in four ODNR divisions were saved, not counting secretarial time; and three file cabinets' worth of storage space was saved.

Consideration is now being given to expanding the programmatic categorical exclusion nationwide, so that other states can reap benefits similar to those seen in Ohio.

Cheryl Hoffman and Lawrence Paulson are partners in Hoffman Paulson Associates, a writing/editing and public relations firm in Hyattsville, Md. They have written and edited numerous studies for the Federal Transit Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and, on occasion, they write specifically for Public Roads.

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