The following report of the Atlanta 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 third Corridors and Borders program workshop was held October 26-27, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia. 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.
Dee Spann of FHWA welcomed participants and stated that the first day of the workshop had multiple purposes, including
The second day of the workshop was to focus on how to evaluate the program and what participants' expectations were as to the future direction of the program. Spann noted that FHWA anticipates a midcourse correction of the program's direction and "needs your help in determining what the future direction of this program will be."
The first day of the workshop featured a panel discussion on "Why Have the Corridors and Borders Programs?" The panel was composed of Margaret Blum, Associate Administrator of the Maritime Administration; Terry Sherwood, Executive Director of the Southwest Arkansas Planning & Development District; Jim Oberg, Director of the US/Canada Center of Excellence for the General Services Administration (GSA); and Paul Loper, Statewide Planning Manager for the Mississippi Department of Transportation (DOT). Blum noted that the Maritime Administration has been involved with the Corridors and Borders program since its inception. Currently, 95 percent of the Nation's goods travel by sea at some point in the delivery process. And the amount of cargo coming into ports is expected to double or triple in coming years. How will the country's roads accommodate this increase? The problem will require partnerships and global thinking.
Sherwood discussed the importance of Interstate 69, which spans the Nation's heartland, connecting to the Canadian border at Port Huron and to the Mexican border in Texas. This corridor directly serves almost 16 million people. Expanding I-69 will reduce travel time and cut fuel consumption. It will also encourage economic development in impoverished areas along the corridor.
Oberg discussed improving the country's 150 border stations, which are aging, outdated, and cannot handle the current volume of traffic. GSA is now partnering with Canada and Mexico to improve border facilities. It would also like to coordinate more with local communities, State transportation agencies, and transportation coalitions. He noted that the Corridors and Borders program has finally put all involved parties under the same umbrella: "We're sharing information and coordinating and prioritizing." He also noted that if corridors such as I-69 are upgraded but the border facilities are not upgraded, then the border crossings will be the bottlenecks and things won't improve much.
Paul Loper commented that one of the reasons to have a program such as the Corridors and Borders one is motivation. "The money we have for this program is not enough to build all the corridors that we need, but it gets us started and gives us immediate incentive," he said. He also noted that truck growth patterns have accelerated since NAFTA was passed in 1993, making investments in high-traffic corridors even more important.
Irene Rico and Martin Weiss of FHWA then went over the 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 ITS 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 Register Notice 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 featured case study presentations on several projects that received 1999 Corridors and Borders funding. The I-35 and Texas border projects are a collection of four initiatives that received funding. The projects involve building an approach roadway to Laredo bridge, upgrading I-35, implementing ITS improvements along the I-35/I-29 corridor, and making improvements to the Hidalgo point of entry system. The SR 22, US 80, SR 96, and 116 corridor study focuses on a high priority corridor that runs from Meridian, Mississippi, to Savannah, Georgia. Georgia DOT's goal is to develop a comprehensive transportation plan for the corridor, including possible use of ITS measures.
The I-66 project is focused on expanding the Interstate across Kentucky. The primary goal is to connect the eastern part of the State with the proposed I-73 in West Virginia. Kentucky received $4.5 million in Corridors and Borders funding for the project. The I-69 project is a multistate initiative involving Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. The coalition has already done feasibility studies on building I-69 and will use its $10 million in Corridors and Borders funding for environmental studies.
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, "Can funding from TEA-21 be used across the border?" The answer was "Yes, if it completes the project." Another participant asked, "If we're awarded money, do we have to obligate it in FY 2000?" FHWA stated that, yes, if States are not able to obligate the funds within the fiscal year, there is a mechanism to allow them to obligate it the next year. The money is essentially released and then given back to them the next year. While there is no guaranteee that they will get it back, in the past States always have.
During the comment time, States that received funding in 1999 noted features that they think helped to make their projects successful. These included being intermodal in nature and bringing some of their own funding to the project. Many participants noted problems with the STIP/TIP: They need to get projects listed on the STIP or TIP to receive the Corridors and Borders grants, but it is difficult to get projects listed before receiving the grant.
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:
Participants were split as to whether the programs should be evaluated in a combined way or individually. One breakout group definitively felt that looking at the combined program holds the greatest opportunity. Other participants voted for evaluating them separately, as the programs aim to solve different types of problems. Suggestions for evaluation factors ranged from looking at capacity and economic growth for corridors to examining clearance times for borders. Other suggestions included "evaluate them the way you'd evaluate a project, looking at such factors as safety and economic benefit to the country," and look at whether the programs "provide better connectivity."
The question "who should evaluate these programs?" brought a range of answers. Suggestions included the DOT, FHWA, State DOTs, MPOs, Congress, and the public. Participants generally thought that the evaluation should be done before the next funding reauthorization, with one commenting that the evaluation "should be a roadmap to guide authorization."
Participants would evaluate the success of the program by such measures as economic development, safety, productivity, mobility, and congestion. Participants would also look at whether the projects accomplished the goals set forth in their applications.
Expectations for the program ranged from eliminating earmarks to seeding a variety of projects to developing multimodal transportation systems. Many participants felt that more money is needed for the program. Other comments included "need enough flexibility to include both land and water factions," and "need to take a better look at the big picture."
For the majority of workshop participants, the first round of awards did not meet their expectations. The comments included "not enough money, " "too narrow a focus," and "should have done without earmarks." Some participants also wanted to see more partnerships supporting the use of ITS technology.
Suggestions for modifying future program solicitations included "keep earmarks out," "focus on critical importance of partnerships," and define the program as "national, regional, or statewide in scope." There were also numerous suggestions as to how to adjust the program's selection criteria. These included eliminating the STIP/TIP requirement, placing more emphasis on economic efficiency, and reexamining the definition of a border.