The following report of the Chicago 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 second corridors and borders program workshop was held October 19-20, 1999, in Chicago, Illinois. 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.
Tony Kane, Executive Director of FHWA, welcomed participants and went over the Corridors and Borders flagship initiative. He noted that FHWA would like this program to be about not only the projects funded, but borders and corridors projects across the country.
The workshop then featured a panel offering perspective on "Why Have the Corridors and Borders Programs?" The panel featured Jacques Rochon of Transport Canada, Eugen Ryan of the Chicago Area Transportation Study, Irving Rubin of the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition (EBTC), and Gloria Combe of the Canadian National Railway. Rochon noted that Canada and the United States have common issues with respect to corridors and borders crossings. Canada has established a Federal Interdepartmental Working Group on Trade Corridors, which coordinates Federal programs and initiatives that support border development. The working group also recognizes the importance of corridors to regional economic development. In addition to this effort, Canada is developing a 5-year plan to improve the country's physical infrastructure. The transportation component of this plan could include improving national highways, urban transit systems, and international border crossings.
Rubin commented that the Corridors and Borders program is very important to the members of his coalition. However, the funds budgeted for the program are not enough; they are only a fraction of what is needed. He noted that corridors programs have access to 120 times the money of borders programs. Therefore, the DOT and FHWA should allocate the largest portion of their funds to borders projects. The focus should be on funding planning and preconstruction activities, not construction. He also noted that "earmarking threatens the very concept of a program whose essence is competition."
Combe discussed the advantages of using intermodal systems. The intermodal concept combines the short-haul advantages of trucks with the long-haul advantages of trains. She also discussed the CN/CP Railroad project, which received Borders and Corridors funding in 1999. The project involves establishing a central database that would link trains and customs offices, cutting shipping times. This project, she said, "has produced real benefits for the railroad industry and the motoring public."
Roger Petzold of FHWA then covered the FY 2000 corridors and borders application process. Projects eligible for corridor program funding include:
Petzold 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. Petzold 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 workshop featured three case study presentations of projects that received 1999 Corridors and Borders funding. The Hoosier Heartland Project in Indiana involves new bridge construction, road construction, and sign replacement on a high traffic corridor. The project received $2 million in funding from the Corridors and Borders program. The multistate CN/CP Railroad project, which was also discussed earlier in the day by Gloria Combe, represents a significant modernization of the electronic data interchange between customs agencies and railroads engaged in U.S. and Canadian commerce. New York is acting as the lead State in the multistate partnership, which received $1 million in Corridors and Borders funding.
Michigan's Ambassador Bridge Project is part of a 5-year initiative to improve access to the bridge and Michigan's other gateways into Canada. Michigan received $10.6 million from the Corridors and Borders program to fund the Ambassador Bridge portion of the improvements. The funds will go toward design work.
Several open mic listening sessions were held over the course of the workshop to give attendees a chance to ask questions and make comments about the Corridors and Borders program. One participant asked, "Does earmarking look like the way of the world? Will it be the same in 2001?" FHWA replied that while it does not support or encourage earmarking, unfortunately once that door is opened, it is hard to shut. Another participant observed that he did not see system connectivity listed as an important project critieria and that not many of the projects being funded are intermodal in nature. Sylvia Grijalva of FHWA noted that while it is still primarily a highway program, FHWA is trying to encourage intermodality. Other participants were concerned about multiyear funding of projects. Many of these 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. FHWA noted that the Corridors and Borders funds are only a small pot of money. These are only supplemental funds and a State's main source of funding should come from TEA-21.
The second day of the workshop was primarily devoted to breakout sessions. Workshop participants were divided into two 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, with some even suggesting that both types of evaluation should be done. Suggestions for how to evaluate the program ranged from doing a cost/benefit analysis to looking at whether individual projects accomplished their objectives to examining whether the projects improved system connectivity. Other comments regarding the evaluation process included "How much money was given to border projects vs. corridor projects?" and "How much went into planning and preliminary engineering vs. implementation?"
The U.S. DOT received the most votes for being the best entitity to evaluate the programs. A 2-year timeframe for evaluation was recommended, with one participant commenting that "the evaluation should be done in time for the next reauthorization."
How should success for the programs be evaluated? Suggestions included looking at progress made on the corridors connecting to Canada and Mexico that carry the highest volume of trade, as well as looking at how the DOT's strategic goals have been met, particularly those of safety, mobility, and national security. One participant advocated looking at the value added by the program in areas such as access to facilities and reduction in congestion. Some participants felt that the program has limited data that is not sufficient enough to be measurable. They advocated starting a basic data collection program to overcome this problem.
Expectations for the program ranged from "focus on border/corridor issues nationally" to "build support for larger program" to "focus need on Congressional high priority corridors." One participant noted that the program should help build a "better understanding of needs and issues on borders and corridors."
For many of the participants, the first round of awards did not meet their expectations. As one commented, "the money was spread too thin and too many projects were selected." Suggestions for improvement included partnering more with Canada and Mexico on projects and planning more multistate projects. One participant, however, was more satisfied, noting that "DOT did do a good job in balancing selection." Another participant was satisfied with the awards for the borders projects, but not for the corridors program, commenting that "money was awarded to regional and local issues that lack national focus."
Participants had some suggestions as to how to modify future program solicitations, including moving the process so that is earlier in the year. As one individual noted, "This will give States more time to obligate money and also gives more time to technical and political decisionmakers." Participants also commented that it would be helpful to receive feedback from the selection process earlier.
Participants did not have many suggestions as to how to adjust the selection criteria, other than to highlight performance measures and coordinate better with Canadian border programs.