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Publication Number:      Date:  Autumn 1994
Issue No: Vol. 57 No. 2
Date: Autumn 1994


Intermodalism and ISTEA

The Challenges and the Changes

by Lawrence Dwyer


Cargo ship being unloaded.

What is the greatest strength of U.S. transportation? What has made U.S. transportation the envy and inspiration for nations around the world?

Our transportation system functions as a true system, a network that links virtually every point to all the other points by one means or another, so people and goods can move at reasonable speed and economical cost to their desired destinations. Our system is made up of many different modes of transportation -- road, rail, water, air -- but it also depends on effective connections and coordination between and among modes -- the "intermodal" dimension that has become such a prominent theme in transportation in the last decade.

The intermodal approach to transportation is taking hold at all levels throughout the transportation community in the way projects are conceived, developed, and completed. Roads and highways, railroads, transit, ports and shipping, aviation, bikes and walking -- not working separately but in coordination -- provide the best means to maximize the benefits that an intermodal transportation system can bring to our country and the world. This article outlines some of the transportation challenges that all modes face and details the changes being made in transportation legislation, organizations, and policy matters to address these challenges.

Congress recognized these challenges and addressed them in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), which provides the foundation for the nation's surface transportation into the 21st century. ISTEA, with its commitment to a national intermodal transportation system, has been called revolutionary and unprecedented in its empowerment of state and local officials to solve their specific transportation problems, flexibility in the use of funds by state and local governments, environmental enhancement, and planning and management systems that will enable our intermodal network to work more efficiently.

National Highway System

One of ISTEA's most important provisions calls for designation of a National Highway System (NHS), an interconnected network of highways and of principal arterials linking major population centers, providing access to international border crossings, ports, airports, public transportation facilities, and other intermodal facilities and serving major travel destinations. ISTEA authorized a six-year total of $21 billion for the proposed 256,000-kilometer (159,000-mile) NHS. States can use the NHS funds for non-NHS projects if they show that they are maintaining the condition and performance of NHS.

NHS will include the interstate system, as well as high-priority corridors identified in ISTEA, strategic highways important to national defense, and selected principal arterials. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) worked closely with its partners at the local, state, and federal levels, including the Department of Defense. Their recommendations were built into the NHS proposal Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Federico Peña submitted to Congress in December 1993.

The links in NHS, as it is currently proposed, contains just 4 percent of America's 6.4 million kilometers (four million miles) of public roads, but they carry more than 40 percent of the nation's highway traffic, 70 percent of the truck freight traffic, and 80 percent of the tourist traffic. NHS will also increase economic opportunities to communities not served directly by the interstate system. It will link with roads in Canada and Mexico, uniting the North American free-trade zone with a high-performance, continental road network.

In addition, NHS will serve as the foundation for the National Transportation System -- enhancing the capacity of all other modes of transportation and the overall network by serving as the glue that binds all of them together. An efficient, seamless intermodal transportation system will be necessary to meet the challenges of competing in the 21st century global economy.

The next step for NHS is to win congressional approval. The House of Representatives passed an NHS bill on May 26. This bill provides for an NHS, and it also mandates a proposal from DOT for a National Transportation System within two years. In the Senate, a field hearing was held on June 6 in Montana, the home state of Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Congressional approval of NHS is not a sure thing. Some members of Congress were skeptical about the concept of an NHS during the development of ISTEA. Many environmental and other groups think the time has come to shift from an emphasis on the highway system to investment in alternatives, principally rail and transit. As a result, supporters of NHS will have to demonstrate that, as the foundation of our intermodal transportation system, NHS is essential to our economy, mobility, productivity, and international competitiveness and that NHS actually enhances the performance of other modes. The constructive example of NHS and the forward-looking thinking it has generated have inspired Secretary Peña to extend the concept to a National Transportation System.

FHWA's Intermodal Approach

DOT and FHWA have taken a number of actions to implement the intermodal provisions of ISTEA. In the DOT's Office of the Secretary (OST), the Office of Intermodalism was created to ensure a coordinated national perspective on transportation activities across all modes and to facilitate projects that cross modal lines and that raise significant questions about jurisdiction and applicable funding.

One of the first steps FHWA took in implementing ISTEA in January 1992 was the establishment of the Intermodal Division to support and facilitate the development and implementation of intermodal policies, planning, and projects. The division staff focuses on intermodal issues in the highway program and serves as a point of contact for OST and other operating administrations for intermodal issues that involve FHWA programs.

FHWA has worked with OST and the other modal administrations in the implementation of ISTEA's flexible funding procedures, the development of NHS, planning and development of intermodal passenger terminals, and coordination of efforts in training and technical assistance.

Last spring, FHWA Administrator Rodney E. Slater took a 14-day, 14-state, 5,600-kilometer (3,500-mile) border-to-border, fact-finding trip to assess our surface transportation infrastructure needs, to evaluate the implementation of ISTEA, and to get a fuller understanding of the proposed NHS's impact. The trip provided Administrator Slater with the opportunity to experience firsthand every aspect of the FHWA intermodal program.

At the Niagara River border crossings, which are essential to tourism and trade between the United States and Canada, Slater discussed the border infrastructure challenges with state and city officials.

Administrator Slater and New York DOT Commissioner John Egan at the Peace Bridge over the Niagara River.Administrator Slater and New York DOT Commissioner John Egan at the Peace Bridge over the Niagara River.

In Erie, Pa., the Administrator reviewed the Erie Intermodal Complex, designed to spur development in the I-90/Route 19 area, which will support increased tourism and commercial development.

Slater visited the Central Union Terminal in Toledo, Ohio. The terminal, a Historic Site Enhancement Project, is being restored to provide modern intermodal passenger service. The project, as envisioned, will provide for more efficient rail-passenger facilities, and it will complement the rail-passenger operation by bringing Greyhound bus service to the same location.

Leaving the Midwest, the tour turned south through Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. In the small town (pop. 1,200) of Henning, Tenn., the Administrator visited with Mayor Fred Montgomery. Montgomery, who is also the curator of the Alex Haley Museum, led a tour filled with stories and history. Outside the museum on Mr. Haley's gravestone are six words that captured the essence of the entire trip: "Find the Good and Praise It."

Alex Haley's boyhood home.

Alex Haley's boyhood home.

In Louisiana, Slater toured the port of New Orleans and met with local officials, who want to revive the area around the port and make it a major North American free-trade access center.

And in Texas, Slater participated in a toll road ceremony in Houston, visited with the metropolitan planning organization in Corpus Christi, and rode on a Valley Transit bus. He observed motor carrier inspectors at the Mexican border demonstrate the success of their international operation.

Administrator Slater with motor carrier inspectors at U.S.-Mexican border in Laredo, Texas.

Administrator Slater with motor carrier inspectors at U.S.-Mexican border in Laredo, Texas.

Slater summed up his trip, "While I found much good, we all have to continue working every day to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st century. Because transportation is not just about concrete, asphalt, and steel. It's about people -- the people we serve today and tomorrow."

Intermodal Management System

ISTEA requires the states to develop and implement six management systems:

Congress included these management systems in ISTEA because the members recognized that our highway and transit systems are aging and we are faced with tight financial constraints at all levels. Transportation planners and managers must focus on using our systems and investments more effectively. They must simultaneously deal with limited finances, higher public expectations for performance, and increasing concern about the environment and quality of life. Management systems are essential in addressing these concerns and effectively managing our existing transportation system and resources.

In addition to the management systems, the states are required to develop, establish, implement, and operate --on a continuous basis -- a traffic monitoring system (TMS). The purpose of TMS is to provide traffic data to support the management systems as well as other transportation studies and programs.

On Dec. 1, 1993, FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly issued an interim rule for the six management systems and the TMS. The interim rule provides a common framework for all six management systems. Each management system should be a systematic process designed to assist decision makers in selecting cost-effective strategies and actions to improve the efficiency and safety of, and protect the investment in, the nation's infrastructure. The results of the management systems should provide support for the statewide and metropolitan planning process and the development of the State Transportation Improvement Programs (STIP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Programs (TIP).

Although the interim rules provide flexibility, there is a basic structure for all the management systems. Each management system should include the following elements:

IMS is a systematic process that provides -- on a continuous basis -- efficient, safe, and convenient movement of people and goods through the integration of transportation facilities and systems. It also improves coordination of planning and implementation activities associated with air, water, and various land-based transportation facilities and systems.

The development of the IMS is to be coordinated with CMS and PTMS development because of the close interrelationships among the three. The elements of the IMS are:

By Oct. 1, 1994, the IMS compliance schedule requires a work plan, an inventory of intermodal facilities, and the initiation of data collection efforts. By Oct. 1, 1995, performance measures are to be established; system design should be completed (or under way); and full-scale data collection should be under way. IMS should be fully operational by Oct. 1, 1996. Strategies are to be evaluated (within the planning process) for inclusion in the transportation plan and the TIP/STIP.

The states' IMS work plans must identify major activities and responsibilities involved in implementing the management systems. The work plans should also include time schedules, identification of available resources, and a discussion of how the management systems will be coordinated.

The work plans must be submitted as part of the Jan. 1, 1995, certification statement. The states will certify that the management systems are being implemented in accordance with the compliance schedule specified in the interim rule. States failing to certify that they are implementing the management systems may be subject to the withholding of up to 10 percent of the funds apportioned to the state under Title 23, United States Code; this applies to any recipient under the Federal Transit Act. Before imposing any sanctions, FHWA will notify the state of the actions necessary to correct deficiencies in the implementation of the systems.

The states' progress on the implementation of the management systems varies based on their experience with management systems prior to the passage of ISTEA. Many states have had previous experience in the establishment of bridge and pavement systems as well as the safety management system. However, very few states have had prior experience with congestion, intermodal, or public transportation and equipment management systems. The lack of experience and examples of operating management systems have created a need for technical guidance, especially for CMS, IMS, and PTMS. Efforts are currently under way by FHWA and FTA to provide technical guidance and prototype management systems to assist states and metropolitan planning organizations.

The Intermodal Division can provide more information on technical guidance. Also, the National Highway Institute has developed courses to assist states to implement ISTEA management systems.


As we look toward the future to determine the role of FHWA in an intermodal world, the words of Dr. John Schaar, professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Cruz, may be enlightening: "The future is not a result of choices among alternate paths offered by the present, but a place that is created. Created first in mind and will; created next in activity. The future is not someplace we are going to, but we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination."

FHWA will continue to work with our partners to implement the intermodal provisions of ISTEA. What will this continuing emphasis yield? The result should be a balanced transportation system for our nation that takes maximum advantage of new technology -- a system that is multimodal and has efficient intermodal connections and transfer points. The goal is to leave a legacy for the next generation. The legacy is an intermodal, national transportation system -- a system that is not fragmented into separate parts but rather a transportation system that works in synch to serve diverse interests of the people and environment being affected by the nation's transportation system.

Lawrence Dwyer is an intermodal transportation specialist working in the Intermodal Division (HEP-50) of FHWA's Office of Environment and Planning. He is a former presidential management intern who worked in the Office of Management and Budget, DOT Office of the Secretary, and the FHWA Administrator's Office. In his position with the Intermodal Division, he works on the intermodal management system and on intermodal passenger and freight issues. He holds a master's degree in public administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago and a bachelor's degree in communications and political science from St. Norbert College in DePere, Wis.




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