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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 62· No. 1 > Editor's Notes

July/August 1998
Vol. 62· No. 1

Editor's Notes

Finally, A Highway Bill

On June 9, there was a great collective sigh of relief from virtually everyone in the public and private sectors of the "highway community." Finally, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which was passed by Congress on May 22, was law, and we had legislation to replace the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), which expired on Sept. 30, 1997.

TEA-21 authorizes highway, highway safety, transit, and other surface transportation programs for the next six years. The act builds on the initiatives of ISTEA, continuing and improving current programs, and establishes some new initiatives to meet the challenges of improving safety, dealing with ever-increasing traffic, protecting and enhancing communities and the natural environment, and advancing the nation's economic growth and commercial competitiveness.

President Clinton and Transportation Secretary Slater used words such as "landmark legislation" and "historic legislation" to tout TEA-21. Clearly, the reaction from most of the community to the act, which guarantees a record $198 billion in highway and transit funding, ranges from pleased to ecstatic; however, inevitably, not everyone is happy with the bill. Some intensive analysis of the provisions of the act and their effects is underway, and in the next issue of Public Roads, we'll have an article about TEA-21. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the significant features of TEA-21 include:

  • A guaranteed level of federal funds for surface transportation through fiscal year 2003. The annual floor for highway funding is keyed to receipts of the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund. Transit funding is guaranteed at a selected fixed amount. All highway-user taxes are extended at the same rates as when the legislation was enacted.
  • Extension of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprises program in highway and transit contracting undertaken with federal funding. This provides a flexible national 10-percent goal for the participation of disadvantaged business enterprises, including small firms owned and controlled by women and minorities.
  • Strengthening of safety programs across DOT. New incentive programs with great potential for saving lives and property are aimed at increasing the use of safety belts and promoting the enactment and enforcement of 0.08-percent blood-alcohol concentration standards for drunk driving. These new incentive funds also offer added flexibility to states because the grants can be used for any Title 23 U.S. Code activity.
  • Continuation of the proven and effective program structure established for highways and transit under the landmark ISTEA legislation. Flexibility in the use of funds, emphasis on measures to improve the environment, and a focus on a strong planning process as the foundation of good transportation decisions - all ISTEA hallmarks - are continued and enhanced by TEA-21. New programs - such as Border Infrastructure, Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation, and Access to Jobs - target special areas of national interest and concern.
  • Investment in research and its application to maximize the performance of the transportation system. Special emphasis is placed on deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems to help improve the operations and management of transportation systems and vehicle safety.

TEA-21 provides $217.3 billion in surface transportation investment over six years, and it guarantees $198 billion in funding. It provides $28.6 billion for the National Highway System, $23.8 billion for interstate maintenance, $33.3 billion for the Surface Transportation Program, $20.4 billion for bridge replacement and rehabilitation, $8.12 billion for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, and $42 billion for transit.

Thanks to TEA-21, Public Roads will have a wealth of information to share with you about interesting and important advancements in highway programs and technology - advancements that, as Secretary Slater said, will provide Americans with "the opportunity to lead safer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives."

Bob Bryant


United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration