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Vol. 13, No. 2 - March/April 2002

An Early Look at the Unfolding Reauthorization Debate

Although the reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Program is still more than a year away, preparations for the legislative initiative are shifting into high gear. Both the House and the Senate have launched a series of hearings and listening sessions on the state of the nation's surface transportation program, while the U.S. Department of Transportation and various stakeholder groups are hard at work identifying key issues, studying programmatic options and developing legislative positions. In this two-part Brief, the first in a series of reports commenting on the reauthorization process, we take a first look at the unfolding legislative debate.

The "Supercar" is Dead...Long Live the "Freedom Car"
The Bush administration has launched a new program to support research on fuel cells, the ultimate in clean-car technology. The new initiative, dubbed "Freedom Car", replaces the Clinton-era Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) whose aim was to design and mass produce an affordable 80-mile-per-gallon hybrid-electric "supercar" by 2004. That goal had earlier been judged as "unrealistic" and the program recommended for termination by the National Research Council. The "Freedom Car" initiative has a longer-term goal of replacing the internal combustion engine with fuel cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity that powers the vehicle.

Amtrak's Long Range Future Remains in Doubt
The debate over Amtrak is far from over. The first of three Congressional hearings on Amtrak's future was held on February 14. It dealt with the Amtrak Reform Council's (ARC) restructuring plan. Additional hearings will be held on March 6 and April 11. But with only 60 legislative days remaining in this session, the prospects for Congressional action on Amtrak reauthorization appear slim. In the meantime, Amtrak faces an immediate problem: how to keep going until its long term fate is decided. The Administration has requested $521 million for FY 2003, the same amount Amtrak received in operating aid in the current fiscal year. Amtrak's president, John Warrington, says Amtrak needs $1.2 billion in operating and capital money, otherwise it may have to begin shutting down long-distance trains. While some kind of a compromise seems in the offing, the best that can be hoped for is another year of Amtrak limping along on borrowed time.

Can We Tame Sprawl?
The debate about "smart growth" shows no sign of subsiding. A new Brookings Institution study* has added fuel to the debate by suggesting through its findings that "smart growth" champions who advocate a return to denser forms of urban living may be fighting a losing battle. The study, based on 2000 Census data, has found that people who traditionally were drawn to central cities-singles, elderly couples, immigrant households-are increasingly settling in the suburbs. That also happens to be the conclusion of two respected observers whose points of view we present below. The first is Anthony Downs, distinguished Brookings Institution urban analyst and an occasional contributor to these pages, who contends that continued outward dispersal seems inevitable as the nation seeks to accommodate an expected 23 percent gain in US population by 2020. The second is Matthew J. Kiefer, a land use attorney in Boston and lecturer at the Harvard School of Design, who argues that "smart growth" policies aimed at concentrating development in existing urban areas have not gained the political support necessary to cause meaningful changes in existing land use patterns.

The Future of High-Occupancy Vehicle Lanes
An animated discussion about the future of HOV lanes took place at the recent annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board. Members of the panel* agreed that dedicated lanes in congested highway corridors are here to stay. The unresolved issue - one that continues to cause controversy - is what eligibility criteria should be used to allocate this increasingly scarce and valuable road space. Is it fair to continue setting aside these lanes exclusively for vehicles carrying more than one person? Or should some other, more equitable allocation mechanism be used, such as pricing? The latter point of view was argued by your editor, whose remarks we reproduce below.

The National ITS Program Plan
In the Spring of 2000, ITS America launched a process to develop a long range plan to guide and accelerate future development and mainstreaming of ITS technology. The process, involving extensive consultations with the ITS community, industry stakeholders and other transportation constituencies, has culminated in the January 2002 publication of a formal report, the National Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Plan: A Ten-Year Vision. We offer below a critical appraisal of the report.


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