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Vol. 14, No. 2 - March/April 2003

Major Surface Transportation Issues in the 108th Congress
For the first time in history, the separate laws that govern aviation, rail and highways all come up for renewal during the current congressional session. Of the three pending reauthorizations, the $30 billion-plus per year surface transportation program affects the most congressional districts and hence is a subject of intense interest to virtually every congressional lawmaker. That is why the upcoming reauthorization of this program was the topic of a special session at a Williamsburg VA seminar for newly elected Members of Congress, sponsored by the Congressional Research Service. The key issues that will confront the lawmakers were discussed by a team consisting of John W. Fischer, CRS, Jack Basso, AASHTO, and your editor. A brief summary of their presentations follows.

The Administration's Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request
The President's budget request for fiscal year 2004 was unveiled on February 3. Consistent with the Administration's resolve to impose a domestic spending discipline across the board, the $54.3 billion transportation budget request represents only a six percent increase ($2.9 billion) over the President's FY 2003 request. The budget request provides some advance hints of the administration's thinking concerning the reauthorization of the federal-aid surface transportation program.

Fiscal Year 2004 represents the first year of the new six-year surface transportation authorization cycle. The Administration's proposed FY 2004 funding of $30.2 billion is "a far better starting point than that of last year," commented John Horsley, Executive Director of AASHTO. But it is still below AASHTO's recommended baseline level of $34 billion (which AASHTO would like to see rise to "at least" $45 billion by the end of the next authorization cycle). House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) pointedly noted that the nation's transportation infrastructure needs as reported in US DOT's Conditions and Performance Report would require twice the funding levels proposed in the Administration's budget. Judging from the congressional reaction, Congress is likely to set more generous funding levels.

The President's FY 2004 budget proposal requests $7.226 billion for transit-related programs, the same amount as in the FY 2003 budget request, but a 7 percent increase over the FY 2002 funding level. However, the proposal is below the amount recommended by the transit industry which has called for continued growth of the federal transit program at 12 percent annually, from a level of $7.2 billion in FY 2003 to $14.3 billion in FY 2009. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) expressed disappointment with the proposed budget and with the Administration's proposal to decrease the federal match for New Starts projects from 80 percent to 50 percent. "We cannot sit quietly and accept the FY 2004 proposed number as the right number, or even as an adequate number," the American Public Transportation Association editorialized in its weekly publication, Passenger Transport.

HOT Networks: An Idea Whose Time May Have Come1
HOV lanes could be transformed into a more effective component of the urban transportation system by turning them into premium lanes that would serve as uncongested guideways for express buses, while providing a faster and more reliable travel option to toll-paying individual motorists. So argue the authors of a new report by the Reason Public Policy Institute unveiled at a recent press conference that included representatives of the American Automobile Association, Environmental Defense and the Progressive Policy Institute. In effect, the proposal marries two promising transportation innovations: high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
1 Robert W. Poole, Jr. and C. Kenneth Orski, Hot Networks: A New Plan for Congestion Relief and Better Transit, RPPI Policy Study 305, February 2003 (The full text of this Brief can be found in "From the Editor")

Promoting an "Operations Mindset": Why Has There Been So Little Progress?
Despite a three-year "National Dialogue on Transportation Operations," few state and local operating agencies have embraced the idea of making highway operations their core mission or improving highway system performance as their primary goal. Implementing regional collaboration and coordination of transportation operations has likewise been slow. The Transportation Research Board held a special session at its Annual Meeting in January to seek a better understanding of the reasons for this disappointing lack of progress.

London's Big Gamble
The controversial and much debated plan to impose a congestion charge on drivers who enter an eight-square mile area of central London took effect on February 17. Some 700 video cameras distributed at entry points and throughout the congestion zone scan license plates of vehicles that travel within the zone on weekdays between 7 am and 6:30 pm. This information is matched each night against a database of drivers who have paid the charge. Motorists can pay the daily £5 ($8) fee by phone, on line, or at designated sales points. Failure to pay by 10 pm on the day of the trip triggers a progressively higher fine which reaches £120 ($192) if the charge remains unpaid after 28 days. Residents living within the central zone receive a 90% discount and disabled drivers, taxis and emergency service vehicles are exempt from the charge altogether.

The scheme is intended to cut down on chronic traffic congestion in central London (and is expected to generate some £130 million/year for public transport improvements). Some 250,000 cars typically enter Central London every weekday. Authorities hope the charge will reduce this number by 10-15 percent. While congestion charges have been implemented successfully in Singapore and three Norwegian cities (Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim), no program has ever been attempted on this large a scale in a city with such complex travel patterns.

We have asked two veteran students of congestion pricing to send us their observations and reflections about London's big gamble. They are David Bayliss, former Chief Transport Planner for the Greater London Council and Director of Planning for London Transport, and the well-known transport economist and author of "Roads in a Market Economy", Gabriel Roth (who happened to be visiting London at the time). While their reports of the initial launch are generally positive, it will be weeks if not months before the full impact of this ambitious scheme on traffic levels, travel patterns and center city economic activity is known.


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