Urban Transportation Planning Can Better Address Modal Trade-offs
RCED-92-112: Published: Apr 2, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 1992.
- Full Report:
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined funding flexibility between the highway and mass transit programs, focusing on: (1) the extent to which highway and mass transit program funds have been used across modal lines; and (2) whether improvements are needed in the highway and mass transit planning processes to make more effective choices in addressing congestion and clean air problems.
GAO found that: (1) only about 4 percent of the $174 billion of federal-aid highway funds obligated by states and localities since fiscal year (FY) 1976 have been invested in traditional mass transit projects; and (2) only about 1 percent of the $40 billion in mass transit capital assistance financed high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, busways, and other nontraditional transportation projects. GAO also found that the use of highway and mass transit funds across modal lines has been limited because: (1) the federal matching share for mass transit capital assistance projects has been more favorable for states and localities than the matching share for federal and urban projects; and (2) states and localities are reluctant to use highway and mass transit funds across modal lines because highway and mass transit needs exceed available program funds. In addition, GAO found that: (1) Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations do not include criteria for making modal trade-offs between highways and mass transit within a specific transportation corridor, and few state and local organizations have developed such criteria; and (2) criteria that states and localities use to evaluate major capital projects within each mode generally do not facilitate comparisons.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Not Implemented
Comments: DOT issued revised FHwA/FTA statewide and metropolitan regulations for transportation planning on October 22, 1993. Although these regulations require a multimodal transportation planning process, as well as consideration of all transportation modes in developing transportation plans and programs, they do not provide criteria and related measures for comparing highway and mass transit projects. Ongoing research and technical assistance under the Travel Model Improvement Program might meet the intent of this recommendation. However, there is no guarantee that it will, and regardless, this program will not be completed until well into the future.
Recommendation: To better assist states and localities in identifying those projects, regardless of mode, that most effectively deal with congestion and air quality problems, the Secretary of Transportation should coordinate and initiate policies to promote efficient intermodal transportation as required by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) by developing criteria and related measures for comparing highway and mass transit projects that: (1) consider mobility, environmental quality, safety, cost-effectiveness, and social and economic objectives; and (2) identify how those criteria and measures may be applied by transportation planners and decision makers. In developing those criteria and measures, the Secretary should solicit input from states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), and localities as well as others who have an interest or expertise in highway and mass transit issues.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: DOT issued revised FHwA/FTA statewide and metropolitan transportation planning regulations on October 22, 1993. These regulations require the consideration of all transportation modes in preparing transportation plans and programs but do not provide specific guidance on how to compare highway and mass projects. FHwA/FTA have developed a training course entitled "Estimating the Impacts of Urban Transportation Alternatives." This course discusses ways highway and mass transit projects can be compared monetarily. However, it does not cover non-economic factors, or establish standards for making cross-modal comparisons. There is also no guarantee other research under way, such as that on land use planning and environmental costs, will provide the criteria and related measures referred to in the recommendation.
Recommendation: To better assist states and localities in identifying those projects, regardless of mode, that most effectively deal with congestion and air quality problems, the Secretary of Transportation should coordinate and initiate policies to promote efficient intermodal transportation as required by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 by revising the highway and mass transit planning regulations, as appropriate, to incorporate the criteria and measures developed for comparing highway and mass transit projects and fully encourage the use of those criteria and measures by states, MPO, and others in selecting projects and developing transportation plans and transportation improvement programs required by the regulations.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation