Transportation Infrastructure:

Better Tools Needed for Making Decisions on Using ISTEA Funds Flexibly

RCED-94-25: Published: Oct 13, 1993. Publicly Released: Oct 13, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed issues related to the flexible use of Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds, focusing on the: (1) extent that states and localities use ISTEA funds to finance highway, mass transit, and nontraditional projects; (2) factors that influence the flexible use of ISTEA funds; and (3) adequacy of analytical tools for making transportation-investment decisions.

GAO found that: (1) states' and localities' use of ISTEA funds to finance mass transit projects has been limited; (2) flexible use of ISTEA funds is facilitated by congestion and air quality concerns; (3) state fuel tax restrictions and infrastructure needs hinder the flexible use of ISTEA funds; (4) states will need time to adapt to changes resulting from ISTEA; (5) better tools are needed for making investment decisions; (6) common measures would enhance state and local governments' ability to make modal trade-offs; (7) improved travel demand models are needed to analyze the impacts of transportation projects on air quality; and (8) the travel model improvement program does not adhere to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) policy on coordinating program research with related efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA, working with EPA, has completed a number of the key elements in the recommendation, including the development of improved travel demand models and a freight forecasting manual. Furthermore, FHwA under TEA-21 is also researching a new travel model that it hopes to deploy in two to three years.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should, in consultation with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): (1) establish measurable program goals and objectives; (2) develop a plan for testing and evaluating new procedures; (3) develop a plan for disseminating program results; (4) coordinate program research efforts, both within and outside of DOT; and (5) develop travel demand models that provide information-such as travel by time of day and the impacts of changes in land use on travel behavior-essential for analyzing the impact of transportation projects on air quality. In addition, the impacts of urban freight movement and the urban aspects of intercity passenger travel on travel demand and behavior should be incorporated into Travel Model Improvement Program (TMIP) research. To make the most effective use of program funds, consideration should be given to the costs and benefits of program decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT is using both the Office of Intermodalism and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) in developing the TMIP. In particular, BTS participates in a management group reviewing TMIP funding and priorities. BTS is also providing a portion of program funding.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should, to the maximum extent possible, use the capabilities of the Office of Intermodalism and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, once these capabilities are developed, in implementing TMIP.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT is using a review panel of outside experts to provide input to TMIP. This panel meets periodically to assess the program's progress and provide advice and guidance on the program's direction. While this panel provides the outside input suggested in GAO's recommendation, it does not provide the breadth of input intended in the recommendation. The intent was to solicit input from as many states, metropolitan planning organizations, localities, etc., as possible. It does not appear that the structure of the review panel will change or that additional input will be solicited at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should, in cooperation with the Administrator, EPA, solicit input from states, metropolitan planning organizations, localities, and others that have an interest or expertise in evaluating the impact of transportation projects on air quality in order to ensure that appropriate approaches are developed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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