Surface Transportation:

Prospects for Innovation Through Research, Intelligent Transportation Systems, State Infrastructure Banks, and Design-Build Contracting

T-RCED-97-83: Published: Mar 6, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 1997.

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GAO discussed how innovation in federal research, financing and contracting methods has the potential for improving the performance of the nation's surface transportation system, focusing on three reports it completed for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works' deliberations on the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA).

GAO noted that: (1) investments in surface transportation research have provided benefits to users and the economy; (2) the Department of Transportation (DOT) has a critical role to play by funding research, establishing an overall research mission with objectives for accomplishment and priorities for allocating funds, and acting as a focal point for technology transfer; (3) DOT's organizational structure and lack of both a strategic plan and a departmental focal point may limit its impact on research; (4) until these issues are addressed, DOT may not be able to respond to ISTEA's call for an integrated framework for surface transportation research; (5) DOT's Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Program has received $1.3 billion to advance the use of computer and telecommunications technology that will enhance the safety and efficiency of surface transportation; (6) although the program envisioned widespread deployment of integrated multimodal ITS systems, this vision has not been realized for several reasons: (a) the ITS national architecture was not completed until July 1996 and ITS technical standards will not be completed until 2001; and (b) the lack of knowledge of ITS technologies and systems integration among state and local officials, insufficient data documenting the cost effectiveness of ITS in solving transportation problems and competing priorities for limited transportation dollars will further constrain widespread ITS deployment; (7) before DOT can aggressively pursue widespread deployment of integrated ITS, it must help state and local official overcome these obstacles; (8) State Infrastructure Banks (SIBs) offer the promise of helping to close the gap between transportation needs and available resources by sustaining and potentially expanding a fixed sum of federal capital, often by attracting private investment; (9) specifically, these banks provide states increased flexibility to offer may types of financial assistance; (10) some state officials and industry experts that GAO talked with remain skeptical that SIBs will produce the expected benefits; (11) the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) is testing and evaluating the use of an innovative design-build contracting method for highway construction; (12) proponents of design-build see several advantages to the approach; however, FHwA's authority to implement design-build is limited and 17 states have laws which, in effect, prevent the use of design-build; and (13) while design-build may result in the faster completion of projects, it may also require an accelerated revenue stream to pay for construction.

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