September 16, 1997
Instead of weakening ISTEA, Congress should strengthen it. To ensure that the nation's highways are properly maintained and that state DOTs do not increase future road and automobile repair costs by diverting highway maintenance money to new construction projects, an amended ISTEA should:
- Require states to certify that they have adequate funds available to maintain a new road or highway over its useful life before allowing federal highway funds to be spent on its construction. The Federal Transit Act requires agencies proposing new transit projects to show the financial capacity to maintain new facilities over the life of the projects, and to commit to funding future maintenance needs. There is currently no similar requirement for new highways built with federal money, and it shows.
- Require states to certify that at least 90% of existing urban and suburban highways are in good condition before allowing new construction. Drivers consistently indicate that their top priority is improving the condition of existing roads. A reauthorized ISTEA must first ensure that states are adequately maintaining the roads that are currently in use.
- Keep the existing system preservation funding programs--the Interstate Maintenance and Bridge funding categories--and increase funding for these programs by thirty percent. A number of DOT studies indicate that more resources are needed in order to ensure adequate maintenance of our urban and suburban highways. Under ISTEA, states have made small improvements, but have not dedicated adequate funds to maintaining roads. New legislation must ensure that adequate money is available, and that it is used effectively.
- Establish a national goal for improving the condition of our Interstate Highway system, and provide incentives to states to meet these goals. States with more than one-half of their Interstate system in less than fair condition should be required to dedicate a portion of their flexible National Highway System funds to interstate maintenance. Conversely, states which have done a good job protecting the condition of the Interstate system should be rewarded with bonus funding.
- Strengthen programs that reduce the demands for new roads and ensure that they will be adequately maintained. A new Land Use and Transportation pilot program could fund states and metropolitan areas that wish to attempt innovative programs to link transportation and land use through transit or pedestrian-oriented development, state or local programs for collaborative land use and transportation planning and "main street" programs. These can reduce the demand for new roads by reducing sprawl.