NTPP Issues Plan to Reform Transportation Policy

June 11, 2009
Calling its recommendations "a framework for comprehensive reform," the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) on June 9 released a plan for transforming federal surface transportation policy to create a new system that is efficient, effective and accountable for performance.

As Congress is scheduled to take up reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, this year, NTPP is using the plan, "Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy," to call for a complete restructuring of the federal transportation funding system.

To date, NTPP said, there is no federal requirement to optimize returns on public investments, and programs are not structured to reward outcomes, or even to document them. Moreover, existing programs do little to target federal support for transportation programs to further economic growth or link to jobs and productivity.

If adopted by the administration and Congress in this year’s authorization bill, the plan would constitute the first major overhaul of transportation policy in more than 50 years. It proposes restructuring federal programs, updating the criteria for formulas, and creating a performance-based system that directly ties transportation spending to broader national goals, including economic growth, connectivity, accessibility, safety, energy security and environmental protection.

One of the principal current problems is trying to coordinate over 100 different transportation programs that Congress has authorized over the course of half a century, while dealing with an aging and a declining infrastructure, said NTPP co-chair and former Senator Slade Gorton.

The NTPP proposes narrowing these programs to a more manageable six core funding programs that would be competitive and performance-based. NTPP recommends "mode neutral" formula programs that award federal transportation dollars based on system condition and performance and focus on preserving the overall system.


One of the plan’s national goals is to improve transportation safety. According to the plan, available data points to three areas impacting highway fatalities:

  • Seatbelt Use. In 2007, 54 percent of passengers who died in highway accidents were not wearing seatbelts.
  • Drinking and Driving. Nearly one-third of highway fatalities involved alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Helmet Laws. Sixty-three percent of motorcyclists killed in states without helmet laws were not wearing a helmet, compared to 14 percent who died in states with such laws, the plan said.

"Highway safety is an appropriate focus for federal transportation policy, not only because protecting its citizens is one of the core responsibilities of any national government, but because the federal government has the unique capability not only to set safety standards, but to set in motion better methods of measuring and improving safety," the plan read. "The technology needed to accurately track and improve safety performance exists, but it is unlikely to be implemented without active federal efforts to promote progress in this area."

NTPP suggested that federal leadership could help improve highway safety by promoting "research and standard-setting for the development of smart car/smart road connections, including the potential for integrating on-board technology and GPS (global positioning system) technology to improve safety, possibly in combination with pricing mechanisms."


NTPP also proposed holding all funding recipients accountable for their contributions to national goals. A new system of metrics would measure project performance in several areas: improved access, a more efficient national network, reduced corridor congestion and petroleum consumption, reduced CO2 emissions and reduced fatalities and injuries. States and regions whose investments performed well against those goals would be entitled to bonus funding; areas that did not would be subject to greater federal scrutiny in receiving transportation funding.

"If we as a nation are going to invest in transportation, we ought to be able to see results.
When you get a report back on what was accomplished, everybody wins," said NTPP co-chair and former mayor of Detroit Dennis Archer.

According to NTPP co-chair former Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, "We’ve brought together people with good, solid backgrounds, who know the subject matter. We’ve been fully committed to developing a product that will inform the administration and Congress as they consider the future of U.S. transportation. And I think we’ve succeeded in mapping out a new and visionary direction for transportation policy – one that will undoubtedly help us to achieve our goals as a nation."

More information.

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