August 21, 1998


Opinion

Transportation For The New Millennium

By Congressman Bob Filner

Congress has passed—and the President has signed—the nation's first transportation bill for the new millennium—the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). It's about time Congress got its priorities straight and planned for our children's' future!

Some of my colleagues have labeled this bill as "pork-laden" or a "balanced budget buster"—but that's just not true! With more than $410 million specifically targeted transportation projects in San Diego and the South Bay (including $325 million for our trolley system), the transportation bill is a `jobs bill' that will stimulate our economy and invigorate our communities. If anything, these jobs are "rime beef!"

Aside from the jobs produced, TEA-21 finally restores integrity to our budget. We pay 18 cents of federal tax on every gallon of gas we purchase—money that is supposed to build and maintain our nation's roads and highways. That adds up to more than $30 billion per year! Yet only a portion of these trust funds have been used for their intended purpose, and their huge accumulated balances have been used to hide the true size of the deferral deficit.

Contrary to "busting the budget," this legislation will restore truth to the nation's budgeting process by actually spending all gas tax monies for their intended purpose and spending down the huge balances that have collected. American motorists pay for good roads and highways and it's time to give them what they pay for.

Failure to send the balances in the highway trust fund has resulted in an inadequate and crumbling transportation infrastructure throughout our nation, our state and our community. Instead of merely reacting to disasters that destroy our transportation infrastructure, the increased spending of TEA-21 will allow California transportation officials to proactively address our crumbling highways and pot-holed roads, to expand transit systems, and strengthen and repair our bridges and overpasses.

With access to greater trust fund capital, San Diegans can build State route 905; complete Interstate 15 and State Routes 52, 56 and 76; help re-establish the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad; complete the Mission Valley and Mid-Coast trolley extensions; widen the I-5/I-805 interchange; retrofit the Coronado Bridge and our countless other bridges and overpasses; fund environmental and safety programs to protect our air and reduce highway dangers; and build recreational trails—and all on a shorter timetable.

This legislation also includes funding for a new program to help San Diego and other cities address the special infrastructure needs of our nation's border communities. Since the federal government has not always provided the necessary infrastructure to support national trade policies, local governments have had to reallocate their already scarce transportation dollars from projects that meet local needs to projects that meet national needs and are a federal responsibility. This program changes that by creating a fund dedicated solely to the development of projects that facilitate the flow of trade like State Route 905 in Otay Mesa.

The current majority in congress has often fought to return greater program oversight and control to state and local officials. The project selection process in TEA-21 honors this conviction and includes the projects identified by our local communities. This legislation demonstrates the belief that a community's real needs are best recognized by local authorities, not state bureaucrats. In addition to the local selection, each project is reviewed by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to ensure it meets the criteria of a high priority project.

Lastly, this commitment and investment in our nation's infrastructure will yield more than just new roads, highways and transit systems. Studies have shown that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure, 42,000 new jobs are created. Given this formula, TEA-21 presents us with the potential of millions and millions of new jobs.

When the other highway and transit programs and the new border infrastructure program are included, it is very clear to see how TEA-21 is far more than a mere highway bill—it's a `jobs bill'. This investment in transportation today will create jobs and stimulate the economy today, tomorrow and for years into the new millennium.

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The four key elements in the law President Clinton signed are:

High Priority Project Funding. This legislation allocated $10 million for a SD&AE Railroad "intermodal yard." This facility would serve as a staging yard where cargo wold be transferred between trucks and rail cars where trains would be assembled and disassembled. Funding for the SD&AE intermodal yard is guaranteed and is not subject to further congressional action or approval.

Border Infrastructure/Trade Corridor Fund. $700 million was dedicated to build and improve highways identified as "trade corridors" and infrastructure projects at our nation's borders. Border projects like the "Jobs Train" would be eligible for funding under this program that seeks to alleviate traffic congestion and expedite the efficient movement of goods.

Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing. This program updates and modifies the Railroad Loan Guarantee program by allowing non-federal sources to provide the "guarantee" or subsidy for loan guarantees. Sources such as the Metropolitan Transit District Board (MTDB) or the Port District will now be able to provide funds for the guarantee thereby eliminating the need for a congressional appropriation.

Light Density Rail Line Pilot Project. Whereas railroads were not previously eligible for funding in the transportation bill, this program establishes a pilot project allowing the Secretary of Transportation to issue grants to "light density" rail lines (such as the Jobs Train) in order to help determine their future eligibility for federal assistance.

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