Department of Transportation Official Labels Recreation as Key Transportation Issue - Highlights SAFETEA-LU Policy Successes

Washington, D.C. - Tyler Duvall, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the Department of Transportation, told recreation community leaders at the October Recreation Exchange that recreation is a vital aspect of federal transportation policy and applauded key policy advances made through SAFETEA-LU, the omnibus transportation bill signed by President Bush in August 2005. Mr. Duvall told the group that although most public attention had focused on the near $300-billion funding aspects of the legislation, the new law contains policy advances in safety and innovative financing and creates two commissions to address the future role of the federal government in transportation and how this role will be funded: the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission (12 members), and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (15 members).

DOT is seeking to combine these two commissions into one, due to the similarity of their missions. The commissions' efforts are due to begin shortly and deliver reports to the Administration and Congress by July 2007. This timing is designed to provide guidance for the design of legislation authorizing the nation’s surface transportation program following the expiration of SAFETEA-LU in the fall of 2009. He told the group that recreation should seek representation on the commission and also ensure that the commission addresses key recreation issues, including roads on public lands.

Mr. Duvall praised the policy development aspects of the new law, stating that it “lays the groundwork for discussion of policy going out from 2009", when the legislation expires. Highlights he mentioned included:

  • SAFETEA-LU differs from previous transportation legislation in that it has a clear emphasis on safety measures for all highway users, including cyclists and other recreational users besides automobile drivers.
  • Funding is available so individual state departments of transportation can collect data, identify problem areas and develop strategic plans for investments in safety improvements.
  • SAFETEA-LU allows for the development of flexible new finance mechanisms and revenue streams, including privatization, to assist in moving away from the failing model of revenue sharing by the states. These methods will likely include tolling, especially for new capacity on interstate highways. A wave of interest over the next 2-3 years in private investment in major transportation infrastructure will necessitate changes to various tax codes to encourage this investment, and SAFETEA-LU commences this process.
  • SAFETEA-LU creates a more unified approach for environmental and legal review for highway projects. There is more certainty in decision deadlines and 4(f) rule-making related to highway construction through certain public lands, including parks.
  • There is new support for innovation in infrastructure development, including the “Highways for Life” program boosting long-life pavement and bridge designs.

On the minus side, Mr. Duvall acknowledged that Congressional earmarks in SAFETEA-LU are a problem “across the board." He suggested these result from a lack of clear identification of the federal role in maintaining the national transportation system. He believes that refining and clarifying the federal role is a major duty of the new commissions, along with maintaining the adequacy of the Highway Trust Fund to meet long-term, anticipated transportation needs through new revenue sources to replace or supplement the fuel tax. He urged Exchange members to be a voice for recreation in the policy arena and to “stay in the debate.”

In answer to audience questions, Mr. Duvall reiterated the critical need for the nation’s top experts to be represented on the commissions and he encouraged the recreation community to propose representatives to the Department of Transportation. Asked about the looming budget rescission, he stated that there will be great reluctance to re-open SAFETEA-LU and re-ignite the revenue-sharing debate among the donor-donee states. To a question about the health of the Highway Trust Fund, he stated that high gasoline prices will reduce fund income, but referring to the 2009 expiration of SAFETEA-LU, he believes “we’ll get there." A final question was asked about the application of innovative technologies by DOT. Mr. Duvall acknowledged the tremendous importance of technology deployment to recreation and tourism needs, and noted that earmarking of technology funding has limited coordinated development of policy in this field. He said that technology is critical to addressing congestion and empowering transportation users such as the recreation community. In closing, Mr. Duvall emphasized the broad scope of opportunities for transportation improvements under SAFETEA-LU, and commented, “if it’s just a public works program, we have failed, and the costs of failure have to be considered.”

For the text of SAFETEA-LU, [click here].

For a summary of SAFETEA-LU, [click here].

If you would like to contact Deputy Assistant Secretary Duvall, he can be reached as follows:

Mr. Tyler Duvall
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20590
Tel: (202) 366-0301
Fax: (202) 366-0089
Tyler.Duvall@ost.dot.gov

Exchange Members Briefed on Environmental Litigation

Following Mr. Duvall, David Tenny, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke to Exchange members about the national impact of a July court decision in California on implementation of forest plans by the U.S. Forest Service. The sweeping decision mandates that any activity that implements a forest plan is subject to public notice, comment and appeal. Heretofore, activities deemed to have no environmental impact were subject to categorical exclusion and did not trigger the public notice, comment and appeal process, which takes a minimum of 135 days - even if there is ultimately no appeal filed. The court further directed that this ruling be applied nationally, not limited to the court’s jurisdiction in eastern California. Mr. Tenny reported that an estimated 1,500 projects were halted immediately or put on hold because of the ruling. This includes activities deemed commercial in nature and requiring special use permits such as guided river trips, weddings and Christmas tree cutting. The Forest Service is appealing the ruling and seeking a stay of judgment pending the appeal. Mr. Tenny estimates that more than 10,000 projects were categorically excluded annually before this ruling, which has drawn the attention of Congress and recreation interests nationwide.

To learn more about the ruling, [click here] for a link to the Forest Service website.

If you would like to contact Mr. Tenny, he can be reached as follows:

Mr. David Tenny
Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
14th and Independence SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Tel: (202)720-7173
Fax: (202)720-0632
David.Tenny@usda.gov