FHWA Administrator Offers Reauthorization Preview

Washington, D.C. — The Bush Administration will focus on improving the safety and efficiency of the country's transportation system in the next round of transportation legislation according to a key federal official. Speaking at the American Recreation Coalition's Recreation Exchange, Mary Peters, the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), reported that although the Administration's transportation reauthorization proposal had not yet been released, most decisions regarding it had already been made. She explained that the proposal would include a greater emphasis on reducing crashes as well as a focus on consolidating and streamlining transportation projects. In addition, Ms. Peters noted the Administration's interest in increasing the flexibility given to states and localities on transportation matters.

The Administrator also commented on the fiscal challenge associated with the reauthorization of TEA-21 (the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century). She reminded the group that highway funding is directly linked to the level of Highway Trust Fund receipts and noted that the Administration had called for legislation to move federal taxes on ethanol – some $600 million annually – into the Highway Trust Fund to increase the resources that would be available under the new legislation. However, when asked whether there would be enough funding in the reauthorization package to sustain and grow TEA-21 programs, she answered that program growth would be more modest than it had been under TEA-21. "There isn't the will to raise taxes in the current environment," she said and pointed to the 6% increase in transportation funding included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget as an indication of what could be expected in the post-TEA-21 proposal.

Ms. Peters drew a direct link between the nation's transportation system and the quality of life enjoyed by the American people. Quoting Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, she pointed out that the easy mobility enjoyed in this country must be maintained, even though it is often taken for granted. "Transportation is about enjoying life," she said. She explained that recent research indicated that one quarter of all household trips are taken for recreation or social enjoyment and noted that the significant increase in 2004 funding for national park roads proposed by the Administration would help accommodate that trend. At the same time, she acknowledged that funding for roads on national forests – "just as important" as park roads – remains a financial challenge.

Emphasizing the importance of outdoor recreation both as a means of promoting health, fitness and environmental awareness and as a means of relieving stress in anxious times, Ms. Peters expressed pride in the relationship between the FHWA and the recreation community. She pointed out that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent annually to benefit recreation through the Federal Lands Highway Program, Recreational Trails Program, Transportation Enhancements and the National Scenic Byways Program. She described the Byways program's success in designating 95 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 39 states but noted that there is still only "negligible awareness" of the program. With three quarters of drivers looking for the most interesting route, she said, "We need to tell people where these roads are." Ms. Peters also expressed strong enthusiasm about working with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to develop a greenway system – analogous to the nation's highway system – that would connect recreational spaces throughout the country.

The Recreation Exchange series is made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Family Campers and RVers
Honda North America
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association
USDA Forest Service