Maine Trails, June - July '12
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New Veterans Memorial Bridge opens
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Clean Harbors’ 4Rs
MaineDOT view

MaineDOT View

MAP-21: What does it mean for Maine?

MAP-21: Key points
  • Highway Trust Fund will be shored up with $18.8 billion from federal General Fund
  • Stable funding and tax collections for two years (through 2016)
  • Funding for Maine flat, with small, inflationary increases
  • Currently represents 40 percent of MaineDOT funding
  • 60 federal programs reduced to four core programs
  • States will work with federal government to establish national performance measures and streamlined processes
  • New policy measures will become baseline for future authorizations

Knowing what to expect is a good thing. In the world of transportation funding, it is an awesome thing. The federal government recently enacted a new transportation funding bill entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. For Maine, the new legislation can be boiled down to three things: predictability, flat funding and streamlined process.

 
The $105 billion agreement is for 24 months, running to the end of federal fiscal year 2014. For the next two years, our federal funding – a little more than 40 percent of the department’s budget – will be stable and consistent. At the state level, this will allow us to breathe a little easier and is a nice break from the cycle of 11th hour extensions of SAFETEA-LU, the last federal authorization act that expired in 2009.
 
Pending future appropriations bills and actual obligation limitations (that generally provide slightly less funding than those listed in authorization bills), funding for Maine appears to be flat with small inflationary increases. This is in line with MaineDOT’s capital planning, that had assumed flat federal funding.
 
This is good news, in that federal funding is predictable for the next couple of years. Although, even with recent efforts to stretch the dollar through new prioritization frameworks and practical design standards, Maine has a transportation funding gap estimated at about $150 million per year. As SAFETEA-LU expired, those of us in the industry feared a serious funding reduction in the next authorization bill. By extending the Highway Trust Fund and tax collections through federal fiscal year 2016, states are able to realize additional stability.
 
MAP-21 includes several efforts to further stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, which had been projected to be bankrupt within the next few years unless action was taken. One of these provisions includes a transfer totaling $18.8 billion from the federal General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund. Another interesting, non-highway related budget maneuver used to help stabilize the Highway Trust Fund was developed from tax revenues from roll your own cigarette machines. It is reassuring to see the federal government look to nontraditional sources and recognize that highway funds alone cannot meet the needs of our infrastructure; it takes a General Fund appropriation. The same is true at the state level.
 
Under MAP-21, the highway program is restructured by eliminating or consolidating approximately 60 programs into four core programs. We are unsure exactly what this consolidation will mean for Maine, but are optimistic; in theory, fewer programs may lead to less administration. MAP 21 also establishes national goals, and the USDOT will work with states, MPOs, TMAs, transit agencies and stakeholders to create performance measures. On the surface, these two changes seem similar to the prioritization effort we have implemented at MaineDOT, but again, time will tell.
 
MAP-21’s 24-month authorization is the shortest time frame in recent history. Authorization for specific programs only lasts two years, but the policy changes become baseline transportation law on a permanent basis. If a new law doesn’t explicitly change these provisions, they stay as they are in this bill. Many of these changes include a more streamlined process, something that we at MaineDOT have been actively seeking for years.
 
MAP-21 exempts from the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process the repair or reconstruction of transportation infrastructure that is damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster or similar emergency. Projects would be required to match the previous design specifications of the damaged or destroyed structure. It also creates a two-phase contracting process that allows preconstruction activities and land acquisition to occur prior to the completion of a NEPA review if the action will not adversely affect the environment.
 
A new policy adopted in MAP-21 creates incentives for federal agencies to expedite reviews and issue approved permits. Specifically, budget cuts would occur if an agency fails to complete its portion of a review within 180 days of the time the managing agency has taken certain actions or fails to issue a permit after the permit application has been approved. Cuts to an agency’s budget would total $20,000 per week for any project requiring an annual financial plan, or $10,000 per week for any project requiring an environmental assessment. These cuts are capped at 7 percent of the agency’s administrative funding for the year. We’re hoping that a financial “carrot” will help projects move forward in a timelier manner.
 
We are relieved.
 
In Washington, and at the state level, flat funding is the new good. Although the devil may certainly be in the details as we move forward under the program, our overall impression from MAP-21 is a good one. For now, we appreciate the stability that the program provides and look forward to working with our federal counterparts on its implementation.

 

 

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