President Bush unveiled a $105 billion, five-year program Wednesday to "prepare for the next American century" in U.S. transportation by improving highways and mass transit systems and revamping transportation spending.
The plan envisions using private enterprise to help refurbish roads and bridges and would use tolls and user fees to help pay the costs. It would give states and cities more flexibility in spending transportation dollars - allowing them to choose whether to spend federal dollars on highways or mass transit systems.The plan includes increases over five years of 39 percent in highway funding to $20.3 billion; and 25 percent in mass transit to $2.9 billion.
It also increases spending for highway safety programs by 34 percent and contains new incentives for private-sector investment in toll roads.
But even before the bill was formally released, many state transportation officials were expressing reservations. They fear the proposed changes would increase their costs and provide inadequate federal financing to meet transportation needs such the repair of deteriorating bridges and roads.
They expect much of the Bush bill to be rewritten by Congress.
The plan also establishes a new national highway system of 150,000 miles of road that will include the already existing interstate system and principal arterial routes that will receive high priority for construction and repair.
"We've designed new legislation, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, to reform existing highway programs and increase funding for what works, to prepare for the next American century," Bush said.
Transportation Secretary Sam Skinner said the plan will also help the United States to stay competitive internationally and improve the interstate highway system launched by President Eisenhower in the 1950s.
Among other provisions, the administration proposes:
-To increase funding by 50 percent, to $2.8 billion by 1996, for bridge repair and construction.
-To remove restrictions on use of federal funds for construction and improvement of toll roads, allowing the federal government to provide up to 35 percent of the funds for toll projects.
- To allow experimental use of rush-hour fees levied against motorists in areas with serious air quality problems.
Hal Rives, president of the Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, called the bill a good start and added: "On a scale of one to 10 we give the administration bill a six."
The administration bill calls for a two-tier approach to highway spending.
It would designate a national highway system of roads of special significance to the federal government. These would include the 42,000-mile Interstate Highway System and other key roads for a total federal network of some 150,000 miles.
A separate urban-rural system would be financed with a smaller 60 percent federal share with states and cities paying the rest.
UDOT gives bill an 8
On a scale of one-to-10, Utah Department of Transportation executive director Gene Findlay gives President Bush's transportation bill an eight.
That's two points higher than most other state highway administrators. But Findlay says the bill, while not addressing all Utah needs, isn't that bad.
The bill earmarks $115 million for Utah highways in 1992 and $655 million over the next five years. Findlay said that won't cover the state's most pressing highway project: $88 million in reconstruction and improvements to U.S.-89 from South Ogden to Farmington.
He said Utah's congressional delegation will attempt to secure another $10 million toward U.S.-89 in a special appropriation.
Findlay said only a small percentage of Utah's highways - the entire interstate freeway system and three federal highways - fall under the 150,000-mile national highway system, which will receive highest priority for federal funding.
Neither U.S. 89 nor U.S. 50 is included in the new system.