American Road & Transportation Builders Association
National Conference on Transportation and the Economy
June 25, 2002
 
Governor Patton’s Talking Points


Good afternoon…It is a pleasure and honor to be with many of the country’s transportation leaders today to discuss what I feel has become a crisis in our country.  Unfortunately this crisis is a quiet one…virtually unrecognized by the majority of the population.  In fact it’s generally only recognized when terrible crashes occur or when businesses and individuals find themselves located in areas where infrastructure has not been developed or when people find the commute to work unbearable.  But folks we cannot let the silence fool us…we are in a serious transportation crisis…both an immediate crisis and a long-term crises.

It is very appropriate that we take time to ponder and reflect on the development of our nation’s transportation system during the 100th anniversary of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.  Anniversaries remind of us of where we came from and hopefully provide some hint of where we need to go.

It is also very appropriate that we take time during this anniversary celebration to honor an individual who is the father of America’s interstate highway system…President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Recognizing President Eisenhower as the “Transportation Person of the 20th Century” reinforces the role our great highway system has played and continues to plays in the lives of all Americans.              President Eisenhower had a vision of a mobile society…a society with a transportation system that provided a network for economic prosperity and an improved quality of life.    Being a military leader, Eisenhower understood that an army and a society could only succeed with a solid dependable logistics network.  This vision created the American interstate system…which in my opinion is the greatest public works accomplishment of the 20th century.

            But as I said before this great interstate system is in a crisis.  The road system that all of us in this room depend on daily to help us make the connections to our jobs…to our families…to hospitals…to soccer games…to almost every aspect of our daily lives…this road system is tired…overused…and inadequate to meet the demands of our modern society.  Additionally, due to a combination of several factors that could not be foreseen when the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century  (TEA-21) was enacted…we are in the midst of a short-term funding crisis.  The formula used to determine federal highway funding has resulted in an unprecedented 27 percent reduction for Fiscal Year 2003…This is a reduction in critical road funds at the same time the majority of states are experiencing rapidly shrinking state revenues and distressed budgets.

Transportation is one of my passions partly because I am a life-long resident of Appalachian Kentucky…a region of our nation that seemed to be destined to a life of poverty because it had been by-passed by the interstate highway system during the last half of the 20th century…  Bypassed until the federal government provided us with a lifeline called the Appalachian Regional Developmental Highway program.  I know first hand the negative effects not having a good transportation system has on a community.  I witnessed friends and families being deprived of the education, economic status and quality of life that was being enjoyed by the rest of the nation…In fact it will take us twenty…thirty or even forty years before we are able to overcome the 100 years of decline this region experienced…due in part to a lack of an effective transportation system.  Having roots in eastern Kentucky has enabled me to have a vision for the state that will put Kentucky on a course that will move us above the national average and make us a center of excellence in 20 years.  This vision has been a guiding principle for all of the initiatives we’ve undertaken during the past six years.  And transportation plays a very significant role in achieving this goal.

Since becoming Governor of Kentucky in 1995…I have been personally involved in improving the efficiency and safety of Kentucky’s highway system…as well as working with my fellow governors to secure the appropriation of all the funds in the Highway Trust Fund to the construction of roads and other transportation purposes.  During the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), I spearheaded the effort with my fellow governors to lead the T.R.U.S.T. (Transportation Revenues Used Solely for Transportation) Coalition…which succeeded in securing one of the most comprehensive highway funding spending bills ever enacted by Congress.  As you all know…TEA-21 provided a greater rate of return to the states of our motor fuel and user taxes while increasing the equity of distribution among the states.  The leadership of the nation’s governors in this effort was pivotal to its success.  As incoming Chair of the National Governor’s Association…I am committed to working with my fellow governors to once again take the lead next year during the reauthorization of TEA-21.  It is imperative to the success of this country that we not loose any of the ground that was hard won six years ago…and hopefully even to build upon those achievements to allow us to meet the ever growing demands of our society.

The public transportation system of this nation is largely the responsibility of state and local governments.  Our states are responsible for the vast majority of the maintenance of our nation’s roads and finance more than one-half of all public investments in surface transportation.  Governors are on the front line when it comes to providing citizens with the safe and efficient highway systems that they demand and deserve.   They are the ones who have to make the tough decisions and answer directly to citizens.  My fellow governors and I are dedicated to maintaining a world-class transportation system and continuing the partnership with the federal government.  However we know that the future of our country’s highway system depends on first…addressing the current short-term funding crises and…second…by reauthorizing the federal surface transportation program and the extension of the transportation firewalls. 

As governors we come face to face on a daily basis with the challenges of a 50 year old highway system that is having an extremely difficult time keeping pace with the demands of our mobile society.  Americans are dependent on highways…in fact they are a necessity in order to survive both economically and socially.  When the original architects of the interstate designed our current highway system they never envisioned what we have today.  They could not see that our highways would become rolling warehouses with just-in-time delivery moving 11 billion tons of freight annually.  They could not begin to dream that our society would become so dependent on the automobile that…owning a car would become as big of a necessity as owning a home.  And they could not envision a country of two car…three…and even four-car families.

Our current system was designed for only 15% truck traffic and a few thousand cars a day.  Today our highways carry anywhere from 40 – 80 percent in truck traffic and on major interstates like I-75 in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati…150,000 vehicles a day or more…In fact between 1990 and 2000 travel on America’s highways increased 38% while freeway lane mileage increased only 8%.  Driving in this country has increased at a rate 5 times greater than road capacity. And even more astounding is the fact that it is estimated that both truck and passenger traffic is expected to double within the next 25 years.  Our transportation system is not keeping pace with the demand.

We have a society today that is dependent on our interstate system…a dependence that is rapidly growing.  If we all woke up tomorrow and our interstate system was closed…our country would literally shut down.  Kentucky experienced a taste of what this would be like in January of 1994 when we had a record snowfall, blizzard conditions and minus 20 degree temperatures that closed our highways and airports for @ 4 days.  Mother Nature literally brought travel through Kentucky to a complete halt.     It is estimated that this brief shut down cost more than $300 million.  It shut down all major businesses and industries. Workers could not get to their jobs…materials and supplies could not get to manufacturing plants and stores…the state was literally closed for business.  Transportation is a basic need…and one we can no longer afford to neglect.

            As governors we know first-had that our aging interstate system is letting the people of this country down.  First…it is letting people down in terms of safety.  As transportation officials each of us has a responsibility to provide the citizens of this country with a safe and efficient road system.  Yet every year in this country over 40,000 people die in highway related crashes.  Let’s look at some of the other safety statistics…highway crashes are the number one killer of children under the age of 12…and highway crashes cost this country over a $150 billion dollars every year.  

But safety is not the only area in which we we are letting our customers down.  As I mentioned before it is the responsibility of everyone in this room to provide not only a safe transportation system…but an efficient one as well.  But every day in this country the average American spends over 30 minutes in traffic congestion.  Time that could be better spent with their families…with their jobs…time controlled by them…not our roads.  Governors know all to well how this congestion deeply affects our nation’s ability to move goods and services, the quality of life of its citizens…and the health of our economy.  Traffic is growing in all sizes of cities…even in our rural areas…but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be the space, money and public approval to add enough roads to meet this growing demand.

            As I mentioned earlier…we are facing two crises…One a short term one due to an oversight with TEA-21 that has resulted in a 27% reduction on 2003 highway funds that needs to be corrected immediately in order to allow states to execute their Fiscal Year 2003 budgets.  Second…we need to begin now to lay the groundwork for the reauthorization of TEA-21 next year.

In February I testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Highways and Transit urging our federal lawmakers to move quickly to correct the unforeseen fiscal problem with TEA-21 that has resulted in a reduction of federal highway funds for Fiscal Year 2003.  The Administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2003 decreases transportation funding by $8.5 billion from the current year’s level.  This drop in funding is attributed to Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) which is a statutory annual adjustment calculation of tax revenues that finances the Highway Trust Fund.  The result of the negative RABA downwardly adjusted the states’ funding limitation to $23 billion for Fiscal Year 2003 from the TEA-21 guaranteed level of $27.7 billion and the Fiscal Year 2002 $31.7 billion funding level.  This surprising situation is contrary to one of the primary objectives of TEA-21…which was to maintain consistent federal highway funding from year to year so that state transportation departments could plan efficiently and so that the construction industry could operate efficiently without dramatic swings.  The other objective of TEA-21 was to secure the expenditure of all of our transportation dollars on transportation projects instead of being used to balance the budget or lessen the deficient. These objectives served us well until we experienced an economic recession.  In fact funding levels remained consistent with an average annual increase of about nine percent until Fiscal Year 2003.

Forty-five other governors joined me in a letter to the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate urging speedy congressional action on this issue.  Quick action is needed because our fiscal year begins next week…on July 1 which means states began planning their state and federal highway construction program back in February and planned to go to contract beginning sometime in July.  As most of you know…they will spend state money to pre-finance federally funded projects, expecting to get reimbursed very early in the Federal fiscal year…late in October.    I urged the subcommittee to use the $19.3 billion unappropriated balance in the Highway Trust Fund to maintain the level funding for this one year until the quirks which have resulted in the reduced revenue have worked their way through the system…then we can return to a “current revenue” expenditure program which will be stable and very near the $31.7 billion level of the current year.  No decision has been made to date but currently there are two bills under consideration…one in the House and one in the Senate.  The House version calls for an additional $4.4 billion, which would bring us close to the $27.7 billion, originally forecasted for 2003.  The Senate version calls for an additional $5.8 billion, which move us a little closer to the $31.7 billion allocated in Fiscal Year 2002. Just this past week the National Governor’s Association sent a letter to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee urging them to bring their bill to the floor for consideration as soon as possible.  

Right now we are very much in a waiting game…states are trying to determine which projects to halt…delay…or not to consider…the possible loss of $8.6 billion in federal highway dollars will cost the economy as many as 360,000 jobs…which translates to over 5,000 jobs in Kentucky.  This is a serious problem…especially considering the fragile nature of what we hope is an economic recovery.  These are good paying jobs, among the best in the state.  Each of us in this room needs to put the pressure on our legislators…particularly our Senators to move quickly on this legislation.  

As I mentioned before each of in this room has a real opportunity to significantly impact the long-term future of the highway system during the TEA-21 reauthorization process that will take place next year.    First it provides us with an opportunity to clean up our current funding mechanism to ensure a more even flow of yearly federal highway dollars.  We will particularly need to ensure that the downward adjustment triggered by RABBA is not used as a funding baseline for the lifetime of the next surface reauthorization process.  

Second the reauthorization process provides us with the opportunity to develop creative solutions to some of our outdated highway problems…similarly to what we did in 1997…At that time we chose to build a coalition around a common need instead of trying to divide the same pie of money up in a different manner…We creatively found a way to increase the size of the pie which made building a consensus an easy task.  Everyone came out a winner.  

I believe that the reauthorization of TEA-21 along with other transportation related issues including the reauthorization of AIR-21…many environmental issues relating to transportation like air pollution and water quality…will make transportation a critical if not a key focus for the National Governor’s Association next year.  As an engineer and a native of rural eastern Kentucky I understand the importance of roads to economic development and quality of life. And I look forward to providing leadership in this area as Chair of the NGA.  

Some estimate that this country’s transportation system needs are as large as $50 billion annually for highways and $14 billion for transit just to meet the current demands of our society.  But funding increases are not extremely popular these days.  While the majority of all states are experiencing road funding crisis…they have had little success getting the populace to approve any type of gas tax increase to help ease the shortfall.  

We must also examine other approaches that will help us stretch our highway dollars more effectively.  One very real opportunity lies in streamlining the environmental approval process.  I recently heard FHWA Administrator Mary Peters say that the average length of time for a major project involving 4 F properties is 13 years.  We must work diligently to reduce this number.  Not only can we not afford this project length in terms of dollars but in servicing the public as well.  Thirteen years in today’s society is almost a lifetime.  Our world is changing quickly and businesses and citizens cannot wait 13 years for us to build a transportation solution to solve today’s traffic congestion and safety problems.  We must work with Congress to improve our delivery of transportation projects by streamlining the environmental permitting and approval process while enhancing cooperation between state D.O.T.’s and federal government agencies to result in better transportation and environmental decisions.  Our citizens do not care whose responsibility it is or who it is to blame…they simply want timely, safe and efficient transportation solutions while at the same protecting the environment.  It is important that the next surface transportation bill has a strong environmental component that is balanced with state flexibility to meet those environmental guidelines.  I believe that it is possible to build highway systems that promote both economic development and the environment.  We do it everyday in Kentucky.

We have a few examples of how current environmental policies can cost taxpayer’s needless time and money in Kentucky.  In western Kentucky, an extension of our parkway was delayed while resource agencies disagreed over the value of wetlands.  The perplexing feature of this “wetland” was that it was wet only one month out of the year and dry the other eleven months.  In Central Kentucky we are often required to work project schedules around trying to identify an endangered plant species called “Running Buffalo Clover.”  This type of clover is only distinguishable from regular clover when it is in bloom for one or two weeks out of each year.  If you don’t locate it in those two weeks, you will need to wait until the following year to proceed with the work.  

Proposed rules released by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration concerning environmental streamlining would not simplify the process.  The National Governors Association needs each of you to join us in urging Congress not to require new administrative guidelines that will hinder the process since it would be a waste of time and precious resources to delay projects for unnecessary and cumbersome administrative processes.  There are already a multitude of Federal laws and regulations for which we must comply for our highway projects.  The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet under the leadership of Secretary Codell is leading the nation in the areas of environmental stewardship and historic preservation with our context sensitive design solutions for our highway projects…and with our smart growth policies for land use that embraces growth in a manner that protects and preserves the state that we love.

We also have an opportunity during the reauthorization process to improve the safety of our highways by continuing to tie federal highway funding to safety issues…issues like the passage of a primary seatbelt law.   You all know as well as I do that it is very difficult to get these types of laws enacted by state legislators with a federal mandate or recommendation.  During the past 2002 legislative session in Kentucky we tried to get a primary seatbelt law passed without any funding incentives and were unsuccessful.  However we were able in 2000 to pass the “Point .08” and “Open Container” laws that had funding incentives attached to them.  We are putting this incentive money to good use with increased enforcement on our roadways, safety improvements on high incident locations, and with public education.  These incentives are the key to getting important safety legislation passed in states.  It is important to governors that the incentive “carrot” approach, not the “stick approach be used for encouraging states to improve highway safety.

Kentucky is proud that it will assume a pivotal role during next year’s reauthorization process.  Both Secretary Codell in his role as Chair of AASHTO and I in my role as Chair of the NGA will work as diligently as one of Kentucky’s famous pioneers did when he blazed the Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap in 1775.  Daniel Boone’s courageous efforts opened up the west to the rest of the country…and I hope our efforts will open up a new era of transportation in this country.

The National Governor’s Association is committed to being a leader in the reauthorization effort…joining organizations like the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association…the U.S. Chamber of Commerce…and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.  We must all join forces during the reauthorization process to ensure that the decisions being made allow us to provide the citizens of this country with the safe and efficient transportation system they deserve.  We must also begin to work together to educate the citizens of this country of the role transportation plays in their lives and elicit their support in solving these crises.  

Thank you.