Centralina's Executive Board Approves Letter to Federal Representatives on How to Meet the Region’s Transportation Needs

At its June meeting, the Centralina Council of Governments Executive Board approved a letter to the nine-county region’s federal representatives (Representatives Foxx, Hudson, McHenry, and Pittenger) on how to meet the region’s transportation needs in the next nationwide surface transportation program.

The Executive Board noted that congress is required to approve a new surface transportation program to replace the existing Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) program, which is set to expire on September 30, 2014.

Centralina Council of Governments works with local governments to control the cost of government by offering a collaborative platform for working in the interest of local residents. Representing urban, suburban, and rural communities with a wide range of transportation needs, the Board agreed on the following principles.

Duration: Michael Johnson, Centralina’s Board Chairman and Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Statesville, stated, “A six-year program will provide appropriate stability for state departments of transportation, as well as local transportation planning organizations.”

Funding Levels: While unmet transportation needs remain in our region, as with much of the nation, at a minimum the board supports the funding levels of the current MAP-21 program, at approximately $55 billion per year. Additionally, the Board supports the continued flexibility in applying funds to capacity expansion or to maintenance.

Revenues: Board member Joe Carpenter, Gaston County Commissioner, stated, “We believe that the next surface transportation program should return to a funding strategy based on user fees, which have historically been gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.” For the first half-century of its existence, the highway trust fund and transit fund were funded through user fees, and did not add to the national debt. Since 2008, and for the foreseeable future, funding transportation projects requires regular transfers from the General Fund. Approval of these transfers has proven to be difficult over the past several years.

The board recognized that this position means they accepted the need to raise taxes on these fuels to pay for the program. As stated by Sarah McAulay, Huntersville Commissioner and Chairperson of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, “We recognize that changing travel demand patterns and increased fuel economy standards are expected to reduce future revenues, but we consider an increase in fuel taxes to be an interim funding strategy until we may transition to a future funding source.”

The Board did not support proposed changes in the tax structure to pay for the surface transportation program; rather they emphasized their belief in the principle of user payment as the most appropriate policy. By following this principle, the board believes the federal government will avoid uncertainty regarding an issue that is without party designation.

Regulation: The board stated that the federal government currently applies overly burdensome regulations and requirements on the use of federal funds on even the smallest of projects. When federal funds are used, project costs may increase 50-100% on locally-administered projects meant to add bicycle and pedestrian facilities, which is detrimental to realizing many of the public’s aspirations for our region, as identified through the CONNECT Our Future process.

In addition, the board supports the current 50,000 minimum urbanized area population standard for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). The recent proposal by President Obama to increase the minimum population to 200,000 would affect approximately half of the nation’s 400+ MPOs. The board felt such a change is unnecessary at this time.

The Board urged the area’s representatives to develop a stable long-term surface transportation program for this nation. Continued stop-gap fiscal solutions harm this country and its goal to improve its transportation network, which helps grow the economy and improve the quality of life for area businesses and residents.

Centralina distributed this resolution to the area transportation planning organizations for their use in crafting similar resolutions. To date, the Gaston-Cleveland- Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization has approved such a resolution, with the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization developing its own position.

For more information, please contact Michelle Nance, Centralina's Planning Director, at (704) 348-2709 or mnance@centralina.org.

Related Counties: AllCounties     
Related COG Areas: Transportation