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President Barack Obama delivers remarks before signing
HR 4348, the Transportation and Student Loan Interest Rate bill,
during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 6.

On July 6, representatives of ULI joined other transportation leaders at the White House for the signing by President Obama of MAP-21, the two-year reauthorization of the federal transportation program. Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) is bipartisan legislation authorizing the federal surface transportation program through September 2014 and extending the gasoline tax and other highway trust fund taxes through September 2016.

Under MAP-21, federal funding for transportation programs stays at existing levels plus inflation and retains the existing 80/20 split between highways and transit. Because revenues from taxes on motor fuels no longer cover existing spending levels, the law supplements the Highway Trust Fund with revenues transferred from other sources, including general revenues.

MAP-21 does not deliver on all the changes recommended by ULI and other groups interested in transportation reform. Despite major compromises in the new federal law, however, three important areas show at least some progress:

  • Accountability and performance. In a departure from past surface transportation authorizations, the new law contains no earmarks. To enhance accountability, MAP-21 consolidates the numerous federal highway programs and introduces performance measures for both the highway and transit programs.
  • Private investment. The new law dramatically expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan and loan guarantee program, which will see funding increase nearly tenfold, to $1 billion per year; encourages public/private partnerships; and could help make investment in transit easier. The law provides new flexibility for tolling non-interstate highways and adding new toll lanes to the interstates.
  • Transit and urban transportation. Efforts to destabilize funding for transit and pedestrian and bicycle facilities failed, but the programs that fund pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure were cut substantially. The new law does, however, expand the New Starts transit investment program to encompass projects that increase the capacity of existing transit systems, as well as creates a new grant program for transit-oriented development planning.

Other significant provisions include introduction of a national freight strategic plan and creation of a new $1 billion competitive grant program for multimodal projects of national and regional significance.

Because transportation investments are inextricably linked with urban form, because they matter greatly for real estate decision making, and because they are vital to national and metropolitan prosperity, ULI has made it a priority to engage in national conversations about the future of surface transportation policy. For the past five years, ULI has worked to connect its members to federal transportation policy—to inform the federal transportation law (for example, the 2009 ULI report Transportation for a New Era, available at www.uli.org/infrastructure, laid out priorities for transportation reform); to educate ULI members and leaders about transportation issues and opportunities; and to make federal activities meaningful for metropolitan decision makers.

Now that a new surface transportation authorization has arrived, ULI will use a variety of platforms to inform members of its contents and of the development implications and opportunities the law may bring. ULI also will work with policy leaders in Washington and beyond to shape the implementation of MAP-21 and will continue to engage in dialogue about the best path forward for transportation in the new economy.