Let them hear what’s in store

States may be required to unveil traffic safety plans in the future

For years states have invested in traffic safety but for the
most part have remained tight-lipped about it. Strategies are tried, money is
spent and word rarely makes it past the borders.

A proposal by the American Association of State Highway
& Transportation Officials (AASHTO) may change the process. Announced in
mid-June, the move would require states to reveal long-term plans and what it
would cost to execute them. By being more vocal, officials in Washington are
hoping more can be learned.

Bruce Warner, director of the Oregon Department of
Transportation and the chairman of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Highway
Safety, unveiled the plan which calls for an annual commitment of $1 billion to
address the nation’s highway traffic safety issues. Warner was among nine
participants addressing a roundtable discussion conducted by the Senate
Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure and
Nuclear Safety.

“If that one piece was enacted, the reporting
requirement, it might be the greatest single enhancement to roadway safety
because right now it’s difficult to measure whether states are being
successful or not because there is no benchmarking,” Rob Dingess,
director of government relations for the American Traffic Safety Services
Association (ATSSA), told Roads & Bridges. “We are very pleased to
see that AASHTO has moved in this direction—the idea of a significant
investment in roadway safety in the actual physical upgrades to the highway
system.”

Warner’s testimony focused on AASHTO’s
reauthorization proposal to increase overall funding for the highway program by
at least one-third to a level of $41 billion per year by 2009. The increase in
funding would allow states to target more safety projects and new capacity
improvements as well as reconstruction, rehabilitation and spot-safety
improvements.

Warner also said all aspects of highway safety should be
combined into comprehensive plans. As part of the state long-range
transportation planning process, Congress should require that each state
develop a goal-oriented, performance-based comprehensive highway safety
component incorporating education, enforcement, emergency medical services and
highway infrastructure improvements.

Behind its Roadway Safety Program (see No. 1 on the active
list, p 20), ATSSA is asking for a $3 billion annual safety investment that
would come from the transfer of the current 2.5 cents per gallon ethanol tax
from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, reinstatement of interest
payments to the Trust Fund and indexing of the federal motor fuel user fee.

Aside from dollar figures, both AASHTO and ATSSA have
designed similar platforms. ATSSA is asking states to supply more raw spending
data to the secretary of transportation.

“We did not tie the reporting into things like the
state’s strategic safety plans. That’s what makes the AASHTO plan
better,” said Dingess.

ATSSA agrees with AASHTO’s call for a stronger focus
in the area of intersections and rural two-lane roads. The association,
however, calls for states to make a heavier investment in road safety for older
drivers.

But will more than one safety proposal cause confusion on
Capitol Hill? Dingess doesn’t think so.

“The proposals almost build off each other,” he
said. “Congress will take a look at these proposals and decide where the
federal government will target its dollars. The question now is does Congress
see this as a priority?”

About $1.2 billion have been invested each year in traffic
safety during TEA-21. However, that number is a little fuzzy.

“Investment definitions are different. Some states may
spend all of their money on three or four high-risk intersections. We just
don’t know,” added Dingess.

Bill Wilson is editor of Roads & Bridges.

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