InTransition Magazine
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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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From the Chairman's Desk

Mapping Out MAP-21

By Matthew Holt, Chairman, NJTPA
NJTPA Chairman Matthew Holt

Many in the transportation sector were taken by surprise when Congress compromised on a new federal transportation law this summer. After all, following the expiration of SAFETEA-LU in 2009, we saw a similar act play out almost a dozen times. There was little reason to believe Congress wouldn’t just pass another last-minute, short-term extension with a presidential election in full swing. But in late June, Congress passed Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which will last through 2014.

After the initial reaction of “How was this impasse broken?” followed more important questions like, “What’s in the bill?” and “How will MAP-21 impact our work for the next two years?” And perhaps the greatest question, which I have asked many times, given that 10 years will have passed from the beginning of SAFETEA-LU to the end of MAP-21: “Will we finally have a real bill that addresses the actual transportation investment needed in this country ready at that time, and how can we help drive that conversation?”

In this issue of InTransition, we’ll provide answers to some of those questions. The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the publisher of this magazine, takes pride in serving as a nonpartisan source of information on transportation issues. To that end, the NJTPA hosted a free forum in August called “Beyond MAP-21: Uncertain Future, Unmet Needs.” The event featured a panel of national experts who provided analysis on the legislation’s implications for transportation policy and funding. Some of their perspectives are reflected in the article on page 19. More from their presentations, including videos, a newsletter and other multimedia can be found on NJTPA.org.

The speakers at the event confirmed my greatest concern about MAP-21: It does not contain a true, long-term solution to our transportation and infrastructure needs. The panelists delivered a sobering look at the challenges our transportation network will face in the years ahead. Unfortunately, MAP-21 avoided many of the tough decisions that must be made to confront them. The bill essentially held federal funding levels flat, meaning we’ll be forced to do little more than cover our most basic infrastructure maintenance needs.

Former New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere brought a different perspective to our discussion that spoke directly to making transportation a social issue. If we want the public’s support, he said, we need to earn it by making a better case to the people about how transportation investments can directly impact their quality of life. We need to make clear how a project might cut 20 minutes off someone’s commute, or ensure that they get home in time for their child’s ballgame. And this doesn’t just apply to big ticket infrastructure projects.

In September, the NJTPA approved $3 million for seven projects through its Local Safety and High Risk Rural Roads programs. These are generally simple, quick-fix projects that have a high impact on their locations—for example, installing a traffic signal at an intersection, fixing sidewalks and crosswalks, or applying ant-skid treatments on curving roads. Our agency made a greater effort than ever before to reach out to all of the affected communities and let them know how their federal tax dollars were about to make travel safer and smoother for local drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

The NJTPA will continue its hard work to keep the discussion about the state of our transportation infrastructure before the public, through InTransition, symposiums, social media and other means of public outreach. I encourage you to find us on Facebook, Twitter and our website so you can be a part of the conversation. Our hope is that when MAP-21 expires, it is replaced by more far-reaching legislation that at last addresses our nation’s long-term transportation funding needs. In the months ahead, it’s incumbent on all of us to do our part to inform the public what’s at stake, so that they can demand better from our leaders in Washington, D.C.

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