Today I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 2950, the ``Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.'' This law provides a new structure for our Federal surface transportation programs -- highway, highway safety, and transit -- and authorizes funds for those programs for the next 6 years.
H.R. 2950 is landmark legislation. It will carry the Nation into the post-Interstate era and help provide the transportation infrastructure for improved economic productivity and enhanced international competitiveness. In the short term, this bill means jobs for working Americans. It provides more than billion that can be used this fiscal year to build highway projects. During the coming year, those funds will provide jobs for over 600,000 Americans. The law will continue to support jobs in the highway and transit construction industries over the next 6 years.
When we submitted to the Congress our proposal for reauthorization of Federal surface transportation programs earlier this year, all those involved with the Nation's surface transportation system recognized that it was time to redesign these programs. The Interstate System -- the largest public works project in history -- is very near completion, and this law provides the final funds to finish it. The Interstate System has fundamentally changed transportation in America. It has become easier and cheaper to move goods, and virtually all Americans benefit from the speed and efficiency with which they can move from place to place on our interstate highways. But our focus must now shift from major highway construction to better maintenance, management, and use of our existing highway and transit facilities.
A key element of our proposal was the National Highway System. Ours was not a call for a major new construction program, but rather for identification of those key highways throughout the country that are the arteries for interstate and interregional travel or roads that link those routes to major ports, airports, and other critical transportation facilities. It was a call for dedication of sufficient funds to the National Highway System to ensure that projected traffic increases on those highways can be accommodated without deterioration in their physical condition or ability to move traffic. This new law establishes the National Highway System and provides the funds necessary to keep it performing efficiently.
Another major element of our proposal was to provide State and local officials unprecedented flexibility. We proposed to give those officials the discretion to use a major portion of their Federal surface transportation funds on the improvements that would best meet local needs, whether highway projects or public transit projects. State and local officials have played an ever more important role in project monitoring as the Federal programs have matured. The day has clearly come for the Federal Government to step back and let its partners play the lead role, as this law provides.
We all also recognized the need for a larger role for the private sector in helping to meet surface transportation needs. This legislation establishes that new private sector role. It is historic because of the changes it makes to encourage privatization of our transportation infrastructure. It removes a number of Federal barriers to private sector involvement. It lifts the current general prohibition against financing highway improvements with a combination of Federal funds and private investment to be repaid with toll revenue. Federal funds will be available to help entrepreneurs who, under contract with appropriate public authorities, are willing to build or improve roads that motorists want and are willing to pay to use. The Act will leverage more dollars into the transportation infrastructure and create even more jobs.
The new law extends the current Federal highway traffic safety program, which has proven to be so successful: the fatality rate on our Nation's highways was lower in 1990 than in any year since records have been kept. In addition to extending our current efforts, the law establishes new incentive grant programs to encourage the States to fight drunk driving and promote the safety of vehicle occupants.
Title VII of the bill is intended to resolve the current inability of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to pursue its program of long-term improvements at National and Dulles Airports. The Supreme Court declared a congressional oversight mechanism in the 1986 legislation creating the Airports Authority to be a violation of the separation of powers principles of the Constitution. During congressional consideration of amendments intended to cure the defects found by the Supreme Court, the Administration expressed the view that the new Board of Review created by Title VII would violate the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. We adhere to this view, noting that the matter will now be resolved in court. I strongly support the shift of these former Federal facilities to regional control, and my Administration stands ready to assist in developing legislative amendments that will not be subject to constitutional challenge.
This new law gives us the means to improve our surface transportation system in the years to come, but it also promotes research into what surely will be revolutionary changes in the next century. Intelligent vehicle-highway systems, magnetically levitated high-speed ground transportation systems, and a new transit research partnership with State and local governments are given new impetus in this law. Further, this law provides new tools to ensure that transportation improvements address the Nation's environmental needs. For example, it provides funds for wetlands mitigation banks and for transportation projects that will improve our air quality.
Any legislation this comprehensive and involving this much change is sure to raise serious policy issues about which reasonable people will disagree, and this new law has been no exception. I commend the major sponsors of this legislation, however, for staying the course, striking compromises among the many conflicting views over the shape of these new programs, and producing this much-needed bill.
The White House,
December 18, 1991.
Note: H.R. 2950, approved December 18, was assigned Public Law No. 102 - 240.