Strategic Highway Research Program Discussed

By Aram Kalousdian, Editor | September 28, 2010

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation passed by Congress established a Strategic Highway Research Program

"It's a short-term program that is designed to leapfrog technology," Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director Kirk Steudle told attendees of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association's (MITA) 3rd Annual Conference. The conference was held January 17–19 at Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant.

The program focuses on solving the top problems of highway safety, reliability, capacity, and renewal.

Leon Hank, chief administrative officer for MDOT, reported that gas tax revenues were down 2 percent in 2006. "They were projected to increase at a reasonable level. This is normally offset by growth in vehicle registration fees, but our registration fees only increased by approximately half a percent in 2006. Our gas tax revenues have been flat since 2000, so we've been dependent on a 5-percent growth in registration fees to offset the negative impact of the gas taxes. That hasn't happened for the last couple of years," Hanks said.

"While we're having all of this flat revenue growth, our costs are going up 3 percent every year. We think the facts are compelling and we think that it's very clear that there are some significant stresses that we are having. If we're going to maintain the program at its current level, we're going to need some type of significant revenue enhancement," Hank said.

Hank said that the federal highway trust fund is projected to go into deficit in the next couple of years. "We currently have about three months' worth of expenditures in that trust fund. There is a lot of talk in Washington to the effect that something has to happen, or we're going to have big problems down the road," Hank said.