Policy Update May 16, 2017

Position on Addressing National Park Infrastructure Needs

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works ahead of hearings scheduled for the week on May 15, 2017.

NPCA shared the following recommendations related to addressing the serious infrastructure needs of the national parks.

The National Park System, second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of infrastructure it manages, is at the pinnacle of this country’s heritage preservation and, not to mention, tourist attractions. Caring for these many resources requires consistent and sufficient funding. Unfortunately, the park service has not been receiving this funding and currently there is an $11.9 billion backlog of overdue repairs facing the parks.

The overdue repairs have taken a toll on everything from the safety of park roads, bridges, and water systems, to the protection of historic artifacts, challenging the Park Service’s ability to provide enjoyable experiences for park visitors. In FY15, the latest year for which reliable numbers are available, the park service needed $820 million just to keep the backlog from growing, but received only $473 million, or 58 cents for every dollar the agency needed just to keep the problem from growing worse.

Complicating the challenge of fixing deteriorating infrastructure is the surge in park visitation. National parks saw a 7% increase and received more than 330 million visits in 2016 that generated $32 billion for the U.S. economy in 2015. For every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service, $10 is returned to the American economy, with much of that money directly benefiting parks’ gateway communities.

National park transportation infrastructure is wholly the responsibility of the federal government and deserves and depends upon robust federal funding. It also should be first in line for any new funding that is generated by the federal government. Many innovative financing options are being put forward to pay for fixing this nation’s infrastructure. It is critical that the final mix includes options that are applicable to national parks and other public lands. Below are some options that are being discussed and their applicability to national parks:

  • Public-Private Partnerships – The National Park Service already uses public-private partnerships in its concession management agreements. Some types of PPP agreements, such as leasebacks, are simply not appropriate for national parks because they would allow private entities to own parts of national parks.

  • Tolling – Tolling is currently prohibited in national parks through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 1996. With the exception of the five national parkways in the greater Washington, DC area (Baltimore-Washington, George Washington Memorial, Clara Barton, Rock Creek, Suitland) that largely serve as commuter routes, the seasonal and limited volume on most park roads would not make tolling cost-effective.

  • Historic Leasing – Leases of historically significant park properties lighten the load on the National Park Services for maintaining historic buildings. Additionally, entering into long-term leases of 60 years provides an incentive for a lessee to utilize the historic tax credit and invest in restoration, preservation, and maintenance of an historic properties.

There are a number of other important considerations to keep in mind when structuring an infrastructure revitalization program that will benefit parks.

  • Prioritize critical projects—those that will preserve a resource, improve visitor safety or result in significant cost savings in the future.

  • Allow multi-year proposals and provide funding for planning and project development. Lack of sufficient funding over the years has resulted in minimal long-range planning and permitting. Plans and other documentation associated with projects often become outdated and are not developed unless construction funding is guaranteed. Any national park infrastructure revitalization program will need to provide funding for planning and permitting so that the projects of greatest need can be addressed, not simply the ones that are “shovel-ready.” This is especially true for the “mega” projects, such as the renovation of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, whose planning and permitting alone will require millions of dollars. These projects are particularly important for inclusion because annual funding streams are vastly insufficient to cover these projects even over the course of several years.

  • When planning for and undertaking infrastructure projects, ensure the protection, integrity and historically sensitive restoration of natural and cultural resources. Any construction projects must follow legal requirements such as the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (including Section 106 requiring Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties). It is also important that careful restoration of historic properties adhere to administrative guidelines, including but not limited to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the treatment of historic properties, Director’s Order 28 on cultural resource management, and Director’s Order 80 on real property asset management, and related guidelines, in addition to relevant handbooks.

  • Include robust funding for State Historic Preservation Officers and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers to invest in digitization of cultural resources and new surveys as part of any national infrastructure program. Such investment at the earliest stage of project planning will result in faster, more efficient project plans.