Policy Update Jun 17, 2019

Position on Deferred Maintenance Needs and Potential Solutions

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ahead of a hearing scheduled for June 18, 2019.

NPCA would like to use the hearing as an opportunity to provide our views regarding the infrastructure needs of the National Park System and federal funding opportunities to address these needs.

We recognize that partnerships, philanthropy, visitor fees, volunteerism and other supplemental funding sources are needed to help address park infrastructure. We encourage support for these sources, but also recognize that given the enormity of the need, the federal government has an obligation to provide the bulk of the funding for park infrastructure.

In summary, we make the following recommendations for federal funding support:

  • Provide investments to national parks in any infrastructure package. Investments should include funding for both planning and permitting as well as construction dollars;

  • Cosponsor and pass the Restore Our Parks Act, which dedicates up to $6.5 billion over five years to address the National Park Service (NPS) backlog.

  • Increase the Federal Lands Transportation Program funding to $920 million per year and dedicate $25 million a year from that allocation for transit;

  • Dedicate and Increase Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program funding to $200 million per year through the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill;

  • Increase annual appropriations for NPS deferred maintenance through the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill;

  • Preserve bedrock environmental protections and prioritize projects that improve energy efficiency and climate mitigation and resiliency needs.

For more than a century, our national parks have remained America’s favorite places, but as record crowds enjoy our parks, they find facilities have become worn and inadequate to meet the demand. Facilities are old and have not received the capital investment they need. Fixing our national park infrastructure is a good economic investment for our country. For every dollar Congress invests in NPS, $10 is returned to the American economy, with much of that money directly benefiting parks’ gateway communities.

The National Park System is second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of federal infrastructure it manages. In total, the agency is responsible for protecting and managing over 75,000 assets, which include roads and bridges, trails, historic buildings, employee housing, wastewater and electrical systems, military fortifications, monuments and memorials, and seawalls.

The backlog of infrastructure projects at our national parks now totals $11.9 billion, a rise of over $300 million since last year. These projects are not cyclical repairs that parks attend to constantly, but comprise the more serious repairs that have been awaiting action for more than a year because of inadequate funding.

Request: provide investments to national parks in any infrastructure package. As Congress sets out to repair and rebuild our nation’s declining infrastructure with any broad infrastructure package, national park facilities need to benefit from that investment. A dedicated investment of at a minimum $6.5 billion to NPS deferred maintenance over five years would address most of the highest priority projects.

Any strategy that includes the parks needs to focus on addressing long overdue repairs. Funding should include investments for planning and permitting, in addition to guaranteed construction dollars. This will ensure projects with the greatest need can be addressed, both those that are “shovel-ready” and those that require multi-year planning and implementation.

Request: Cosponsor and pass the Restore Our Parks Act. Congress can support national parks infrastructure through a stand-alone bill that passed through this committee in the last Congress that now enjoys 38 Senate cosponsors. The Restore Our Parks Act invests up to $6.5 billion in NPS deferred maintenance over five years, which would address parks’ highest priority projects. Importantly, the bill allows for projects to be completed in the out years beyond the bill’s five-year time frame, allowing time for needed planning, procurement, contracting and other needs.

Congress has an opportunity to increase national parks transportation infrastructure funding through reauthorization of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST Act). NPS received a total of $1.4 billion over five years in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act through the Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP).

The national parks received one half of one percent of the entire funding package in the FAST Act, but the need is much more. In NPS’ National Long-Range Transportation Plan, the agency estimates the funding needed to address all transportation needs throughout the service will need to be $1.5 billion a year over a period of six to ten years. This amount includes all activities in the transportation asset lifecycle, from planning through construction, operation, maintenance and rehabilitation. According to an estimate calculated in 2016, annual funding for transportation asset needs totals an estimated $394 million, which is $1.1 billion below the need.

This funding shortfall is the main contributor to the growth of the NPS deferred maintenance backlog. A little over a half of the backlog ($6.3 billion) relates directly to transportation assets. That amount includes paved and unpaved roads, tunnels, bridges and parking lots. Of that amount, $4.6 billion is categorized as highest and high priority transportation-related assets. Also, nearly a third of overall backlog is for mega projects, such as the reconstruction of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop road. Mega projects are transportation projects that require an amount of funding beyond what is available on an annual basis.

In addition, our parks continue to face increased vehicle congestion that reduces the visitor experience and threatens natural resources. Prior to the FAST Act, there was a specific program, Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program, that provided funding for alternative transportation such as shuttle buses, rail connections and bike trails. That program was subsumed into the Federal Lands Transportation Program with passage of the FAST Act, but the need is still there. For instance, the Zion National Park shuttle buses are 20 years old and need to be replaced. Funding should be renewed for these transit projects.

Request: Increase the Federal Lands Transportation Program funding to $920 million per year and dedicate $25 million a year from that allocation for transit. To address the highest and high priority transportation-related NPS funding needs, NPCA requests $4.6 billion over 5 years in the Federal Lands Transportation Program to address those needs. In addition, we request $25 million a year be set aside specifically out of the FLTP allocation for transit projects.

The FAST Act recognized the challenge of megaprojects—that there are numerous public lands transportation projects that are sufficiently large that they have been unable to receive the necessary funding through existing revenue sources. Accordingly, the bill established a program to provide—subject to appropriations—a competitive fund across federal public lands and tribal agencies that can fund large transportation projects over $25 million annually.

The Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program allows for $100 million annually to be appropriated through the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill (though if less is appropriated in any year, future appropriations can restore that amount to arrive at a total of $100m annually). FY19 projects that were ultimately funded included $60m for the Everglades’ Tamiami Trail to restore historic water flow interrupted by a highway, a critical step in restoring this iconic ecosystem. The FY20 House THUD appropriations bill includes $166 million for the account.

Request: Dedicate and Increase the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program funding to $200 million per year through the THUD appropriations bill. Given the many large projects that need funding, we recommend the authorized amount be doubled and that these funds be dedicated.

Annual funding through the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill provides for the non-transportation half of the national parks deferred maintenance backlog. Unfortunately, appropriated funds have been insufficient to meet needs, contributing to the growth of the backlog. These bills have provided increases for park repairs the last six fiscal years for a current total estimate of $564 million for deferred maintenance needs in FY19. We commend the progress, but also are forced to acknowledge that these funds remain insufficient. The primary NPS accounts addressing deferred maintenance are the repair/rehab and cyclic maintenance subaccounts in Operation of the National Parks account and the line item construction subaccount in the Construction account. These subaccounts can all be increased annually, which would allow for NPS to better keep up with their needs, ideally along with improved appropriations for other park needs and in conjunction with a dedicated funding effort for park maintenance.

Request: Increase annual Interior appropriations for NPS deferred maintenance.

As Congress works to address infrastructure, we urge the importance of preserving the protections and public involvement provided by our nation’s environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, etc. According to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), 95 percent of federal projects that require environmental review advance under a Categorical Exclusion (CE), and therefore are exempt from the most detailed types of environmental review.

In addition, a 2016 U.S. Department of the Treasury report identified 40 economically significant transportation and water projects the completion of which had been slowed or put in jeopardy. The report found that “a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.” Further, the report found that delays resulting from environmental review and permitting were a challenge to completing less than 25% of the projects.

NPS should also continue to develop innovative, cost-effective and sustainable strategies for constructing and managing its assets. NPCA supports prioritization of projects that improve energy efficiency and address climate mitigation and resiliency needs. Projects should be avoided that undermine existing infrastructure, or perpetuate or worsen the threat of fire, erosion, flooding, wildlife habitat loss and fragmentation.

Request: Preserve bedrock environmental protections and prioritize projects that improve energy efficiency and climate mitigation and resiliency needs.

Conclusion

For too long, the national parks have been undergoing infrastructure decline among their other funding needs. If Congress fails to fix the infrastructure in our national parks, it will cause the gradual loss of our natural and cultural heritage and the ability of the American public to enjoy and be inspired by it as preserved in our national parks, threatening the tourism economy and the preservation of our uniquely American heritage.