Policy Update Jul 8, 2019

Position on Reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. 

NPCA appreciates the opportunity to provide our views regarding the needs of the National Park System as the Committee on Environment and Public Works begins its work to address our nation’s infrastructure and reauthorize the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

In summary, we make the following recommendations:

  • Provide investments to national parks in any infrastructure package, particularly to address deferred maintenance projects and water infrastructure in and near parks. Investments should include funding for both planning and permitting as well as construction dollars;
  • 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 the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program funding to $200 million per year;
  • Establish a competitive wildlife crossing pilot program to reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve wildlife habitat connectivity; require relevant agencies to conduct a study of methods to reduce collisions; implement new workforce trainings; standardize the collection of wildlife collision data nationally; and integrate wildlife-vehicle collision reduction;
  • Preserve 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;
  • Prioritize projects that improve energy efficiency and climate mitigation and resiliency needs.

National Park Service Investments

For more than a century, our national parks have remained America’s favorite places, important pieces of our natural, historical and cultural heritage set aside for future generations to explore and enjoy. But as record crowds enjoy our national parks, they find the facilities in the parks have become worn and inadequate to meet the demand.

Fixing our national park infrastructure is a good economic investment for our country. National parks are an important part of the tourism economy and extremely popular with Americans. National parks received more than 331 million visits in 2017 that generated $35 billion for the U.S. economy. 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. With national parks supporting nearly 300,000 private-sector jobs annually, these economic engines are worthy of a robust infrastructure investment in 2019 and beyond.

Infrastructure Repair Challenges Facing our National Parks

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.

Needed repairs range from deteriorating water systems to crumbling roads and trails to antiquated visitor centers that are in desperate need of updating. For instance, nearly 40% of the 10,000 miles of park roads are in poor to fair condition.

The backlog of infrastructure projects at our national parks now totals $11.9 billion, a rise of over $300 million since last year (see chart below). These projects are not cyclical repairs that parks attend to constantly, but the more serious repairs that have been awaiting action for more than a year because of inadequate funding. The National Park System is a clear example of what happens when nothing or not enough is done to maintain infrastructure.

National Park Service Asset Inventory

Asset CategoryNumber of Asset LocationsFacility Condition IndexCritical Systems Deferred MaintenanceDeferred MaintenanceCurrent Replacement Value
Buildings:25,0730.092$757,863,755$2,034,223,653$22,146,070,745
Housing:3,6900.116$69,867,635$186,743,990$1,604,488,678
Campgrounds:1,4210.111$18,170,994$7,952,832$714,426,583
Trails:6,2730.097$237,891,703$461,224,829$4,79,086,151
Waste Water Systems:1,8310.141$179,023,360$290,381,968$2,058,774,767
Water Systems:1,5300.110$286,117,172$426,419,357$3,871,102,773
Unpaved Roads:5,5370.059$73,503,455$185,430,769$3,128,501,963
Paved Roads:11,9880.224N/A$6,153,885,233$27,525,281,945
All Others:18,6960.024$1,201,981,038$2,102,776,036$88,766,840,844
TOTAL:76,0390.077$2,824,419,112$11,920,058,668$154,594,574,449

Critical Systems Deferred Maintenance - The cost of critical or serious deferred maintenance located in critical asset components. This figure is currently unavailable for the Paved Roads category.

Deferred Maintenance - The cost of maintenance and repairs that were not performed when they should have been or were scheduled to be and which are put off or delayed for a future period.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/infrastructure/upload/NPS-Asset-Inventory-Summary-FY18-Servicewide_2018.pdf

Examples of Deferred Maintenance in National Parks (from FY17 data):

  • Mount Rainier National Park (Washington): Trails in Mount Rainier National Park are heavily used by visitors and are in dire need of upkeep. Without maintenance funding, the park uses recreation fees to complete critical projects and address unexpected needs but is unable to tackle the larger projects and complete critical assessments. The price tag for trail rehabilitation totals more than $10 million for the park.
  • Denali National Park Road (Alaska): Among Denali’s most pressing needs is maintenance on the 92-mile Denali Park Road that is the only way to access the heart of the park.
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): Over $6 million is needed to rehabilitate historic buildings in the Chapin Mesa National Historic Landmark District at Mesa Verde National Park.
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park (Hawaii): Kalaupapa National Historical Park tells the story of Hawaiians banished by King Kamehameha V to the north shore of Molokai for contracting leprosy. Over $7 million is needed to replace historic buildings.
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming and Montana): For the past three decades the National Park Service has been working to upgrade the park’s 254-mile Grand Loop and entrance roads from 1940’s standards that are woefully inadequate for modern day tour busses and recreational vehicles. Due to insufficient funding, only half of the loop and entrance roads have been reconstructed. To complete upgrading of the remainder of the roads in the park will cost anywhere from $800 million to $1.2 billion because the most challenging stretches of road remain to be rebuilt. At the current pace of funding it will take more than 75 years to complete the work.
  • Yosemite National Park (California): Yosemite National Park is home to some of our country’s most breathtaking cliffs, domes and waterfalls. However, the park suffers from $582 million in needed repairs. For example, more than $20 million is needed to rehabilitate trails including the Yosemite Bike Path, the Stubblefield Canyon Trail, and the Clark Point Spur, a path that leads to the famous Vernal Falls.
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California): Golden Gate National Recreation Area will require $9.5 million in wastewater treatment repairs to remedy all problems. The systems of the Marin Headlands and Fort Mason are some of the most expensive projects to be undertaken. Current repairs, such as the Muir Woods Water and Wastewater Service Rehabilitation project, have been stuck in the planning stage due to the lack of funding.
  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia): The world’s longest contiguous footpath is conservatively estimated to have a $20 million repair backlog. More than 6,000 volunteers currently maintain the 2,200-mile Trail, contributing 250,000 annual hours of mostly physical work, saving the U.S. government more $6 million each year. Still, funding is needed to support volunteer work, complete major deferred projects and cover expenses for materials.

Request: As Congress sets out to repair and rebuild our nation’s declining infrastructure, national park roads, bridges, trails, campgrounds and other facilities need to benefit from that investment. A dedicated investment of $6.5 billion to NPS deferred maintenance over five years would address most of the highest priority projects. This includes park roads, visitor facilities, trails and other structures.

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.

Water Infrastructure

NPCA also supports greater investments in water infrastructure in and beyond the boundaries of national park sites. Within the boundaries the NPS operates assets that provide drinking water to the 331 million visitors and treat waste and storm waters, a service critical to protecting the waterways upon which park flora and fauna depend. A greater investment is needed to protect water quality and manage the ever-increasing number of park visitors.

In addition, the country needs a significant investment in water infrastructure beyond the boundaries of National Park Service managed sites. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that waste and storm water systems alone need over $271 billion in the next 20 years. This is a significant challenge that not only impacts communities across the country, but also puts our national parks at risk. Many sites downriver and along our coasts are threatened by untreated urban and agricultural runoff in addition to untreated human and industrial waste, toxic substances, debris, and other pollutants stemming from combined sewer overflows. Greater federal support is needed in these efforts as paying for these projects often falls on communities that cannot afford it.

Request: As part of an infrastructure investments, we urge the committee to triple the funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds in the US EPA to help address the untreated water from urban and agricultural runoff and human and industrial waste.

Reauthorizing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act

If the committee decides to focus on the reauthorization of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST Act) rather than a broader infrastructure package, we request additional resources for national parks. The National Park Service 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). In addition, national parks are eligible to apply for funding from the National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Project program authorized for $100 million to be spent on projects costing at least $25 million.

The national parks received one half of one percent of the entire funding package in the FAST Act, but the need is much more than that. In the National Park Service’s 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 6 to 10 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 what is needed.

This funding shortfall is the main contributor to the growth of the maintenance backlog, totaling $11.9 billion. A little over a half of that amount ($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 NPS assets (see chart below). 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.

PriorityParking LotPaved RoadRoad BridgeRoad TunnelGrand Total
1. Highest $239,336,745$2,356,782,172$534,093,409$17,851,563$3,148,063,890
1. High $223,875,696$1,056,285,903$173,321,724$1,968,967$1,455,452,290
Total $463,212,441$3,413,068,075$707,415,113$19,820,530$4,603,516,180

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, Restore Our Parks Campaign, FY17 data

In addition, our parks continue to face increased vehicle congestion that reduces the visitor experience and threatens the 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.

Request: 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. We also request dedicated funding for the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program at a level of $200 million a year to address mega projects.

Additional Provisions

National Park Visitor and Wildlife Protections

We also support Congress addressing the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The most recent data from the Federal Highway Administration estimates over 1 million wildlife-vehicle collisions and 26,000 motorist injuries as a result yearly. The associated costs to motorists from wildlife-vehicle collisions is $8.3 billion yearly in medical and vehicle damage. Efforts must be made to minimize these collisions for both human safety and wildlife conservation. Visitors to America’s national parks many times travel to view iconic park wildlife. We want to be sure both park visitors and wildlife are protected.

Request: 1) Establish a competitive wildlife crossing pilot program that provides grants to states, land managers, and communities that work to reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve wildlife habitat connectivity; 2) require relevant agencies to conduct a study of methods to reduce collisions, an updated and expanded report of the 2008 Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reduction Study; 3) implement new workforce trainings; 4) standardize the collection of wildlife collision data nationally; 5) and integrate wildlife-vehicle collision reduction into all relevant sections of the legislation where transportation projects could utilize wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation technologies.

Additional Considerations

As Congress works to address infrastructure and reauthorize the FAST Act, Congress must preserve 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 whose completion 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 acknowledged as a challenge to completing less than 25% of the projects.

The National Park Service 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.

Conclusion

For too long, the national parks have been undergoing infrastructure decline. 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.