Transportation Secretary Brook Adams formally proposed yesterday the consolidation of the federal programs supporting highway construction and aid to mass transportation.
The proposal has been a key goal of Adams' since he became secretary of transportation last year and he has been busy personally explaining it to suspicious members of the highway and mass transit lobbies.
Under his proposal, the Federal Highway Administration and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration would become the Surface Transportation Administration.
The first step of that organization, Adams had been saying for the last 18 months, would be to get legislation enacted to combine the funding for both highway and transit programs. That was achieved in the most recent session of Congress with a combined, four-year $51 billion highway and mass transit authorization bill.
"The next logical step," Adams said, would be the combination at the administrative level of the two [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
U.S. transit officials have been openly concerned that they would be swallowed by the older and much larger highway interests. The Federal Highway Administration has about 4,900 employes. UMTA has about 600.
Some highway department directors, on the other hand, have complained that transit has stolen the march from them on new projects and has contributed in some degree to a relative decrease in highway funds.
Adams said that one of the main reasons for combing the two programs would be to get more efficient use of DOT personnel. The Federal Highway Administration has 52 local and state offices across the country. UMTA has very few and they are new. Furthermore, there is a federal hiring freeze.
Adams said that combining forces would contribute to coordinated highway and transit planning and would provide one-stop grant approval for state departments of transportation seeking combined projects, such as ways.
The American Public, Transit Association, the transit lobby, has set up a task force to work with DOT on the proposal. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials is studying the proposal. That organization added the word "transportation" to its title in the recent past.
A vigorous congressional fight is possible, Adams concedes. He is hoping to fit a final proposal into the president's reorganization package next year. That would mean that Congress would have to vote to reject the reorganization within 60 days or it would automatically take effect. Another route, through legislation, is a possibility, Adams said.
Sen. Harrison Williams (D-N.J.), of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee from which urban transit programs flow, said yesterday that Congress "should proceed very cautiously."
Theordore C. Lutz, Metro general manager here and a member of the transit lobby's task force, said yesterday that "one of the strengths of the highway program is that you have those people out in the state capitals who are part of the scheme to get things done. I wouldn't mind having some of that" for transit programs.