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The 1970 report of DOT's Northeast Corridor Transportation Project, issued by the Office of High Speed Transportation listed 13 criteria and assessed how each might apply to five institutional models. That list suggests a useful starting point, but it may need some updating and refinement to meet current needs. Very briefly, the 13 criteria used in the 1970 report were:

  1. Ease of forming and implementing the institution
  2. Time required to establish the institution
  3. Financing methods available to the institution and the feasibility of acquiring them
  4. Degree of federal government participation in the institution's decision making
  5. Degree of state government participation in the institution's decision making
  6. Influence of federal regulation on the institution
  7. Influence of state regulation on the institution
  8. Tax liability of the institution
  9. Extent of research and planning activities needed and capability of the institution to supply them
  10. Labor regulations and practices that might apply to the institution
  11. Tort and contract liabilities of the institution
  12. Influence of federal and state aid
  13. Eminent domain powers available

To simplify the use of these criteria in assessing institutional models, they might be grouped into four fundamental characteristics: formation of the institution, governance, financing, and the capacity to perform the four essential functions of multi-state corridor organizations identified and described earlier in this paper: (1) strategic design and goal-setting, (2) system management and public accountability for achieving overall outcome-oriented performance goals that may depend upon factors not fully within the control of program managers, (3) project implementation, and (4) system operation and service delivery of narrowly specified program outputs that can be determined by program managers alone. For each institutional model, the assessment might analyze the need for each characteristic and how well the model could be expected to satisfy that need.

The following table summarizes an assessment of the eight institutional models based on these four fundamental criteria. The table is color-coded to assist the reader in interpreting it.

  • Green indicates the model's probable capability to meet Transportation Corridor needs.
  • Yellow indicates uncertainty about the ability of the model to meet those needs.

Red indicates the likelihood that the model would not meet Transportation Corridor needs in some significant way.

Institutional Options to Strengthen Multi-state Transportation Corridor Performance

Types of Institution Examples When Appropriate Factors for Evaluating Suitability

Formation & Modification (Degree of Difficulty)

Financing (Size & reliability) Public Purpose/ Performance/Powers/ Authority (strength & scope)
Lead Situation
1. Interstate Compact Port Auth. of NY & NJ

Delaware River Basin


Midwest Interstate Pass.Rail Commission
State Well recognized permanent function of govt. Problematic:

Difficult politically

Time consuming

Not easily modified

Requires consensus

State oriented

Always interstate

Potentially strong

Depends on political consensus when created

Real Power (potentially)

Probably limited to narrow functions

May be viewed as loss of state power
2. Joint Services Agreement • Interstate waste- water treatment at Blue Plains Local Economy of scale

Voluntary Coord.

May not be used

Relatively easy


State laws determine

Contractual agreement

Joint Services org.

Seldom interstate

Regular public funds pooled by agreement


Powers previously established by law

3. Special District or Authority Airport & Port Auth.

Highway Dist.

CA High-Speed Rail Authority
State or Local Vital function of govt.

Service area diff. than local govt.

Fairly easy where political consensus exists

Some states regulate formation

Usually narrow functions

Seldom interstate


Strong, but narrow

Can be effective bldg.block
4. Voluntary Coalition Transp. Corridor Coalitions

Innovators & Fed. incentives New or uncertain function

Large # diverse partners

Intergovernmental & public/private

Easy to start

May not have full participation

May not last

Flexible/potentially inclusive

Easily interstate


Usually must beg for $

Potentially very weak

Depends on strong consensus building skills


Flexible but weak

Not dependable

Depends on strong consensus bld. Skills
5. Non-Profit Corps. & Foundations Fed. Chartered TRB, NFWF,NIBS

Privately Chartered, ITSA, NAGRC, foundations
Special interests Helpful in many situations Suitable:

Very Easy

Very flexible

Not necessarily inclusive: not representational

Easily interstate

Potentially strong

Privately decided

Dependent on others and on market fluctuations

Self-defined purposes; not publicly or govt.. defined

Can be guided by govt. contracts
6. Commercial Companies Railroads

Trucking Cos.

Barge Cos.

Other shipping & delivery companies
Private Private market is strong and aligned with public purposes Suitable:

Contract negotiations

Relatively quick & easy

Private decision making

Govt. can regulate & contract with

Easily interstate

As strong as the market

Can grow with the market (big is better)

Weak or absent in weak markets, unless subsidized

Strong performers in strong markets

Keep up w/ market demand

Growth oriented
7. Federal Corporations



U.S. Railway Assoc.


St. Lawrence Seaway Authority

Federal Relatively rare

Unique circumstances

Can be shaped as desired

Potentially quick to establish

May be viewed as loss of state power

Congress determines

May subsidize, or not

May be public-private

May be backed by federal guarantees

Easily interstate

Federally specified; at least in part

Market based

Opportunity for Congress to adjust support


Wide variation in powers & authority

Criticized as "big govt."
8. Federal Govt. Agency, Commission or Project Office ICC/STB

Corps. Of Engineers Appalachian Reg. Commission


Bonneville Power Administration
Federal Generally requires a crisis

Project office is relatively easy; may require only a new appropriation

Congressional discretion for major new ones & for major re-org.

Project office may only require administrative discretion

May be viewed as loss of state power

Federal only, in general

Commission form can bring diversity to governance

FACA can provide stakeholder advice (not governance)

Can be linked to a diverse non-federal decision-making body

Easily interstate

Potentially strong

Designated revenue stream (Trust Funds)

Federal appropriation not reliable any more

Criticized as "big govt."

Potentially powerful & effective


Indirectly thru grants and/or regulations

Can be linked to a judicial decision process

Several observations about this assessment follow:

  • Interstate compact organizations usually are very difficult and time-consuming to establish, and some do not have any more authority to build and operate facilities, or to deliver services to the public than a well structured—and much easier to establish and modify—voluntary coalition, or a multi-state organization funded and empowered largely by federal grants. However, some have been given very effective operating and revenue raising powers not otherwise available to an interstate region. Furthermore, once in place these organizations tend to be permanent. They seem to be most appropriate when their function is essential, there is a strong and broadly held consensus to establish them, and they will have strong and reliable powers to exercise over a long period of time.

    Primary function or product: Multi-state public infrastructure and public services; multi-state revenue sources
    Examples: High-speed ground transportation systems; Multi-purpose river-basin management (including such features as dams, waterways, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, and recreation)

  • Joint services agreements seem most appropriate to use in a state or sub-state support role within the framework of a larger corridor-wide effort.

    Primary function or product: State and local public facilities, services, and revenue sources
    Examples: Public transit, regional port or airport, regional water supply and irrigation systems, regional sewage treatment systems, flood control levees

  • Special districts and authorities also seem most appropriate to use in a state or sub-state support role within a corridor-wide effort.

    Primary function or product: Same as joint services, except revenue streams may be larger and more dependable
    Examples: Same as joint services

  • Voluntary coalitions are easy to establish and modify across both geographic and functional governmental boundaries, and they can be easily empowered to do studies, build consensus, and facilitate joint or coordinated action on behalf of their members. However, they depend heavily on external sources of funding and the extent of the consensus they are able to develop and maintain among their members. Although they have no governmental authority of their own, they often derive significant "powers" from federal grant requirements. In some cases, these responsibilities include delegated goal-setting and regulatory functions. These organizations seem most appropriate for innovative and evolving programs that need to involve multiple parties and that have dependable sources of outside funding to support their consensus-building and flexible functions. However, they are seldom given major roles in operating programs or in allocating big-ticket project funds. Their effectiveness is limited by their need to remain subordinate to their members and to avoid threatening the powers of their members.

    Primary function or product: Studies, plans, proposed funding allocations and project rankings, performance monitoring
    Examples: MPO future visions, long-range plans, and Transportation Improvement Programs (investment strategies). Air quality conformity analysis

  • Non-profit corporations and foundations are easy to establish, are borderless, and generally can be used for flexible purposes. Although federally chartered ones are relatively rare, they can be important because of their special stature and recognition as public purpose organizations. Governments can make good use of these organizations through contracts that fund them to perform specific public services. Their use seems most appropriate for filling gaps in governmental capabilities.

    Primary function or product: Administrative and technical services
    Examples: Administer grant programs; produce studies; evaluate public programs; and provide technical assistance (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation). Administer compliance with federal reliability standards by long range electric power transmission companies (North American Electric Reliability Corporation).

  • Commercial companies provide essential services to the public based on market demand. For example, they provide the bulk of the nation's freight movement, and satisfy much of the demand for passenger movement in significant sectors—such as air travel and taxi service. They seem most appropriate for use in transportation sectors where market prices and demand for services are high enough to provide attractive private-sector profits. They may also provide unprofitable public services that are supported by governmental contracts that cover the costs and appropriate profits. These organizations can be very flexible and can accommodate and thrive on growth. For these companies, growth is perceived as good, while the same growth in a government agency may be perceived as bad.

    Primary function or product: Provide a product or service to people willing and able to pay a price that includes a profit
    Examples: Freight movement; package delivery; some forms of passenger service

  • Federal corporations are generally subsidized and place public service performance ahead of profit. Nevertheless, they often have significant revenue-raising sources such as fares and fees for their services, and they are managed by a board of directors charged with using good business practices. They seem most appropriate for use in running businesslike enterprises that do not have sufficient short-term profit potential to support a private company.

    Primary function or product: Nationwide or multi-state public facilities and services
    Examples: Establish and operate a new railroad (Conrail; Amtrak); establish and operate an inland waterway (Saint Lawrence Seaway)

  • Federal agencies, commissions and project offices perform public services needed on a national or multi-state scale but not amenable to being financed by direct user fees or fares. New ones have been difficult to establish in recent years because of the perception that they would inappropriately expand the size of government and increase the possibility of public waste and inefficiency. However, they seem most appropriate for performing essential federal functions that no other organization is capable of or willing to perform.

    Primary function or product: Nationwide or multi-state regulation; Public works construction, financing and/or operation of needed facilities and service systems that no one else is willing or able to provide
    Examples: Appalachian highway system (Appalachian Regional Commission). Regulation of inter-state commerce (Surface Transportation Board—to a limited extent). Regulation of long-distance electric power transmission (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). Production and long distance transmission of power from the Columbia River and other sources (Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Department of Energy). Operation of Missouri River and Mississippi River systems, numerous flood control projects, many inland waterways, and more (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

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