On August 10, 2005, Congress passed a $244.1 billion national surface transportation program known as SAFETEA-LU to fund America’s network of highways, roads, bridges, public transit, and ports. In less than three months, SAFETEA-LU will expire and the timing couldn’t be worse: national unemployment figures top 9.4 percent, gas prices hover in the $3-a-gallon range, the Highway Trust Fund remains dangerously close to insolvency, congestion costs regions billions of dollars, and mass transit suffers from aging infrastructure and severe disinvestment. U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D- Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, recently introduced his plan for the next surface transportation bill. There are several promising and innovative efforts proposed in the draft, however the bill misses several opportunities to build a comprehensive national vision that utilizes performance-based measures that achieve quantifiable goals.
While the 775-page bill will undergo several edits before becoming final, the six-year, $450 billion proposal provides almost $100 billion for mass transit. It would increase federal spending for transit by 22 percent to help bring systems to a state of good repair, increase mobility and accessibility to communities, and provide new or expanded transit across the country. This increase in spending would be a much needed help to struggling agencies nationwide, where years of disinvestment and limited resources have deferred maintenance, repair, and opportunities for expansion, making them more costly. Forced to create short-term solutions to solve pressing problems, more than 95 communities nationwide have recently been forced to cut service, conduct agency layoffs, and enact fare increases. Increased funding for transit is long overdue.
Because transit needs exceed available dollars, funding must be allocated wisely to generate the greatest return on investment. HR2724, as introduced by U.S. Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), and Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), complements the transportation bill by establishing quantifiable national transportation objectives and performance targets – such as reducing vehicle miles traveled by 16 percent and tripling the use of walking, biking and public transportation – to evaluate the way limited resources are allocated. Funding programs based on merit will help the nation achieve the results we want and invest in projects we need. Reforms are essential to changing the way we spend transportation dollars so that America can keep moving forward.
This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, visit http://www.metroplanning.org/personalize.asp.