More Money for Public Transit?
June 14, 2009
Congress is readying a sweeping six-year, multibillion-dollar plan that may mean more money for public transit and less for new roads and highways. It could be the biggest overhaul of America's transportation priorities since the Eisenhower Administration paved the way for the nation's interstate highway system in the 1950s. Proponents of greater investment in public transit say it will ease congestion and conserve energy. The new legislation could drastically alter historic funding ratios, which have favored highways and bridges over mass-transit projects 80% to 20%.
"A national surface-transportation policy for our country is long overdue," says Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), sponsor of a companion measure that he says would reduce the number of miles Americans drive, limit harmful emissions, and increase mass-transit ridership. On the House side, Rep. James Oberstar (D., Minn.), who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is working on his own bill, though new spending ratios have yet to be agreed upon.
Should America divert some funding from highways and bridges to invest in public transit?
"We would like to break that 80/20 barrier," says David Goldberg of Transportation for America, a coalition that includes powerful lobbying groups like AARP, the League of Conservation Voters, and the National Association of Realtors.
But groups like the American Highway Users Alliance say that funding for mass transit shouldn't come at the expense of roads and bridges, noting that the government’s transportation trust fund comes largely from taxes on motor fuels.
"We have to be very cautious about bumping up transit without taking a good, hard look at highway funding in this country," says Daisy Singh, the group's project manager.
— J. Scott Orr