Ask the Candidates to Talk Transportation at Tomorrow’s Debate

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We’ve noted throughout this election season that transportation policy is something of a third rail in presidential politics. Gas prices and auto industry jobs are irresistible fodder for campaign promises, but even the candidate who has decent ideas about rail travel and bike infrastructure doesn’t mention transit on the stump. (The other one doesn’t have much to say in the first place.)

If you want topics like intercity rail and federal support for transit projects to get more attention on the national stage, the place to go is the Transportation for America website. T4A is currently collecting signatures calling on Obama and — suspend your disbelief — McCain to address the future of the U.S. transportation system at the final presidential debate Wednesday night. Sign on by 1:00 p.m. tomorrow and your petition will be delivered to campaign representatives before the debate.

Wondering how to make the case for transit to a national audience? T4A policy director Mariia Zimmerman puts it in compelling dollars-and-cents terms in this piece, "Reinventing American Transportation," which accompanies the Blueprint for America series on PBS. (Excerpt after the jump.)

Today, transportation is the second highest household expense after
housing. America has invested in a stunning national highway system,
but lags far behind other nations in building transit and high speed
rail corridors that could complete our national transportation system.

For some families, long commutes and a lack of affordable or convenient
transit mean that they are actually spending more on transportation
than housing, particularly in exurban areas where people have relied
upon the "drive until you qualify" approach to homeownership. And yet
for those who do have transit available, they are saving almost $9,500
per year. Public transportation already saves the U.S. 4.2 billion
gallons of gasoline each year.

Providing the transit, walking and biking infrastructure so that more
people in our growing nation can live in closer proximity to daily
needs and use their cars less could save billions more gallons of oil.
It can also restore value to many of our urban neighborhoods: In most
regions, homes near jobs and/or transit stations are holding their
value, while those with the longest commutes are seeing steep declines
and little buyer interest.

America has a long history of visionary transportation investment that
has left a sizable imprint on our landscape and world standing. Our
canals, railroads, bridges, and highways have shaped settlement
patterns and served as the backbone of our economy. While these
investments shaped the past, it is time now to ask what kind of
investments America needs today when gasoline prices are high, oil
dependence is a national threat, climate change is threatening the
globe, and families are looking for more affordable and reliable
options.

The next president and Congress should endorse a bold program to build
modern, world-class train and bus systems in our cities and towns,
high-speed rail that connects urban and rural areas, complete streets
safe for biking and walking, and to get our highways, bridges and
existing transit in tip-top shape.

Photo: ddkim/Flickr

  • Obama yesterday called for creating a special fund to help local and state governments pay for needed repairs and upgrade of roads, bridges, schools and other infrastructure. I haven’t seen whether McCain has any discussion of infrastructure in his plan out today. Whatever money gets spent on these activities needs to follow the five points outlined in the Build for America plan. Check it out at BuildforAmerica.org.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Underwhelming response to this piece delights me. Let it rest until Obama gets elected. If McCain wins we are all fucked anyway. This is an urban issue and Obama/Biden the most urban candidates in modern history. Much of McCain hyped-up “maverick” image comes from shitting on AMTRAK and mass transit earmarks in cities. Arizona and Alaska are wide open spaces, sprawl is gospel out there, in fact that is the raison d’etre. The bridge to nowhere would have made nowhere into somewhere and some real estate investors very rich. I for one hope Obama doesn’t even mention mass transit, he has done well without doing so. City people will vote for him. “Country First” has a hidden subliminal message besides the overt patriotism. Bailing out those McMansion owners a la McCain has a certain sprawling character as well.