Congress Takes a First Step Towards Reshaping Transportation Policy

Could Washington's long, unhealthy love affair with the automobile be coming to an end? An encouraging sign of change came today from two powerful Democratic senators who released a proposal that sets out progressive goals for the upcoming federal transportation bill.

R000361.jpgSenate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Photo by Washington Post)

Today's proposal, sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (NJ), is what's known on Capitol Hill as a "marker" -- a set of principles intended to help guide the drafting of major legislation. The Rockefeller-Lautenberg marker, which got some early love from the Washington Post, states that the next federal transportation bill should accomplish the following:

  • Reduce national per-capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis;
  • Cut national motor vehicle-related fatalities in half by 2030;
  • Cut national surface transportation-generated carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030;
  • Reduce surface transportation delays per capita on an annual basis; 
  • Get 20 percent more critical surface-transportation assets into a state of good repair by 2030;
  • Increase the total usage of public transit, intercity passenger rail and non-motorized transport on an annual basis.

The question of how to monitor and enforce these targets remain unanswered. (And the last target risks looking behind the times, given that transit use is already increasing each year.) But the very fact that Rockefeller and Lautenberg have laid out their priorities is a good thing, given that there may not be the political will to pass a federal transportation bill at all. The more lawmakers talking about reducing emissions and auto use, the better.