President Obama has released his budget request for the 2013 fiscal year, which includes a proposed $476 billion investment in transportation over six years. High-speed rail, mass transit, and bridge repair would get a big boost under Obama’s plan, which is paid for primarily by war savings as America’s troop presence is drawn down in Afghanistan.
The good news is that the president is still committed to investment in transportation infrastructure, with a focus on expanding transit and rail while maintaining roads that have already been built. The bad news is that his proposal is mostly a political gesture. Both the House and the Senate are getting ready to debate their own multi-year transportation bills this week, neither of which comes close to the scope of Obama’s proposal.
As observers have come to expect by now, the Obama plan doesn’t really address the thorny question of how to fund such an ambitious agenda, as Deron Lovaas writes for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Switchboard Blog:
This is a step in the wrong direction, something I criticized the House Republican Leadership for earlier today. The priorities laid out for DOT in the budget are laudable, but dodging the all-important revenue issue is fiscally irresponsible and disappointing.
Obama’s six-year plan starts off with $50 billion for “immediate transportation investments,” about half of which would go to highway and bridge repair, 30 percent to transit and rail, and the rest to aviation and border crossings. This “fix-it-now” approach had been the centerpiece of the president’s failed jobs plan last fall, but fell on deaf ears amid deficit reduction talks. Then, starting in 2013, the president suggests spending roughly $80 billion per year on transportation for six years:
- $305 billion for highways and $108 billion for transit, which improves the current 80-20 split to 75-25
- $47 billion for rail reinvestment, with a continued focus on intercity and high-speed passenger rail
- $3.4 billion (~$600 million/year) for National Infrastructure Investments, supporting discretionary grant programs like TIGER
- $3.0 billion ($500 million/year) for TIFIA, a fourfold increase over current levels but only half of what the House and Senate suggest per year
- Two new accounts added to the Highway (renamed Transportation) Trust Fund: Intermodal, for transit, and National Infrastructure Investments (see above)
If any of this sounds familiar, that might be because the President proposed a similar but even more beefed-up reauthorization proposal last year. In that proposal, which was larger by $100 billion, Obama had included $30 billion for a national infrastructure bank, and $5 billion per year for livability programs, neither of which is included in his current proposal.
Update: Asked about bike/ped funding at a conference call with reporters today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pointed out that Obama’s proposal funds the Livable Communities program at $27 billion over six years. (h/t Jesse Prentice-Dunn)