They Totally Went There: GOP Outlines Extremist Transpo Views in Platform

In all issue areas, the Republicans outdid themselves on far-right-wing pandering with their new platform, approved yesterday in Tampa. Transportation is no exception.

This pretty much sums up the GOP platform on transportation and energy. Photo: ##http://trucks.about.com/od/2006hummers/ss/hummer_h3_2.htm##trucks.about.com##

The new platform calls for the end of subsidies for Amtrak and high-speed rail, and for states to have maximum flexibility on transportation spending — unless of course they want to spend money on anything but highways, which is verboten.

But all the proof you need that this document is pure crazy-talk comes with this jawdropper, right at the beginning:

Infrastructure programs have traditionally been non-partisan; everyone recognized that we all need clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports. The current Administration has changed that, replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.

The reality is that the GOP kept partisan tensions high during the protracted bill process by repeatedly coming up with bills that were so extreme that they couldn’t even rally their own party to vote for them. Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan bill, 74-22, making countless hard compromises. The administration actually had very little to say about the bill process, except that it would veto the bill if the Republicans succeeded in larding it down with hyper-ideological, partisan accessories like automatic approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

But more importantly, the president is engaging in urbanist social engineering? This is the president who rescued the auto industry and whose DOT gives rural communities preferential treatment in everything from TIGER grants to TIFIA loans to transit assistance that requires no local match. And President Obama’s infrastructure plans have always been more than generous to highway interests.

Yes, it’s true: Executive branch agencies are working to save local and state governments money by encouraging transportation and land use decisions to be made together. But that’s no prescription for high-rise living and “government transit.”

Speaking of “government transit,” the Republicans are ready to end federal involvement in passenger rail. They take a jab at favorite whipping boy Amtrak, claiming, “The public has to subsidize every ticket nearly $50” and calling for private operation of the Northeast Corridor – an idea so dangerous and so reviled they had to eat their words last fall.

The platform turns to MAP-21, the transportation bill signed into law in July, and gives the GOP credit for “key reforms” including the evisceration of the environmental review process and increased flexibility for states to do whatever they want. The GOP hails it as “a return to the principles of federalism.” They call for even more damage to the few environmental protections communities have left by further “reforming” the National Environmental Policy Act.

They acknowledge the funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with vague words about “debt and deficits” and “hard choices.” The only thing they’re sure of is that surface transportation funds shouldn’t be spent on anything but highways. No matter that such a mandate would cost states some of that beloved flexibility.

Republicans slam Obama in every infrastructure-related Congressional hearing for not including more infrastructure in the stimulus and for the focus on “shovel-ready” projects, and they didn’t miss a chance to repeat that criticism in their platform. They complain about ports becoming bottlenecks but don’t mention the new freight policy hatched in MAP-21 aimed at resolving port congestion. And they obliquely reject VMT fee systems that would involve “governmental monitoring of every car and truck in the nation.”

The GOP energy and environment platform is almost too scary to read without someone holding your hand. “Republicans advocate an all-of-the-above diversified approach taking advantage of all our American God-given resources” — as long as “all-of-the-above” doesn’t include anything but coal and oil.

This is their plan “to advance North American energy independence.” Remember, it’s North American energy independence now that Canada and Mexico will be the beneficiaries of U.S. oil addiction.

So, let’s drill in the ANWR and build that Keystone thing already and burn lots of coal and build nuclear power plants. Oh, and the environment? It’s “getting cleaner and healthier” – no need to worry. Or back up your assertions with facts.

  • Jeff

    “Dependable and affordable mass transportation offers the prospect for significant energy conservation.”

    -Republican Party Platform, 1980

    My how times have changed!  Great read from the NY Times regarding how far to the right the party platform has turned:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/us/politics/republican-platform-takes-turn-to-right.html

  • AnxiouslyAwaitingBikeshare

    The quote from the GOP is actually a fantastic characterization of the Obama administration’s plan and exactly why I am a democrat.  Infrastructure should pursue a vision of dense housing and government transit.

  • KillMoto

    @Jeff,
    Thats the #1 reason I am not a republican anymore. True conservatives support tEfficient Transit and Renewable Energy

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Infrastructure programs have traditionally been non-partisan; everyone recognized that we all need clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports.”

    But only some of us should get them, in the forms they require.  Other should pay.  Which is why I support cutting federal infrastructure investment to zero.

  • Joe R.

    Hopefully the Republicans will not only lose the election, but also both houses of Congress. This might finally drive home the point that the car driving, suburban/rural group they represent is a dwindling minority and they’ll have to cater to urban issues if they wish to remain relevant.

    The government isn’t driving the current demographic shift towards more urban areas, either. That’s been happening for at least the last five years. It’ll greatly accelerate as more people realize the huge number of problems living a lifestyle where you’re wedded to an automobile.

  • Guest

    They’re probably just pandering to their base. Voters are too ignorant these days for politicians to tell it like it is.

  • Timbarry4

    What’s wrong with building nuclear power plants… As long as they displace coal and oil pollution spewing plants?

  • Guest

      Problems with nuclear power plants incude: Accidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, etc., the fact that we have no way of dealing with the waste product as its radioactivity decays over billions of years, uranium mining’s impacts, the cost and lifecycles of the plants themselves, and that renewables can do the same job.

  • Anonymous

    @d9fb618dbdf1343bb88e8d68bdf981b3:disqus : as @01a0b83d2f12381487c312a830fc3d73:disqus said, the real question would be: what’s wrong with renewable energy? Why spend so much money and take all the risks associated with nuclear power when the same money, if not less, can get you worry-free, 100% pollution-free energy?

  • TIme I went there too: 

    I am an Obama republican, and this is why. 

  • TIme I went there too: 

    I am an Obama republican, and this is why. 

  • Steve

    I think the rural set asides are Congressional directives in the legislation not something the Obama administration came up with.  While the Administration may not have objected to the set asides, with good reason perhaps, I don’t think they led the charge to include them.  Perhaps they did in the first round of TIGER..

  • Steve

    I think the rural set asides are Congressional directives in the legislation not something the Obama administration came up with.  While the Administration may not have objected to the set asides, with good reason perhaps, I don’t think they led the charge to include them.  Perhaps they did in the first round of TIGER..

  • Joe R.

    Thorium-fueled reactors avoid most of the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal and proliferation ( read here: 
    http://www.npr.org/2012/05/04/152026805/is-thorium-a-magic-bullet-for-our-energy-problems ). That said, fission should be a last resort to be used only if renewables and conservation combined can’t solve our energy problems. The biggest problem with renewables is they generate power sporadically. Energy storage solutions such as supercapacitors may well solve that issue within the next decade.

  • Joe R.

    Thorium-fueled reactors avoid most of the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal and proliferation ( read here: 
    http://www.npr.org/2012/05/04/152026805/is-thorium-a-magic-bullet-for-our-energy-problems ). That said, fission should be a last resort to be used only if renewables and conservation combined can’t solve our energy problems. The biggest problem with renewables is they generate power sporadically. Energy storage solutions such as supercapacitors may well solve that issue within the next decade.

  • @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus There is also something to be said for deploying existing technology instead of waiting for a magic solution to come along. 

  • @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus There is also something to be said for deploying existing technology instead of waiting for a magic solution to come along. 

  • Ben Kintisch

    This is all pretty ridiculous. I think one of the biggest reasons why the Republicans have become so anti-transit is that public transit remains a highly unionized industry throughout the country. So pro-transit = pro-union, and anti-transit =anti-union. I think it’s really that simple.

  • justin

    I am pro-transit and anti-highway, but the concept of privatized transit does make me stop and think. America was full of private transit, both urban and intercity, for decades, which means they must have been making money. San Francisco and the Bay Area (not to mention LA) were absolutely covered in streetcars and interurban rail lines before WWII, operated by private companies. And I do agree with republicans on this: if there is money to be made, a private enterprise is going to do a better job than the government.

    The economics of it are skewed, of course, because driving is so heavily subsidized. In order for private transit to be viable, the true costs of gas, roads, and pollution will have to be borne by drivers, making transit a more attractive option and leveling the playing field. But as long as the public right-of-way is made available, the demand is certainly there for high-quality transit (I’m not talking about buses that lurch and sit in traffic), and opportunities to make money. 

    Think about this: what if the government ran the airlines? Do you think it would be as cheap and efficient as what the private sector does? As much as I despise them, I think the repubs are right in being skeptical of “government transit.” As long as gas is cheap and you can drive anywhere easily, transit will remain pathetic and underfunded — the politicians will make sure of it. 

  • I agree with justin. The current crop of Republicans have few redeeming qualities, but their anti-big-gummit ideology should be relentlessly exploited to undermine the biggest government programs of all: those supporting unsustainable highways (and oil wars). Unfortunately the current crop of Democrats don’t have the nerve to do any such thing. Because, if they did that, the scary Repubs might defund a mountain bike trail somewhere. At least that’s their typical story.

    So instead we get more subsidies for everyone, i.e. mostly for motorists. As a bonus we get brain-dead FRA safety regulations courtesy of Democrat Barbara Mikulski, which will make trains more expensive to operate even as they continue to be by far the safest means of getting around the planet’s surface. And as Ben brought up, unions belong to the very small set of things Democrats actually care about and will fight for. Dems are hamstrung by their interests in unions, absolutely unwilling to risk offending them. Giving up a few useless rural Amtrak routes in exchange for cancelling a few catastrophically destructive highway projects is simply not to be discussed.

    For these reasons I see Democrats as useless, and take it as a happy accident when they happen to do something good. The political axis in this country needs to be realigned, and fast, around priorities that are relevant to the 21st century. Autoworkers unions are not relevant to our future. It’s a fact. Reorganizing society around less auto use and less energy use is what matters. Democrats and Republicans are both dinosaurs, and if nobody has the stomach to organize a party around a rational assessment of ongoing resource depletion and the cumulative effects of pollution, we’ll all be dinosaurs soon enough.

  • I don’t see Amtrak going anywhere. What I could see facing cuts, however, is Sections 5307, 5309, and 5310…essentially for new vehicle purchases and capital improvements…forcing agencies to make their equipment last longer than 12 years. (The MTA replaces buses usually on a 15-year cycle, although there are about 40 or so buses on the roster that are 17 years old.)

  • justin, you apparently are too young to remember what the airlines were like before deregulation, when the government essentially DID run them. Prices were far lower than they are now, service was superior, and on-time arrivals were the norm. Now, the industry competes solely on price, leaving them to suffer the whims of oil prices and reducing services to make profits.
    And you also should read up about what it was like before the individual city governments took over subways and streetcars. Imagine that transferring from the Red Line to the Green Line meant going out of one station, and then walking two blocks to another station on another payment system to take that. The same thing would be true with bus lines. And that’s how it was–different train standards, no transfers between lines, etc. Costs to you would be significantly higher, because each line would charge as much as a single one.

  • Anonymous

    @jd_x:disqus You asked, “Why spend so much money and take all the risks associated with nuclear
    power when the same money, if not less, can get you worry-free, 100%
    pollution-free energy?” 

    I agree with your strong preference for renewable energy, but I’m yet to be convinced that “the same money, if not less, can get you worry-free, 100%
    pollution-free energy,” as you’ve posited.  

  • Nathan, if Washington DC gets out of the infrastructure business, the states will have to resort to the Worgl Experiment if they want to move in. 

    DC has a line of credit. The states don’t.

  • justin

    Brian, your description of transit is exactly what we have in San Francisco. Within a half mile of my office, there is a bus station with 5 bus agencies (MUNI, AC Transit, GG Transit, SamTrans, WestCAT), 2 rail (BART, Caltrain), and 4 ferry (GG Transit, Baylink, Easy Bay, Blue and Gold) — all of which charge separate fares, with very little schedule coordination, only the occasional 25 cent transfer discount, and many transfers requiring at least a few blocks’ walk. How could it be worse than that? Thankfully, most of them are on a single fare payment system (Clipper), which could easily apply if any was privatized (as they do in UK). 

    As for airlines, I don’t remember the regulated days, but being able to fly across the country round-trip for less than $300 is incredibly cheap. And airlines.org reports that 86% of flights arrived on-time in Q4 2011. Our local transit agency can’t even get that on-time performance when they cook the numbers and lie. 

  • J_12

    I wish someone had the balls to call this bluff at agree to cut all transportation infrastructure spending. Make proportionate cuts in highway spending and rail/transit spending part of the platform.  It is not at all clear that the federal govt’s economy of scale outweighs the tendency for mis-allocation of transportation resources.

  • Jeff

    I have fantastic news, everyone!  In Ryan’s acceptance speech, he alluded to his mother pulling herself up by her bootstraps by taking the bus an hour into Madison every day.  With such a strong allusion to public transportation as a means for people to climb their way out of poverty and up the economic ladder, it would be absolute insanity to continue running on a platform of decimating public transportation in favor of highways that serve only those wealthy enough to already have access to a personal automobile!

  • Ted King

    @yahoo-OKEONAMLFIOS5WI7MPQY6SXBCQ:disqus  Re: Thorium Reactors
    The basic research has been done. But the proof-of-concept reactors couldn’t get funding due to the entrenched U/Pu reactor partisans and the anti-nuclear foamers. This mess has been stewing for around forty to fifty (40-50) years. What’s worse is that Uncle Sam has a huge stockpile of Th. One possible solution would be for the DoD to fund the reactors as part of an energy independence program for larger bases (especially those in remote locations).

    Today’s U/Pu reactors have two basic problems – scaling and wastes. The process of scaling up a research-class reactor to commercial size usually results in a customized plant that is expensive to build. The French contained costs by going with standardized designs. The wastes are a monster headache not just because of their toxicity and weapons potential – it’s the sheer quantity produced by a U/Pu reactor. It’s as if they were designed to produce toxic garbage. Military reactors avoid this problem by generally being modular and readily encapsulated.

    P.S. I think Adm. Rickover did a damn good job as the father of our nuclear navy. But the civilian U/Pu facilities tend to not match his level of quality both in construction and operation. And remember – coal plants are also producing nuclear waste in addition to their soot and ash.

  • Seth Goodman

    Justin, If you would like to know how it could be worse, I invite you to come visit me in Bogotá. We have parallel private and semi-public systems. The publicly planned, privately operated Transmilenio functions as well as, or better than, US transit although it is very crowded. Drivers have 8-9 hour work days and payment is by proxy card.

    On the other hand you have the competing busetas in the “guerra del centavo” (war over the cent). Buses routinely are locked in races with their competitors trying to get to the customers first. They will cut each other off without regard for smaller vehicles, flagrantly violate speed limits and lane markers, and often will not even fully stop for someone to get on or off. The vast majority of buses are over 15 years old with some over 30 because upgrades cost money and cut into profit. They are poorly maintained, and have seats that are so close together than I literally cannot wedge myself into some of them (I’m 5´10´´) Drivers are practical slaves and often work shifts over 16 hours a day. The fare is a mere 10% lower than the public system. To defend against regulation, the (very wealthy) bus operators have formed powerful lobbies that are just now being challenged.

    I don’t know if it would ever get this bad in the States (Colombia is a lot poorer) but Bogotá does provide one clear, side-by-side example of private vs. publicly run transit. There’s definitely money to be made, and private enterprise absolutely does not do it better.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Highway Builders to Party Leaders: The Future Is “More Than Just Roadways”

|
Over the past two weeks, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association has sent letters to the Republican National Committee [PDF] and the Democratic National Committee [PDF], asking them to consider inserting a plank in their platforms about transportation. And they were clear in their letter that, despite being major cheerleaders for road-building, the future they see […]

Of Course the GOP Transportation Platform Is a Catastrophe

|
In the past few years, Congressional Republicans tried and failed to turn the federal transportation program into a highways-only affair. Still, the GOP isn’t giving up on eliminating federal funds for transit, walking, and biking. Donald Trump may have made his name building on the most transit-rich real estate in the nation, but he hasn’t changed the […]

Democratic Platform’s Scarce Words on Transportation Fail to Inspire

|
President Obama spent Labor Day touting his rescue of the U.S. auto industry, and today, like a chorus of backup singers, the Big Three automakers posted double-digit sales increases in perfect unison. Meanwhile, the Democrats kicked off their convention in Charlotte. Delegates will vote today on the Democratic platform, released late last night. The platform doesn’t say […]

In Iowa, GOP Candidates Ignore Transportation and Urban Issues

|
With all eyes on today’s Iowa caucuses, it’s worth noting that this year’s vocal crop of GOP candidates has been mostly silent on the subject of transportation and urban issues in general. A common theme across most candidates’ platforms is the elimination of federal programs in favor of state ones, and incentives (read: tax cuts) for […]

The Mile-High City Gets Back to Its Rail Roots

|
Happy news out of Denver. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in town yesterday for a tour of the under-construction West Rail Transit line, part of 122 miles of passenger rail the region is planning as part of its FasTracks program. The secretary’s blog, The Fast Lane, discusses how this project promises to be, on many […]

GOP Demands a Stop to Stim Spending. What Will It Mean for Rail Projects?

|
The top Republican currently on the Appropriations Committee wants to take back stimulus funds promised to states and localities for much-needed infrastructure programs, including more than $6 billion in transportation funding. High-speed rail projects would take an especially big hit under the plan. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 6403, the American Recovery and Reinvestment […]