Why the Federal Funding Emergency Matters for Transportation Reform

Why does it matter if state departments of transportation get less money?

In light of last week’s news that the U.S. DOT might have to ration its payments to states in the absence of new revenue for the federal transportation program, we posed that question to David Goldberg, communications director at Transportation for America. After all, a lot of states are pursuing wasteful boondoggles, like Kentucky’s Ohio River Bridges Project and the Illiana Expressway.

Several states have said they will hold off on planning new projects until they have some certainty that they will be reimbursed with federal funds. And if Washington can’t deliver those funds, good projects will be shelved as well as bad, Goldberg said.

Transit agencies will also feel the pain if Congress can’t come up with a funding solution. The Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, which provides money to the nation’s transit agencies, is running low and on track to go into the red by October. “Transit agencies are starting to say, ‘We better not let contracts because we don’t know where the money’s coming from,'” he said

Losing any portion of federal funding for transit agencies would be “devastating,” said Goldberg, as many of them are already stretched very thin.

Furthermore, Goldberg said that if Washington can’t find a solution to the transportation funding problem, it will bode poorly for attempts to solve other problems — like enacting federal policies that make transportation safer, greener, and more efficient.

“This is an opportunity for people in Congress, for Americans in general, to consider what the point of these programs are,” he said. “If we can’t take it seriously, we can’t ask for those progressive things.”

  • C Monroe

    He is a transportation construction lobbyists, of course he will say it is important. I do believe the feds have a role to play in transportation but I do not think that role should be running a lottery in picking winners and losers by deciding one size fits all style of selections. I believe that should be at least regulated to the states not feds. I think the feds should set some standards and be the middle man when it comes to interstate transportation projects, be it highway, mass transit line, canal or bike path. The states should pass out funds for instate transportation projects and have free range to try new ideas.

  • R.A. Stewart

    “And if Washington can’t deliver those funds, good projects will be shelved as well as bad, Goldberg said.”

    In many cases, certainly here in Illinois, good projects will be shelved instead of bad. State and even local transportation departments are, at best, just beginning to be dimly aware of approaches other than more and bigger roads for everything. Transit is always the first mode axed; boondoggles such as the future Illiana tollway get built no matter what.

    “… if Washington can’t find a solution to the transportation funding problem, it will bode poorly for attempts to solve other problems — like enacting federal policies that make transportation safer, greener, and more efficient.

    “’This is an opportunity for people in Congress, for Americans in general, to consider what the point of these programs are,’ … ‘If we can’t take it seriously, we can’t ask for those progressive things.’”

    A reminder once again that what to most of us is a bug, to Republicans in Congress is a feature.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Just out of curiosity, why do you argue that it should be states rather than localities, or regional transportation boards? It seems clear to me that a coalition of Cincinnati-area regional governments is more relevant for the status of a bridge across the Ohio river than either the state of Ohio or the state of Kentucky, and even the Federal government has as good a claim to jurisdiction over this sort of project as either state.

    States really aren’t better options than the feds in most cases.

  • C Monroe

    I say states because I am from Michigan and my state has the unfortunate history inside of regions(Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing) the failure of their localities to work together. Less so with Lansing and Grand Rapids but Metro Detroit is notorious for not working together(Us vs Them). The State has to sometimes come in as a parent to get things done.

    Not all places are like this and yes there are a lot of regions that cover multiple states and ideally local control is the best. But there are some things that should be left to the state otherwise many far off lightly dense areas would be cut off. Other things is transport between regions, if not for the state who would fund transportation links in the rural areas between Columbus and Cincinnati?

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