Bi-partisan Senate Bill Would Give Locals More Say Over Transpo Spending

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Improving local access to transportation funds would help build project’s like the multi-modal Atlanta BeltLine. Rendering: Atlanta BeltLine

When it comes to transportation funding, cities and towns occupy the bottom of the totem pole. The vast majority of federal transportation money goes to states, to the exclusion of local governments. That means state DOTs get tens of billions to spend on highways each year, while mayors and local agencies have to scrounge for money to improve transit, build sidewalks, or add bike lanes.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Thursday could give local governments greater access to federal funding. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act — Senate Bill 2891 [PDF] — which would set aside some federal transportation money for states to redistribute to cities and towns on a competitive basis.

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker says municipalities around his state want access to federal transportation funds. Photo: Senator Wicker
Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker says municipalities around his state want access to federal transportation funds. Photo: Senator Wicker

The legislation would devote 10 percent of federal surface transportation funding — or about $5 billion per year — to local-level projects. The funds would be split up between the states, and in each state a panel would distribute the money on a competitive basis to local governments, transit agencies, and regional planning agencies.

Senator Wicker said the bill is supported by localities across Mississippi as well as the Mississippi Municipal League.

“Local officials in Mississippi are on the front lines of America’s transportation challenges but often lack the resources to pay for critical improvements,” he said in a statement. “This measure would enable these local leaders to have a larger role in deciding which projects merit consideration. In doing so, leaders could implement the most targeted and cost-effective solutions to meet unique and urgent infrastructure needs.”

Three other senators — Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), and Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) — have also signed on as sponsors. The Senate bill has a companion in the House — HR 4726, which has been held up in committee.

David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, a leading supporter of the measure, said he doesn’t expect the bill to be passed into law before the holiday recess. But support for the bill today, he said, could help shape the next transportation bill.

Transportation for America is asking supporters to email their senators and urge them to support the measure.

  • Froggie

    Probably DOA in the House…

  • C Monroe

    Hopefully not. I always wondered why the state roads were smooth as glass and always being redone while local roads were like washboards and local transit suffered, the state pads its departments first before sharing.

  • Jack Jackson

    in that picture, where do the delivery trucks bring the retailers stock?

  • Lars Ulrich

    some States use as little as 20% federal funds in their overall spending programs. which means the balance of all transportation spending is state and local

    they use federal $ for highways because it’s far more likely to benefit national mobility

    there is plenty of State money locals have access to. how they spend it is between the locals abd state

    but you knew this

  • Coolebra

    On a competitive basis. Hmmm. I wonder if that means states, like Illinois, would be precluded from establishing arbitrary geographic distribution formulas before projects are reviewed competitively.

  • Southeasterner

    Wouldn’t this make things worse? I would think federal money would have more restrictions in how it is used then if the state were to decide how to spend/allocate all the money. Keep in mind many states are ruled by rural republican legislatures who could actually find ways to allocate even less money to urban projects, which they already (wrongly) claim are receiving all the federal and state gas tax funds.

    This sounds like a disaster.

  • Bolwerk

    Maybe around back. Maybe they let trucks into ped areas for delivery. Maybe retailers cart goods a block.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Depends on the state. The old joke in Illinois is that the only decent roads are those going into Springfield (the state capital).

  • Bob

    Its the Atlanta beltline, the trail area was never a road (it was a rail corridor) so you are (technically) looking at the backside of the buildings.

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