Movement in Congress to Let Cities and Towns Access Federal Transpo Funds

A state-level funding grant program in Pennsylvania is helping fund this campus master plan for Drexel University in Philadelphia. Image: Transportation for America
A grant program in Pennsylvania is helping fund the campus master plan for Drexel University in Philadelphia. Image: Transportation for America

Finally, proof that Congress is capable of crafting smart transportation legislation and not just zany ways to avoid raising the gas tax.

A bipartisan coalition of 10 lawmakers is supporting the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act, which would help cities, counties, and other local governments directly access federal funding for transportation projects, according to Transportation for America.

The proposal, first floated last year, would let local governments compete for at least $5 billion of the $50 billion or so in federal transportation funds allocated to states each year.

Under the bill, local agencies in each state would apply for grants, with a statewide committee selecting winners. The committees could include, for example, local chambers of commerce, active transportation advocates, transit agencies, air quality boards, ports, and others.

The bill would make better use of federal transportation dollars for two main reasons:

  • Local governments are more likely than state DOTs to spend the money on cost-effective projects. Think transitways and street safety improvements, not highways and flyovers.
  • The process would be designed to reward the most deserving projects by establishing a transparent competitive basis to determine grant winners.

Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, one of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, told U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a hearing two weeks ago that local officials in his state are excited about the concept. The bill also has the support of 250 Chambers of Commerce around the country, representing large and small communities in every state.

In the Senate, the bill sponsors so far are Wicker, Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). In the House, the sponsors are Rodney Davis (R-IL), Dina Titus (D-NV) Gregg Harper, (R-MS), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

T4A is working to secure more sponsors in Congress and encouraging supporters to contact their representatives and urge them to sign on.

  • Committee Man

    Who would appoint / control “statewide committee selecting winners” and why does anyone think they would be the good guys instead of the same bunch flushing money down the highway hole? In NY, where Goc Cuomo would appoint the Committee, where do you think the money would go? Bikeways in NYC or the TZ Bridge?

  • ethan7

    The Governor would have no say in who serves on the committee. It would be designated to people that represent organizations like those pointed out above.

    From my reading, it is pretty much an in – state TIGER program. Projects like the TZ bridge would likely be too large and be expected to receive funding through TIFIA and FHWA apportionments.

    Nonetheless, we can all say that funding under this would be far better than the status quo.

  • E-LO

    From my read of the bill, there is only one vote in each state (out of 9+ votes) that would go to city interests – the spot for cities > 1 million. Every other spot will be slated for rural or smaller-town interests. That certainly doesn’t reflect where the population lives or works.

    In theory I like the intent of the bill. In practice, unfortunately it is just a more convoluted and abstract devolution to the states.

  • Wanderer

    You might want to comment on the “Transportation Empowerment Act,” which seems to be a straight up devolution to the states that some folks seem to think would be a good thing.

  • If I understand correctly, the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act is to allow more funds to bypass (?) the state DOTs and go directly to localities. It’s shortcoming, as I see it, is that it just rearranges the pie slices without increasing the pie.

    The Transportation Empowerment Act, on the other hand, decimates the pie – shrinking it by 80%.
    http://www.planetizen.com/node/66091

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