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.