“This is a money and power grab.”
“It’s very disappointing and very AASHTO.”
That’s how some transportation reformers are describing the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ new recommendations for the next surface transportation bill. The current bill, MAP-21, expires in less than a year.
AASHTO’s proposal is “so mired in protective technical-speak that it’ll fail to inspire anyone outside of state DOT technical staff — which I guess just sees ‘more money’ and that’s all they care about,” vented Deron Lovaas of the Natural Resources Defense Council upon seeing the document.
AASHTO’s recommendations boil down to one thing: less local control and more power at the state level. They want to wrest control over transit funds from transit agencies. They want more “flexibility” on every front. They want less distribution of funds to officials at the city or regional level — a move Lovaas calls “regressive” since “more and more people, businesses and jobs are becoming centralized in metro areas.”
MAP-21’s one real achievement, a provision allowing some degree of local control over funds for biking and walking, gets targeted in AASHTO’s wish list. AASHTO complains that states aren’t eligible for this relatively tiny pot of money, and demand to get their hands in the cookie jar that’s closed to them.
What’s more, Lovaas noted, AASHTO boldly resists any form of accountability. The association insists that no additional performance measures be implemented until the new ones from MAP-21 can be amply tested out. And yet they want to go full throttle with their agenda to accelerate “project delivery” — basically making an end run around environmental and community scrutiny.
Indeed, AASHTO is positively allergic to performance measures. They want to make sure states aren’t required to fix infrastructure that’s in the worst condition first, though they don’t explain why any other approach would make any sense. Over and over again, they affirm their “steadfast opposition” to “using performance measures as the basis for apportioning or allocating federal funds among the States” — in other words, having any mechanism whatsoever to ensure that they don’t spend billions of dollars on wasteful projects.
Above all, AASHTO says over and over that “the implementation of MAP 21 [and any subsequent bill] should avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens or unnecessary restrictions on State flexibility.” Translation: Hand over a blank check. Nowhere does AASHTO say how it intends to improve the transportation system, meet national goals like greater safety or environmental sustainability, or be more accountable to the public. They don’t even bother to explain the expected outcomes of their recommendations. The list is nothing but “give us the money and go away,” in the words of David Burwell, transportation analyst at the Carnegie Endowment.