Americans Can’t Afford a Highway-Centric Transportation Bill

If Congress passes a transpo bill that skimps on transit and safe streets, they'll force more Americans to shell out at the pump. Image: ##http://apps.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=31886##EDF##

Gas prices, you may have heard, are on the rise again. And so is pandering about pain at the pump. Four years after $4 a gallon gas spawned “Drill, Baby, Drill” and insane political gimmickry on the presidential campaign trail (remember the “gas tax holiday” favored by John McCain and Hillary Clinton?), gas price populism is back with a vengeance.

To hear House Speaker John Boehner tell it, oil drilling and highways are all it takes to liberate American families from the tyranny of the pump. The Republican presidential candidates are also promising to reduce the price of gas through the magic of drilling. Even Ron Paul — the guy who supposedly gets how markets work — posits that he could bring about dime a gallon gas.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are flailing away at phantom price gougers and Wall Street speculators. Even President Obama, who never fell for the gas tax holiday while campaigning in 2008, is exaggerating the potential of alternative fuels to substitute for gas.

As Dave Roberts has noted on Grist, just about everyone in Washington seems scared to come out and face reality. Gas prices are set largely by the global oil market, and the only sure way to protect Americans from high prices at the pump is to make it easier to use less gas.

Even with the House and Senate neck deep in the process of updating national transportation policy, few in Congress are willing to point out the obvious: The next transportation bill is a golden opportunity to save Americans money by giving them more affordable ways to get around.

A 2006 study found that working families in 28 American metro areas spend, on average, 29 percent of household income on transportation — even more than they spend on housing [PDF]. And a two-person adult household that uses transit saves an average of $6,251 per year compared to a household with two cars and no transit access, according to the Complete Streets Coalition [PDF].

In other words, by investing in transit and safe streets Congress can help Americans unlock huge savings — much more than the typical family saw from the most recent round of tax cuts.

Instead, Boehner and the House GOP leadership put out a bill that doubled down on car dependence, yanking away dedicated funding for transit, biking and walking. While it looks like the House GOP is going to abandon their outright attack on transit, early indications are that their Plan B will shortchange investment in more affordable transportation too. Boehner still thinks “drill and drive” is a winning message.

So someone’s got to say it: John Boehner’s transportation policy is a recipe for impoverishing people. Americans can’t afford a transportation bill that forces families to burn fuel every time they want to go somewhere.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

It’s Time to Stop Pretending That Roads Pay for Themselves

|
If nothing else, the current round of federal transportation legislating should end the myth that highways are a uniquely self-sufficient form of infrastructure paid for by “user fees,” a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls. With all the general tax revenue that goes toward roads in America, car infrastructure has benefited from hefty subsidies for many years. […]

Joe Lieberman: Did Someone Say “High Gas Prices”?

|
How obsessed is Washington with gas prices? Acting on a Streetsblog post from last week, a reader wrote Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman urging him to support legislation that would bolster funding for Amtrak. In response, Lieberman’s office sent a long, long form letter outlining the many ways the senator is — you guessed it — […]

Lawmakers Introduce Reality-Based Plan to Achieve “Freedom From Oil”

|
Members of Congress of all stripes are trying to show that they’re concerned and responsive to the financial strain caused by high gas prices. Some are recommending more oil drilling. Some want to end subsidies to oil companies. Today, members of the Congressional Livable Communities Task Force suggested that providing more diverse transportation options to more people […]

Ranking the Sad Parade of Federal Transpo Funding Ideas From Worst to Best

|
The problem seems simple enough: The federal transportation program is going broke because Washington has allowed the gas tax to be eroded by inflation for more than 20 years. As obvious as raising the gas tax may be, America’s political leaders won’t touch it. Yesterday, The Hill reported that Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is ruling out […]