Transportation is one of the biggest parts of our lives, whether we think about it or not. How will 2010 help shape the future of transportation in the US? How should it do so?
And, more specifically, what is going on in government on this matter? With an expired (in September of 2009) and extended and extended and extended and extended (yes, four times) 6-year transportation bill, what is coming in 2010?
The following discussion goes into my own thoughts on some of the major issues with the help of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO’s) “Top Ten Transportation Topics” list and other stories.
#1: Transportation Funding Bill
The #1 issue at the top of the list is a long-term transportation funding bill. Generally, transportation funding bills must be renewed or new ones must be created every six years. They include a big chunk of money. The last bill was for $286 billion over the course of six years. The current proposal for the next bill is that it be for $500 billion over six years.
The bill is a little late coming, though. The last bill expired in September of 2009, and it has now been extended four times because Congress isn’t prepared to pass another one.
What is the problem? Well, there are a couple.
Where Do We Get the Money?
The biggest problem is probably the source of money. Generally, these bills have been heavily funded by the gasoline tax. However, no matter what you may read in the news or think every time you fill up your tank, the gas tax is not very high compared to the past (when you take inflation into account). Actually, “at 18.3 cents per gallon, the tax has lost 33 percent of its purchasing power over the last 15 years.” In other words, it is two-thirds less than it was 15 years ago. If you look even further back, the real price of gas was MUCH HIGHER about 60 years ago.
So, either the gas tax must be raised considerably (to fund a $500 billion bill) or a new source of significant funding needs to be identified and chosen. How likely are politicians to get on board for that?
Where Should the Money Go?
Another major issue is that we have heavily favored the automoble through our government transportation funding in the past. Now, realizing that this has serious environmental, public health, economic, and inequality problems that are crippling the US and the world, there is a big push to invest more in rail, transit, bicycling, and other modes of more sustainable transportation. In other words, we should create a transformational transportation bill that changes the name of the game in the US.
A coalition called Transportation for America (T4America) was created in 2008 and includes approximately 400 organizations who are advocating for a major shift in where transportation funding goes. This includes major organizations like AARP, the American Public Health Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Although there is wide support for encouraging multi-modal transportation and clean transportation more, taking money away from the car is not a decision politicians are eager to make these days.