With the fiscal cliff, Israel's escalating war with Gaza, and looming battles over immigration reform, transportation policy may not be on the top of everybody's minds. But one of my friends, a prospective urban planner, has convinced me that we need to change the way we structure the transportation budget, and that by doing so we can address a number of important problems facing the country, including energy dependency, the economy, and the budget. Click over the fold to see how.
On his whitehouse.gov petition, my friend outlines how we need to change the way we invest in transportation. Specifically, he believes we need to reduce our spending towards unnecessary highway expansion, and instead boost aid to local transit services. As he puts it, he seeks to address
the heavy political opposition and skepticism from our leaders with regards to any form of mass-transit that promotes more sustainable communities. In reality, this petition could be filed under budget (sprawl is inherently more expensive for government), job creation/innovation (dense cities, which mass-transit caters to, have long been innovation hotbeds due to their melting pot nature), trade (less dependence on highways for commuters frees them up for other uses), defense/climate change (public transit generally reduces dependence on foreign oil, especially when electric) as well as many of the other categories listed.Currently, the budget for the Department of Transporation includes more than $40 billion towards the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), as opposed to the Federal Transit Administration, which receives less than $11 billion. President Obama’s budget does not change this significantly. In fact, his proposal increases the FHA budget by over $1 billion, as opposed to a mere $200 million increase for the FTA.
We can no longer afford the many consequences of relying on outdated ideas about urban/regional planning from when that discussion was in it's infancy.
As I noted, my friend who started this petition is a prospective urban planner. As he notes, investing more in local transit will benefit cities, who have been hurt by the recession more than rural areas.
I’ve strongly supported aspects of President Obama’s Transportation policy, especially the record investments in high-speed rail and clean cars. However, I think this is one aspect of his policy that needs to be examined.
As I said, this isn't exactly an issue progressives have unanimous opinions on. So if you disagree, don't be afraid to say so in the comments.