As Robert over at the California High Speed Rail Blog put it this morning, President-elect Barack Obama’s Saturday address again emphasized “roads and bridges” as the basis for stimulus investment and made no mention of public transit or rail funding in the package that will be released in the next few weeks. Once again, we have been disappointed by a candidate who claimed during the campaign to be interested in rebuilding our cities and improving Amtrak.
The incoming administration’s rhetoric – “post-ideological” or “anti-ideological” – is coming dangerously close to meaning nothing more than a continuation of existing policy. The administration’s marked unwillingness to pronounce itself in favor of any big idea, whether national health care, a carbon tax, or in our case, high-speed rail or transit investment, is not “pragmatic,” the word Mr. Obama’s proponents use to defend the President-elect’s conservatism. It is simply conservative.
There are signs that the big changes will come in the transportation bill, due for reauthorization this year, and whose writing is under the guidance of transit-friendly Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and James Oberstar (D-MN).
But what is Mr. Obama, with the biggest bully-pulpit in the world, doing to demonstrate his commitment to transit or to the renewal of our degenerated urban areas? When are we going to hear him argue that we have a responsibility to use these stimulus funds responsibly, rather that for the same wasteful, environmentally-destructive highway projects we’ve been sponsoring for more than fifty years? When is public transportation going to get a real chance in the United States?
The stimulus bill is expected to cost American taxpayers upwards of $700 billion. It would be quite a disappointment if the majority of that money simply went to rebuilding highways.