» Declining federal expenditures will hit transportation spending hard. How should states and cities keep up their investments?
The Democratic Party’s big wins in last month’s national elections effectively maintained the national status quo, keeping Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats in charge of the U.S. Senate, and Republicans at the helm of the U.S. House. The Democrats have the cities to thank for their success; urban voters not only turned out to vote at high levels, but they made clear their overwhelming preference for the Democratic Party’s government investment program. In matters of transportation, Democrats in power represent a base of voters that benefits uniquely from new spending on transit, pedestrian, and biking infrastructure.
As part of his proposal to respond to the nation’s “fiscal cliff” — a government austerity mechanism imposed by the Congress a year ago — President Obama suggests investing $50 billion immediately in new infrastructure spending in order to provide additional stimulus for the still-weak economy. The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has also noted that the President plans to include significant funding for high-speed rail in next year’s proposed budget.
But Republicans have made clear that they are singularly opposed to any such additional spending, and according to Slate’s Dave Weigel, are actively plotting ways to further marginalize urban voters, rather than, you know, develop policies that attempt to respond to their needs. Thus the chances that the House GOP will approve any additional federal spending on transportation over and beyond what was already approved in the MAP-21 two-year transportation reauthorization bill are minimal. Nor are we likely to see new federal transportation revenue generators such as a gas tax increase or the implementation of a vehicle miles travelled fee.
At the same time, for the most part states have not taken up the slack. Few have taken the initiative to increase their funding for transportation projects and those that have have frequently oriented those investments towards new roads rather than sustainable alternative infrastructure.
What does this mean for cities? Are we likely to see another two years of federal inaction when it comes to improving our transportation system, thereby decreasing the level of maintenance of many of the nation’s transit systems and making expansions downright difficult? Or could we see a breakthrough? Please use the comments section as an open thread to add your thoughts on this and any other relevant transportation issues.
My apologies for the lack of writing as of late; my non-web work has taken hold of my time. I hope to be writing more soon, but in the meantime will post shorter entries such as this to allow for commenters to chip in and keep up the discussion.
Image above: Buffalo Light Rail, from Flickr user Jenn Durfey (CC)