With this in mind, letâ€™s take a look at the Federal Department of Transportationâ€™s budget for project funding in Fiscal Year 2008. Using completely backward, archaic philosophies, DOT has set aside $42,000,000,000 for highway projects, and a trifling $1,400,000,000 for transit projects. Thatâ€™s right - $42 billion for highways and $1.4 billion for transit. We can certainly see where DOTâ€™s priorities still lie.
How on earth are we supposed to improve inner city and regional transit, with the feds only dolling out $1.4 billion for transit projects? How are cities supposed to improve sustainability, reduce congestion, and improve mobility? Plus, when you consider all the money going towards highway building/expansion, it makes it even more difficult for transit systems to compete.
“Thereâ€™s still a lack of understanding how fundamentally broken the transit program is. The demand for transit has never been higher…at the same time, the federal government substantially underfunds transit, so itâ€™s very competitive to get those funds”, says Brookings Institution fellow Robert Puentes.
Unlike federal highway funds, which states receive based on a formula and may spend as they wish, money for new transit projects is awarded at the discretion of the FTA. The agency doesnâ€™t have much to dole out. The FTA has proposed spending about $1.4 billion on new transit projects next fiscal year, compared with $42 billion that states will receive for highway maintenance and construction, according to federal figures. More than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years, according to a federal report.
In deciding which projects deserve funds, FTA officials consider primarily which would attract enough riders and save them enough time to be worth the investment. They also consider the state and local governmentsâ€™ ability to help pay for construction, maintenance and operating costs. Other considerations include impact on air quality, development around stations and the ability to move lower-income workers to jobs.
FTA evaluations can take years, because it rates a project — and grants permission for it to move forward — at several different points, controlling it from preliminary engineering through construction.
So there you have it. This is what Miami is up against; this is what America is up against. It goes to show that our federal government is not serious whatsoever about curbing driving demand, pursuing sustainability, or fighting climate change. Until this gross discrepancy is corrected, we cannot expect any appreciable improvement in transit, traffic congestion, or the quality of our urban environments.
How do we fix this? It comes down to politics. We need to help elevate smart growth to the forefront of political issues for subsequent election campaigns. These planning issues are so important, so critical to millions of people, itâ€™s unfathomable that they have not commanded more press time. I mean, after all, smart growth lumps together so many classic issues like the environment, energy, oil (gas prices), climate change, health care, and poverty. The trick will be finding a way to consolidate these issues, which will require a unified effort by leaders of each sub-issue.
Sooner or later it will happen, so letâ€™s do what we can to make it sooner.
- Federal Transit Rules Change, but In Miami More of the Same
- Eliminate all funding for Amtrak and transit construction? Tell them “No!”
- Transit Discussions, Part 1
- As Highway Trust Fund Shrinks, Bush Administration Wants to Rob Transit
- Understanding The Wheels of Government: A Conversation with Javier Betancourt
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