Last week, I introduced a plan to refocus, reform and renew transportation policy in America…and we at the Department aren’t the only ones who think the time for change has come. As you can see from the following quotes, a variety of think tanks, business groups, government entities, and transportation experts are sounding the drumbeat for reform.
The Congressional Budget Office—Congress’ budget arm for nearly 100 years said “there is a strong rationale for charging users for the costs of transportation infrastructure because they reap substantial benefits that the system provides. Designing and implementing a financing system that charges users of transportation infrastructure for the costs that they impose on the system can encourage efficient use of existing roads, rails, and other transportation infrastructure. It can also help in identifying needs and paying for the construction of new infrastructure in the right places at the right time. The charges users pay for the costs that they impose on the system provide a measure of the value of investment in increased capacity.” (Public Spending on Surface Transportation Infrastructure,” Testimony of Robert A. Sunshine, CBO Deputy Director, Before the House Committee on the Budget, October 25, 2007.
In the SAFETEA-LU bill, Congress created two independent Commissions to develop recommendations on the future of surface transportation. Both bodies were supportive of significant programmatic reform.
The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has said that “the absence of national investment priorities under our current surface transportation programs has been frequently raised, illustrated by long lists of highway and transit programs authorized in SAFETEA-LU, many of which are heavily earmarked…Many such categorical programs address narrow issue areas, arguably with meritorious intent, but with little or no overarching national interest. The Commission believes that surface transportation programs should be reconstructed from a ‘clean slate’ to allow for radical program reforms.” (Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, December 2007)
And the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission argued that “reliance on fuel taxes may have been an effective funding approach in the second half of the 20th century, but it may not be sufficient to address the pressing needs of the first half of the 21st century and beyond.” (The Path Forward: Funding and Financing our Surface Transportation System, February 2008)
And think tanks from across the ideological spectrum have also chimed in:
While the Heritage Foundation wrote that “while there is much that state governments can do to improve mobility and alleviate congestion within their borders, current federal surface trans¬portation policies and programs—which provide about one-third of the funding for the nation's roads—will not help to achieve this goal unless Congress dramatically changes federal transporta¬tion law. Chief among the many needed changes is redirecting federal transportation resources to ben¬efit the motorists and truckers who pay the taxes that fund the system, rather than continuing to ben¬efit privileged constituencies who pay their lobby¬ists handsome retainers to divert highway money to pork-barrel projects and ineffective programs, many of which contribute nothing to transportation, safety, or congestion relief.” (“How States Can Improve Their Transportation Systems and Relieve Traffic Congestion,” by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., July 28, 2008)
And the CATO Institute said that “ideally, the federal government should not be in the business of funding local transportation and dictating local transportation policies. At the least, Congress should repeal long-range transportation planning requirements in the next reauthorization of federal surface transportation funding. Instead, metropolitan transportation organizations should focus planning on the short term (5 years), and concentrate on quantifiable factors that are directly related to transportation, including safety and congestion relief.” (Roadmap to Gridlock: The Failure of Long-Range Metropolitan Transportation Planning,” by Randal O'Toole, May 27, 2008)
Finally, a Brookings Institution Fellow testified before Congress in April that “each reauthorization cycle is dominated by parochial interests around funding. In particular are the debates over donors and donees…This approach is anathema to achieving a true national purpose and vision—and turns the program into one of revenue distribution instead of one designed to meet national needs.”
Clearly, there is a strong chorus in favor of change. I’m pleased the Department could lend its voice with a plan for reform.