22 April 2008

Highway Bias

The New Republic has a blog post about the inequitable funding system of different transit methods:

...the federal government usually covers about 80-90 percent of the costs for a new highway project, compared with only 50 percent of the costs for a transit system. Local communities have to pick up most of the rest of the tab for public transportation, with state governments chipping in what's left. Since doing that usually requires raising property taxes, most local governments just prefer to build highways....

...transit projects have to undergo intensive scrutiny: a cost-benefit analysis, a land-use analysis, an environmental-impact analysis, and, usually, a detailed comparison among various alternatives. That all sounds pretty reasonable, except that highway projects don't have to undergo any of this....

Not surprisingly, most communities find it far easier to build new highways than to set up, say, a light-rail system....


Talk about infrastructure being underfunded, McCain and now Clinton are proposing we get rid of the gasoline tax for three months! Yeh, don't worry about repairing those old bridges....

3 comments:

dave said...

You just gotta appreciate those who propose band-aid solutions that really don't address the root cause of a problem, especially in an election year.

DP said...

My first reaction when I saw McCain's proposal was the same - could you pick a worse time in our history to do that (e.g. crumbling infrastructure)? Not that it's a totally neutral party, but AASHTO (basically all the state DOT's in the US) estimates that the gas tax holiday would cost the Highway Trust Fund $8.5 billion, while saving the average driver (12,000 mi/yr) about $28. Not exactly the kind of 'sitmulus' that's going to make much difference.

As for the point about the funding discrepancy between highway and transit projects, I (a transportation planner who works primarily on federally-funded highway and transit projects) agree that the US has a long-standing bias toward highways over transit. It goes back to our development history. Remember, all those European cities developed when the fastest mode of travel was horse. You HAD to be close to everything.

I think one of rationalizations of the discrepancy is that transit collects fares and therefore should contribute some of the capital cost. Of course the problem is that farebox revenue rarely (if ever) covers O&M let alone capital debt. As a big proponent of market solutions, I'd like to see drivers pay more directly for the capacity they use (especially during peak hours - i.e. congestion pricing). Maybe that would change the highway v. transit dynamic.

columbus exile said...

I can say from experience that your rank and file elected offical does not understand the highway bias or the reasons for the discrepancy in funding.

They need to be educated and have their feet held to the fire on this issue. If you feel strongly about this stuff tell your elected representatives next time you see them.

Sticking our heads in the sand and declaring a gas tax holiday is like putting a band-aid on a gun shot wound. It does nothing to address the very real problems we face.

We can't let our politicians take the easy way out any more.