Brookings: Feds Should Stop Giving Transit Projects the Run-Around

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Americans are moving to areas with better transit access, but their options are limited.

Via Dave Roberts at Grist, this congressional testimony from Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution [PDF]
is a must-read for anyone interested in how the country can reduce
dependence on cars and fossil fuels. High gas prices and soaring
transit ridership have exposed the shortcomings of local transit
systems, Puentes reports: 54 of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas
have weak bus systems and no rail service. The federal funding
mechanism is a major culprit:

One
reason the metropolitan transportation system — which should serve as
the connective tissue within and between metropolitan areas — is
woefully incomplete, is due to flaws in federal policy.

Federal
transportation policy has long favored highway building over transit
investments. Transit projects are evaluated and funded differently than
highways. The pot of available federal transit funding is so small that
the federal government oversees a competitive process for new transit
funding, requiring multiple hypercompetitive bureaucratic reviews that
demonstrate a project’s cost-effectiveness. Funding is also subject to
annual congressional appropriations. Highways do not undergo the same
level of scrutiny or funding uncertainty. Also, while highways
typically receive up to 80 percent of federal funds (and 90 percent for
improvements and maintenance), new transit projects’ federal
contribution is often less than half of the project cost.

Taken
together, these biases ensure that state transportation policy pursued
under federal law works against many metropolitan areas’ efforts to
maintain modern and integrated transportation networks.

Puentes delivered his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, which has been considering emergency funding for local transit agencies.
Read the whole thing for a good overview of how transportation and
land-use policies can be improved as we approach the renewal of the
huge five-year federal transportation bill.

Graphic: Brookings Institution

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