Obama, Pelosi Can Talk the Talk on TEA Reauthorization

405_Freeway.jpgThe vision of an unsustainable land use and transportation future

File the following in the "Can’t Believe My President Gets It" category. 

In
an interview with columnists last week on Air Force One, President
Obama drew a clear link between regional planning, land use,
transportation, and energy policy, implying that bad planning has led
to an increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and commute times, which
negatively impacts the environment.  He also suggested that USDOT
Secretary Ray LaHood should consider changing the highway and transit
spending ratios in the Transportation Equity Act (TEA).

In response to a question
about infrastructure spending in the stimulus and anticipation of
addition infrastructure spending in the future, the president said the
following:

Well, number one, we’ve got the
transportation reauthorization bill that’s going to be coming up. So
one thing to keep some perspective about on the recovery package is
this is supposed to provide a jolt to the economy above and beyond what
we’re doing already in the federal budget. And so I expect that
Secretary LaHood, working with the various transportation committees,
is going to be moving forward on a transportation bill. I would like to
see some long-term reforms in how transportation dollars flow, and I’ll
give you just a couple of examples. I think right now we don’t do a lot
of effective planning at the regional level when it comes to
transportation. That’s hugely inefficient. Not only does it probably
consume more money in terms of getting projects done, but it also ends
up creating traffic patterns, for example, that are really hugely
wasteful when it comes to energy use.

If we can start building
in more incentives for more effective planning at the local level,
that’s not just good transportation policy, it’s good energy policy. So
we’ll be working with transportation committees to see if we can move
in that direction.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year said
that alternative fuels and cleaner vehicles are not enough to solve our
energy and environmental problems, that reducing VMT was vital to our
transportation, land use, and energy priorities:

But
it is not enough to improve vehicle efficiency and promote biofuels. 
We must also address total ‘vehicle miles traveled,’ which are growing
at two and a half times the rate of population growth. Already, public
transit saves our nation 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline every year. 
The fuel savings from using transit are magnified when we add in the
‘smart growth’ that springs up around transit, especially rail transit
stations.  People use transit for more of their daily needs, such as
running errands, and the nation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline
annually. In San Francisco alone, use of the Muni’s system results in
an estimated 25 million gallons in oil savings.

So
now we know they speak the right language, but will they deliver the
goods with the reauthorization of TEA?  The Streetsblog Network will be
covering the machinations of the TEA political struggle and, like the
stimulus package debate, will work with Transportation for America and
partners to steer the transportation narrative toward proper municipal
and transit funding. 

Flickr Photo: Dan_DC

  • Obama’s talk about “regional” planning seems to imply that he’s going to keep pressing for inter-city HSR. Given that it was revealed that it was his office (not Senator Harry Reid’s) that pressed for the $8 Billion in HSR funding in the stimulus bill, I am convinced he is going to try and make inter-city HSR one of his signature issues. That’s good, but it seems Pelosi and her colleagues in Congress will have to be the ones to press on municipal transit improvements, as it looks like the president will be focussing on intercity stuff.

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