The White House Transportation Budget: What’s In Line for the Axe?

In a fiscal year 2011 budget that proposes to increase spending on several core transportation
priorities, the White House also aims to eliminate a few
infrastructure programs that may prove popular with lawmakers.

KCH_1.jpgSen.
Robert Byrd (D-WV) used the STP program to earmark millions of dollars
for road projects in his home state, including the above "King Coal
Highway." (Photo: MCRA of WV)

Among the budget items slated for elimination are a $10 million fund
aimed at helping cities and towns adapt to climate change, $34 million in
rail line relocation grants — which, the White House noted, is siphoned off by
congressional earmarking rather than a merit-based process — and a $12
million inter-city bus security program that was unsuccessfully
targeted in last year’s budget.

But
the largest proposed funding cut under the U.S. DOT’s
purview is
the Surface Transportation Priorities (STP)
program, which distributed $293 million last year to an array of local
road, bridge, and trail projects earmarked by members of Congress.

The
STP program is "not subject to merit-based criteria or competition; nor
are states or localities given the flexibility to target them to their
highest transportation priorities," the White House wrote in explaining
its bid to zero out the spending.

Eliminating STP funding
(which the Obama administration proposed to do in its budget for the
current fiscal year) is likely to prove a heavy lift with lawmakers who
depend on politically valuable transportation earmarks to win favor
with voters. The program is a longtime favorite of road-building
stalwarts such as former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman
Robert Byrd (D-WV), who earmarked more than $20 million in STP money
for West Virginia roads in 2008 alone.

However, STP
money has also benefited clean transportation projects that might not
otherwise have secured federal aid. In recent years, lawmakers have
steered program funds to build a trail along Connecticut’s Quinnipiac
River ($1.4 million), conduct a seismic retrofit of San Francisco’s
Golden Gate Bridge ($1.9 million), and build new parks in Louisville, Kentucky ($5.8 million in 2008, courtesy of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell).

Will
the administration succeed in its latest effort to slim down
congressional transportation earmarking? The first clues are likely to
emerge later this month and next month, when Transportation Secretary
LaHood and other U.S. DOT officials begin their rounds of testimony on
Capitol Hill.

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