Letting Congress Be Congress: Transportation Funding

A new president is in charge, but Congress’ allergy to innovation and reliance on outmoded ideas hasn’t really changed at all. Exhibit B: the transportation funding amendment that Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are pushing to add to the stimulus bill this week.Labor unions are throwing their weight behind this transport amendment, which sounds great — it adds $5 billion for mass transit and $13 billion for highways. But consider that roads are already in line for $27 billion in the stimulus, with little to no conditions to ensure the money goes to repairs rather than new highways.

“What concerns us most is that this $40 billion at the moment would go to [state departments of transportation] with almost no accountability in terms of national priorities: no fix it first requirement, no demonstrable national transportation priority, no accountability for impact on oil dependence and climate,” David Goldberg, spokesman for the advocacy group Transportation for America, told me.

Also consider that “new starts,” the type of groundbreaking transit projects that could revitalize cities and suburbs with greener options such as light rail, would only be getting $1 billion if the Feinstein-Murray amendment passes. As of now, the Senate is spending no money on new starts.

In addition, Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is said to be wavering on whether to open the bill’s $5.5 billion transit grant program to highway projects.

Sure, legislating has always been like sausage-making. But didn’t we just elect a president who promised to at least try to change the ways of Washington? Did Obama’s supporters believe his vow to create the biggest public works program since the invention of the interstate highway system?

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