Federal Highway Spending Needs to Be Road Less Traveled

Article excerpt

Governors and Congress are engaged in a long-overdue reevaluation of the state-federal partnership. Our work to reform welfare, education and Medicaid has focused in part on determining the proper role for each level of government in serving the needs of our citizens.

Although Congress is set to reauthorize federal highway and transit programs next year, I have grave concerns about a "partnership" that takes $1 billion in federal gas taxes that Ohioans send to Washington each year and gives us back only $600 million for roads and bridges. Let's look beyond the $223 million in Ohio federal fuel taxes that go toward deficit reduction each year and concentrate on how federal law disperses the remaining $177 million. Those funds fall victim to a variety of unfair redistribution schemes ($90 million is sent to other states under outdated formulas) or to questionable, nonhighway set-aside projects that add no highway capacity and yield only modest emissions reductions). The final $32 million is sunk into the federal transportation bureaucracy. In effect, Washington each year confiscates or redirects $177 million that Ohio otherwise could use on much-needed projects.

Forty years ago, a more vigorous federal government spurred construction of an interstate highway system that today is one of America's great economic assets. That momentous job is finished; necessary routine maintenance, which principally is a state responsibility, should be handled at that level without unnecessary federal involvement or intrusion.

The Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, employs about the same size workforce it had during the peak of the interstate-construction era. FHWA's army of engineers, auditors and attorneys exists mainly to monitor and validate the work conducted by a similar assortment of state transportation professionals and private contractors. Beyond the questionable federal "oversight" activities that impose mandates, funding sanctions, project delays and other unnecessary costs on states, our federal "partner" adds very little compensating value to the system. …