Transportation Decisions Ahead for Congress

By Wollack, Leslie | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Transportation Decisions Ahead for Congress


Wollack, Leslie, Nation's Cities Weekly


Citing a 173 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled since 1970, while the population grew 47 percent, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, called for a different approach in the upcoming development of a new national transportation law in testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

LaHood joined many members of the committee in calling for a more balanced approach to transportation that is environmentally sustainable by supporting transit, new fuel standards for cars and trucks and creating green transportation modes, such as bicycle and walking paths. He also cited a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs by expanding choices for affordable housing and transportation.

As the deadline of September 30 for reaching an agreement on a new plan for the nation's surface transportation programs moves closer, Congressional committees in both the House and Senate have begun serious talks on the future of federal highway, transit and bridge programs. Last week, Congress adopted a federal budget calling for $324 billion from 2010 to 2015 for federal surface transportation programs.

A new report, Bottom Line Report, from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Public Transit Association (APTA) says that investments of $166 billion per year would be required to meet expected growth on the nation's highways and bridges.

In 2006, federal, state and local governments spent $79 billion on highways and bridges, according to the report released on April 24. The report also estimates that by 2015, governments at all levels will need to double their spending on highways and bridges and more than quadruple their spending on transit to serve increased ridership.

The debate over the surface transportation bill has focused heavily on how to pay for long-term maintenance of the current system and meet anticipated future needs.

In February, a congressionally appointed panel, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, released its findings that a short term increase in the gasoline tax and a longer term phase-in of a tax on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) would be critical to fund immediate and long term national transportation needs. …

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