Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Call Me Confused (But Not Surprised)

I try to keep up to date on the transportation issues facing the United States and pass them on. Due to my background in transportation planning and public policy, I usually have a pretty good handle on the goings on in these circles.

Sometimes, though, I come across an annoucement that puzzles me.

The Bush Administration, in my opinion, has not been a friend of transit, so I'm usually suspicious when the Department of Transportation under Secretary Peters claims to be.

Take for instance, this recent post on the DOT's blog, Welcome to the Fast Lane. The Secretary is proposing a new plan for transportation. To show how progressive this legislation is, Secretary Peters is making the annoucement from Atlanta, "a city that knows what it's like to be rebuilt and reborn." Atlanta burned in 1864. Wouldn't Chicago be more appropriate (Fire, 1871) or perhaps San Francsico (Earthquake, Fire, 1906)?

Trust me, Secretary Peters. As someone who grew up outside Atlanta, I can tell you that Southerners don't need to be reminded of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, especially by someone from the Federal Government. After all, where do you think Sherman got his paychecks?

Anyway, this announcement claims that the new plan will be good for transit. According to the website, the plan will:
  • Eliminate arbitrary federal restrictions on effective transit investments.
  • Create a mode neutral program called Metropolitan Mobility.
  • Encourage congestion pricing (to shift drivers to transit).
  • Create a Metropolitan Innovation Fund that will award funds to cities that combine congestion pricing and transit investment.
  • Make highways go through the same cost-benefit analyses as transit.
  • Streamline federal processes.
  • Expand local transit funding alternatives.

Just to review a couple of these with skepticism, I would point out that while the plan criticises transit projects for taking too long to build, it encourages using that same process for both highways and transit. Wouldn't it be better just to get rid of it? Besides, Secretary Peters and the Bush Administration have been delaying the Dulles Metro extension with every fiber of their beings--a transit project in the median of a toll highway, being funded with toll revenues from said highway, in a region building HOT lanes on the Beltway and I-95/395.

Still, let's assume that the plan really does intend to be supportive of transit. If that's the case, then what's up with this article, published in the New York Times today?

That's right straphangers, Mr. Bush wants to borrow from the Transit Account to pay for the Highway Account, which is predicted to run out of money this year.

Excuse me? On the same day as the DOT announces new transit friendly policies, the administration tries to shift transit funds into building roads. And this comes the day after the Federal Highway Administration announced that Vehicle Miles Traveled dropped for the seventh month in a row (May), which will likely lead to the first annual drop in VMT since 1980.

Do we really need to be building all of these roads, at the expense of transit?

Driving = going down.
Transit Use = going up.

So the obvious choice is to take money from transit to build roads. Brilliant.

Really, Mr. Bush needs to go back to reading books to school children in Florida and leave the policymaking to someone who knows what's going on.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Administration proposed borrowing from the Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund as part of its FY09 Budget Proposal, which was released back in early February.