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Surface Transportation Increase Unlikely -- Despite Infrastructure Needs, Public Transit Wants

Mark Wilson/Getty Images File Photo
Foxx defended the 62 percent increase the Obama administration wants for transit spending. It is unlikely to be taken up by Congress due to partisan tensions and election-year jockeying.

The American Trucking Associations, led by former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican, viewed the White House’s call for increased transit spending as a threat to more robust investments in roads and bridges that carry truckers and their cargoes.

“This administration needs to make much-needed investments in repairing our existing roads and bridges and looking for ways to add capacity to meet our growing needs,” the group’s chairman, Phil Byrd, said late last month.

Graves and other trucking industry officials note that total driving has still ticked up even as personal driving has decreased, meaning much of the pickup in recent months is due to increased commercial traffic as the economy continues to rebound.

Some rural lawmakers have criticized the administration’s plan to put more money into transit but not boost road spending at a similar level. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, lamented that the administration’s proposed increase in transit spending wasn’t helpful for her mostly rural state, which is in need of investment for existing roads and bridges.

Similarly, the conservative Heritage Foundation has been long critical of efforts to expand non-highway spending at the federal level, reasoning that deciding matters of regional transit mobility should be left to states and cities.

“Construction of the interstate highway system was largely complete several decades ago, but Congress has prolonged the federal highway program by repeatedly expanding its scope, inserting itself into purely state and local matters,” Heritage analyst Emily J. Goff wrote in a recent critique of lawmaker efforts to generate a new highway bill.

Joshua L. Schank , the president and chief executive officer of the Eno Center for Transportation, said such regional disagreements could be settled to transit backers’ satisfaction if federal funding formulas were looser, allowing states like Maine to spend more of their money on roads and more dense states to focus on transit.

“If the local needs focus around transit, the ability to be flexible in funding would certainly go a long way toward solving those needs,” Schank said.

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