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The Senate Democrats predict enormous cuts to transit funding in the New York region if the Republican transportation bill becomes law. At a time when the MTA is already facing a $10 billion deficit in its capital plan through 2014, those cuts could be devastating. The Obama administration's report emphasizes how much Americans spend on transportation costs and ties the financial burden to car dependence. When President Obama announced his push for a long-term transportation bill on Monday, he introduced a report by his Council of Economic Advisors and the Treasury Department analyzing the economic impact of infrastructure investment [PDF]. If you’re hoping for an all-out push for sustainable transportation and livable streets, you may be wondering whether this signifies much of a change to the highway-centric status quo. The headline numbers sit on top of a broad strategy that groups including Transportation for America, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Transportation Equity Network, and U.S. It emphasizes the need to provide American families with a range of transportation options, not just driving. The report calls attention to the heavy burden that high transportation costs place on the middle class. The report links high transportation costs to car dependence and makes the case for increasing access to transit and other transportation options, asserting that “[t]his burden is due in large part to the lack of alternatives to expensive and often congested automobile travel. Federal lawmakers usually set transportation policy by authorizing a major spending bill every five or six years.
Since SAFETEA-LU expired, Congress has passed stopgap spending measures to keep the system functioning; however, the lack of a coherent, long-term vision has left state and city transportation departments adrift and has made it challenging for them to plan strategically. On Labor Day, President Obama put transportation near the top of his agenda by calling on Congress to tackle stagnant job growth by repairing and upgrading infrastructure. At an event billed as a “town hall” held at USDOT headquarters yesterday, top department officials answered questions about the future of the nation’s road, rail, bus, and bike networks -- even as the prospects of passing a comprehensive transportation reauthorization bill anytime this year appear as dim as ever. The head of the District Department of Transportation, Gabe Klein, called the current moment one of the scariest times in transportation history. Klein emphasized the need for diversified sources of funding for transportation investment, despite the political challenges. During the same panel, Richard Sarles, the interim general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) explained that his agency is spending much of its funding on efforts to improve the safety of its system after a catastrophic Metro collision last summer. Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU, or, more commonly, the transportation bill).
John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), was more direct in outlining where state DOTs want to see the Senate climate bill's fuel revenues directed. After all, even the Obama administration -- which last spring called for an 18-month delay in taking up House transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar's (D-MN) infrastructure measure -- has signaled a willingness to begin talks on broader policy changes by next spring.
But that outcome assumes that Congress and the White House can reach an agreement by early 2011 on how to find as much as $200 billion to pay for a significant six-year investment in infrastructure. Eight Democrats yesterday joined nearly the entire transportation universe, from road-builders to transit advocates, to warn the three Senate authors of a new climate bill against raising gas taxes without using the money for infrastructure. Many details of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman approach remain unclear, including how much of the revenue raised by the new fuel fee would be rebated back to taxpayers rather than set aside for other uses.


For several weeks last fall, as members of the House infrastructure committee pushed for passage of a new six-year federal transportation bill as a strategy to rouse the economy from recession, a proposal to pay for the legislation with a small tax on oil futures trades attracted a healthy crop of Democratic cosponsors and some vocal pushback from Wall Street. But the tax proposal has since lost steam in Washington transportation debate, getting little notice from lawmakers who strongly support taking up a new six-year infrastructure bill in 2010 even as it remains a magnet for progressives looking to rein in financial industry excesses. What happened to the idea of using an oil futures transaction fee -- set at 0.02 percent in a December bill offered by Rep. Jim Berard, spokesman for the House infrastructure panel, explained in an interview late last week that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had conducted a preliminary analysis that found the transaction tax would raise less money than lawmakers had initially hoped. That leaves federal transportation policymakers essentially where they were at this time last year, searching for a politically feasible stand-in for a gas tax increase that the White House and congressional Democratic leaders have both ruled out for now.
House infrastructure committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), facing steep political odds in his push to pass a new six-year federal transportation bill this year, has begun to pitch an outside-the-box solution to the financing shortfall that is still stalling congressional action: Treasury bonds. In order to repay the Treasury for its up-front bond issue, Congress would ultimately need to raise the gas tax -- a step lawmakers have been unwilling to take since 1993, and one that the White House has ruled out for the time being. At an event in Minneapolis today, House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) announced his support for giving urban transit agencies more flexibility to spend federal transportation formula money on operating -- a change in the current law that has already won the backing of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood but has split the transit industry.
Oberstar (center) joined New York City transport chief Janette Sadik-Khan (right) at today's event. Under current law, urban transit agencies are restricted to spending federal formula money on capital expenses, such as purchasing new rail cars or laying track for an expanded line. Congress agreed last year to give transit officials the freedom to redirect 10 percent of their federal stimulus aid to operating budgets, underscoring that the change was a temporary response to the recession. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the transit industry's chief lobbying group for more than a century, has opposed the use of formula grants for transit operating, preferring that already-scarce highway trust fund dollars be reserved for capital spending on rail and buses.
A Selection of Still Images from this New York City Google Business Photo Session with Black Paw Photo! John Mica’s proposed transportation bill would take a machete to federal transportation spending, cutting overall transportation funding by a third and entirely eliminating dedicated funds for pedestrian and bike infrastructure. Statewide, the total cuts would inch up to 37 percent, according to calculations by the Democrat-controlled Senate Banking Committee (thanks to Ya-Ting Liu at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign for compiling these numbers). He asked Congress to ramp up investment in roads and rail, create a federal infrastructure bank that would help fund large and complex projects, reform the Balkanized structure of federal transportation spending programs, and make the nation’s transportation system safer and more livable.
Most notably, it offered little insight into how the administration expects Congress to pay for the next reauthorization. While the last several authorizations have had plenty of funding, the program is broke this time around due to the dwindling power of the gas tax.
When you travel with the Secretary nobody thinks it’s hard to define and nobody needs it defined.
Already, reauthorization of the transportation bill is nearly a year overdue, as lawmakers have failed to muster the will to pay for it. Photo: Adam VoilandA plenary session that focused on the Mid-Atlantic region prior to the town hall provided a few glimpses of how the continued legislative deadlock is plaguing local agencies and preventing the evolution of transportation planning beyond the car-based status quo. He warned that lawmakers have difficult and uncomfortable decisions ahead about how to pay for the reauthorization bill.


He noted, for example, that local jurisdictions, like DC, should have the latitude to explore congestion pricing as a way to raise revenue. With little clarity about what the future holds, Sarles warned that there simply aren’t funds available to address large expected increases in ridership on city transit systems in the coming years. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), center, and John Kerry (D-MA), right, with onetime climate bill cosponsor Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at left. Even as state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations operate under the latest in a series of extensions of the 2005 law that governs road, transit, and bike-ped spending, few are willing to envision a future in which new legislation doesn't pass by next year. It is rarely mentioned on the record by Washington infrastructure watchers, but former Transportation Secretary James Burnley IV outlined it neatly in an interview this week with D.C. Their message, translated from the often impenetrable language of Washington: Imposing new fuel fees that are not routed to transport projects could torpedo the next long-term federal bill -- which is already on life support. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is not expected to hit the street until Earth Day later this month. But one Hill source familiar with the issue said that the very act of raising gas taxes for non-transportation purposes would be a very bad sign for future federal reform efforts. The reason for the lower-than-expected revenue, Berard said, was the rationale hinted at by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in November: a tax levied only on domestic futures would end up pushing trades overseas. APTA did not return a request for comment by press time on the growing support for changing the existing rules governing transit operating funds. Under the Mica proposal, federal highway spending in New York would fall by $568 million a year from current levels, while transit spending would be cut by $646 million. It calls for rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of railways, and the restoration of 150 miles of airport runways. But with Graham indicating that a significant portion of the legislation's new gas fee would be repaid to consumers via rebates, the group of eight senators questioned the effectiveness of adding new fuel charges without attempting to make the nation's existing infrastructure more efficient. Mayor Muriel Bowser (C) speaks about transportation funding while flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other US mayors during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. What we’re talking about with livability is a community that has transportation choices, different types of housing, and destinations close to your home.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (2ndR) and and other mayors during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks about transportation funding while flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mayor Muriel Bowser introduces New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during a news conference about transportation funding on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. Mayor Muriel Bowser (L) and and other mayors during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (C) speaks about transportation funding while flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other mayors during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.



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