The infrastructure-advocacy group Transportation for America announced it will no longer advocate for more money for transportation. “It’s past time to elevate the national conversation about infrastructure beyond just the price tag,” the group stated. “We spend nearly $40 billion in federal tax dollars every year, which fails to bring us equivalent returns. The more we spend, the more that congestion, emissions and pedestrian fatalities seem to rise.”
According to the group, “We spend billions while failing to address our most basic need: getting people where they need to go safely and efficiently. More money alone will not suffice without accountability for measurable or tangible accomplishments.”
Transportation for America now advocates three principles for any comprehensive federal investment in transportation:
Prioritize Maintenance – Roadway funds are not focused on maintenance, and our roads are deteriorating, despite unprecedented high levels of funding, including windfall funding from the 2009 Recovery Act. States are allowed to spend more on expansion than repair – which many states do – so merely adding new funding into these existing programs will not reduce our maintenance backlog. The next authorization should cut the maintenance backlog in half by dedicating formula highway funds to maintenance.
In addition, when building new road capacity, agencies should be required to create a plan for maintaining both the new road and the rest of their system. This is common sense and is already required when building new transit projects. Roads should not be treated differently. On the highway side, it will be important to organize the program to better support repair. On the transit side, the program is organized well in terms of addressing maintenance needs but needs more resources.
Design for safety over speed – High speeds make sense on interstates and other highways, but fatalities occur when we design all streets for high speeds rather than to connect people and create value. Local and arterial roads must be designed to put safety first. A serious effort to reduce deaths on our roadways requires slower speeds on local and arterial roads. The federal program should require designs and approaches that put safety first.
Roads surrounded by development should be designed to serve those areas with speeds of 35 mph or under, as speeds under 35 mph dramatically decrease the likelihood of fatalities in a crash. Roadways through developed areas have lots of points of conflict (driveways and intersections, not to mention bicyclists and pedestrians). Protecting the safety of all people who use the street must be a priority reflected in the decisions we make about how to fund, design, operate, maintain and measure the success of our roads.
Connect people to jobs and services – New technologies can now help us measure success by the primary thing that matters to real people: the ease of arriving at your destination. We can hold agencies accountable to deliver these connections. Determine how well the transportation system connects people to jobs and services, and prioritize projects that will improve those connections. Congress should require USDOT to collect the data necessary to develop a national assessment of access to jobs and services and set national goals for improvement.
With data, state departments of transportation (DOT) and planning organizations can ensure federal investments are effectively connecting people to economic opportunity. Funding should go to projects that will improve these connections, regardless of mode. State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) should be held accountable by evaluating how well their investments help connect people to destinations.