Is this where the sidewalks end?
But that is just what House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has outlined in his six-year transportation reauthorization proposal released earlier this month. The plan would cut more than one third from highway and transit programs and completely eliminate active transportation programs such as walking and biking trails – overall crippling the best job-producing transportation programs. Some predict 500,000 jobs would be lost nationwide under the plan.
While our country needs to get its debt and deficit spending under control, not all cuts are created equal.
First, our national interstate highway system has hit its midlife crisis and is in need of repairs and maintenance. According to the Repair Priorities report released by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense in June, more than half of state roads in the U.S. are rated as “fair” or “poor.” In Alabama, more than 25 percent of state roads are in need of repair, and more than 10 percent of bridges are “structurally deficient.”
However, for every $1 dollar we spend now to keep our roads and bridges in good repair, we avoid spending $6-$14 to rebuild that road later. More importantly, road repair and maintenance creates more jobs than building new roads, making it a smart investment for the near-term and long-term. By underfunding our road repair and maintenance, Mica’s plan is pennywise and pound-foolish.
Secondly, while the funding proposal would keep intact 20 percent funding for public transportation, the across the board 34 percent cuts will devastate many transit systems around the country. The U.S. DOT estimates that more than $78 billion are needed nationwide just to get our public transit systems to a state of good repair. This funding proposal will mean reduced service and no new buses, all at a time when gas prices are again on the rise.
Rural and urban Alabamians will be hit the hardest by these cuts. In the last five years alone, more than 750,000 rural Alabamians have been cut off from transit options due to reduced service from private companies and the public sector. In Birmingham, the funding woes of the BJCTA are well documented. The transportation-funding proposal will only compound these difficult situations.
And such cuts for public transportation does not make sense from a job creation perspective. According to the Repair Priorities report, every $1 billion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars invested in new public transportation projects produced 16,419 job-months, compared to 8,781 job-months produced by highway infrastructure projects. Southern cities like Charlotte and Dallas have seen billions of dollars in private investment around their new light rail lines. Bottom line: transit creates jobs and spurs private investment and should be invested in more heavily at the federal, state, and local level.
Thirdly, the Mica proposal would eliminate funding for walking and biking programs, such as Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program. Yet to date, biking and walking account for 12 percent of all trips made in the U.S. while only accounting for 1.5 percent of federal transportation budget. These programs are at the center of the growing complete streets movement in Alabama – one that ensures our streets are built for all users, not just motorists – and addresses fundamental safety, health, and environmental issues.
According to the Dangerous by Design report released by Transportation for America in May, Alabama ranks as the fifth most dangerous for pedestrians, the Birmingham area is the 16th most dangerous large metro, and Mobile County had 138 pedestrian deaths over the last decade. In addition, more than 30 percent of Americans cannot or do not drive, meaning a significant amount of economic buying power is reliant on safe places to walk and bike and on dependable transit systems. Our nearly exclusive reliance on the automobile in Alabama contributes to our ranking as the second most obese state, to our significant air quality problems, and to unsustainable, sprawl development.
If Mica’s proposal becomes law, this could be where the sidewalks end, buses no longer roll, and worn-out bridges cease to stand.
Yes, funding is tight. Tough decisions need to be made. However, highway repair, transit, and active transportation programs should not be on the chopping block.
Alabama’s congressional delegation should join the broad spectrum of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO and reject Mica’s plan. We need a new transportation funding proposal that will invest limited federal resources strategically in the projects that will best put Alabamians back to work now and in the future, will save lives and money, and will protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.