Those of us who have seen news about theÂ bridge collapse in Minnesota (see video below), the tunnels breaking in Massachussetts, or who have heard the general reports about our crumbling infrastructure know that the United States needs a renewed push in developing our infrastructure. Unfortunately, as this article points out, funds available for this kind of spending are falling, causing controversy over how to spend the funds we have. This is not to mention that the cost for materials to build and repair roads are becoming much more expensive, squeezing funds even more.
There seems to be consensus that improvements must be made to our infrastructure. The problem is getting everybody to agree on exactly how to do that. From the funding perspective, the gas tax could be raised. However, that idea quickly dies when we look at the current political climate. The fight so far has been whether or not toÂ put a gas tax holiday in place for the summer. Going the opposite direction would never fly.Â One idea with more traction is to loosen restrictions on states to levy tolls on interstate highways. Of course, ways to get more private sector dollars in on this are being explored, but we can’t expect that to account for everything.
Once we have the funding to put the investment intoÂ transportation infrastructure, there is still debate over how to spend that money. Next year, Congress will debate a new, six year transportation bill that could authorize more thanÂ $400 billion in spending. OtherÂ relevant legislation will come up before then, but this bill is the big thing to watch. Nobody needs to go through a grueling college calculus class to know that $400 billion is a lot of money. Unfortunately,Â Congress and the president did an awful job with the last major transportation bill, which was in 2003. We can’t afford to waste another six years on bad policy for our transportation infrastructure, with problems such as global warming, dwindling oil supplies, and crumbling roads and bridges facing us.Â
The big question seems to be whether or not to continue focusing on highways in our spending, or to put more of a focus on public transportation options, such as rail lines. I believe the emphasis must be placed on public transportation for several reasons.
For starters, public transportation has been shown to have substantial economic benefit. As this press release from the American Public Transportation Authority states:
Recent studies have shown that public transportation not only reduces commute times, but also promotes cleaner air, local economic development, more livable communities, and greater access and freedom for people from every walk of life. Investing in public transportation has been shown to produce a six to one economic return for communities. In many areas, like Salt Lake City, San Diego, Chicago, and Houston, public transportation has played an essential role in attracting new businesses, major events, and accommodating millions of visitors.
Now I will admit that that press release and the report it provides are old, but the source is credible and the passage of time does notÂ change the points that it makes. To bring this home, imagine these benefits in Detroit! Some decent public transportation beyond the joke called the people mover would dramatically improve the city, as well as the surrounding area.
Additionally, more public transportation would mean less congestion on our roads, which wastes a substantial amount of gas and places more wear and tear on our roads. This point is also supported by extensive research, including the report I cited earlier from the American Public Transportation Authority.
Finally, there is strong demand for public transportation. People who say that it won’t be used are missing what is actually going on. For example, Amtrak ridership has increased 11% this year, and many areas are seeing ridership increase by moreÂ than 30%. Many other numbers like these can easily be found.
Dwight D. Eisenhower did a great thing for this country when he championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It was a great leap forward for the transportation infrastructure of the United States. Now it is time for another great leap forward. When Congress brings up the transportation bill next year, and as other legislation is created, it needs to make public transportation a priority. It will save money, benefit our economy, be good for the environment,Â and satisfy strong demand. What more could you ask for?