Reprioritize Spending

The United States’ transportation policies and its consequent effect on land use patterns led us to overly rely on cars. Fueled by the auto industry, developers, financial interests, and other industries, public policy guided the nation’s transformation to one centered on the automobile.  President Eisenhower’s landmark legislation, the Highway Revenue Act of 1956, propelled the nation towards an expansion of roads, highways, and suburban sprawl that has been sustained and expanded since the law’s inception.

The vast majority of federal transportation funds are directed toward the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the agency responsible for the mammoth highway infrastructure that has helped transform and shape our country over the last 50 years.  Every few years, the federal government re-evaluates transportation policy and passes new legislation in hopes of meeting the changing demands of the country.

Historically we have allocated over 80% of transportation spending on roadways, a high portion of which typically has gone to new projects and expansion rather than upkeep and maintenance. Heavily weighted toward automobile transportation, these bills have left the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which funds public transportation across the nation, with less than 20% of the available funds.

  • Between 2005 and 2009 the State of New York received $8.2 billion through the FHA.
  • From 2004 to 2009 New York State received $1.2 billion through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) .

Currently the federal monies allocated for highways and mass transit come from the federal 18.4-cent gas tax that is then deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Under the HTF, funding is then allocated to either the Highway Account or the Mass Transit Account. The Highway Account receives the lion’s share of these tax revenues (between 83% and 93%).

The upcoming federal transportation bill, which will replace the current surface transportation bill (the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act of 2005), is an opportunity to reprioritize transportation policy. With the transportation funding framework so heavily weighted toward roadway spending, we must demand that our aging infrastructure be maintained and brought to a state of good repair and that public transportation funds increase substantially.

Bus systems are one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution, improve access, and alleviate congestion.  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), is an innovative way New York City and other cities around the world are combating these concerns.  BRT features a number of components that reduce travel time including dedicated lanes, electronic systems that allow the bus driver to make traffic lights turn green and alleviate bus bunching, and station-like bus stops where riders pay their fare before entering the bus.

It is critical that the next surface transportation bill shifts our priorities away from the massive highway system that creates sprawl, environmental degradation and oppressive conditions for marginalized communities.  We must start to fully fund alternative modes of public transportation- including bus systems as well as bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Resources:

-These figures were taken from the FHA (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/safetealu/and FTA) (http://www.fta.dot.gov/index_6536.html) websites, dedicated to SATETEA-LU. 

-It should also be noted that the figures are the estimated apportionments for those years and that there is some ability to flex funds within the FHA to transit needs, an option that NYSTEA is also fighting for more locales to take advantage.