Transit - highway rules unfair
Brookings Institution notes Federal transportation policy favors
by Debbie Bulger
A report released in December by the Brookings Institution confirms
what transportation reform advocates have learned from their experience
in the field: there is in fact an unlevel playing field between
transit and highway projects.
Authored by Edward Beimborn and Robert Puentes, the report, "Highways
and Transit: Leveling the Playing Field in Federal Transportation
Policy," documents that transit and highways are treated very differently
in federal policy, law and regulations. Highways are given a big
If highways had to be built according to procedures required of
If transit rules applied to highways, highway construction would be
subject to intense political scrutiny and some cities, states and
metropolitan areas would never be able to build any highways, even
if the public wanted them very much. Only a few highway segments could
begin construction each year.
- Only 50% of their capital costs would be paid from federal sources instead
of 80 to 90%.
- They would need a congressional “sponsor” who would help secure
- Local governments would have to demonstrate they could pay for their share
and could operate and maintain the highways.
- Highway projects would have to compete with police, fire, education and other
programs for funding. In lean budget years, highways could be closed some of the
time to save money.
Given the uneven playing field documented by this report, it's a
miracle that we have any transit in this country at all.
To remedy the inequity between highway and transit regulations,
the authors recommend the following:
Communities should not be faced with the choice of an effective transit
project that requires mostly local funding or a highway project that
is mostly funded from state and federal sources. The double standard
for highway and transit projects heavily favors the most polluting
and least efficient form of transportation. The Sierra Club favors
the most energy and land conserving transportation modes. A level
playing field between highways and transit would go far to achieving
- Require the same land use guidelines for highway construction
as for transit projects. Currently the federal government will
only support transit projects where land use policies provide
for efficient development patterns.
- Require cost-effectiveness procedures for highway expenditures.
Currently there is no requirement for cost-effectiveness for highways.
As has been observed, “an empty bus is bad; an empty highway
- Implement peer comparisons for highway projects as is required
of transit projects to encourage use of best practices.
- Additional recommendations for leveling the playing field are
included in this well-referenced report.
Click here to view the report
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