It’s got to be pretty disappointing to transportation advocates that after years and years of beating the drum about the truth behind infrastructure spending and extolling the virtues of bicycling, the Republican party is still proposing the same old, cars-only approach.
The GOP’s budget (released yesterday) is titled the “Path to Prosperity,” but strangely it proposes taking the same path that has led to nothing but financial ruin when it comes to transportation spending.
The problem America faces with transportation infrastructure is simple. We invested heavily in a system that favored one mode of travel above all others — single occupancy motor vehicles. Unfortunately, our system and that mode are extremely expensive to maintain. Conversely, due to massive government subsidies for oil-making corporations and a lack of political backbone we do not derive as much revenue from motor vehicles usage as we need to pay for their impact on the system.
Our national gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and gas prices in America remain among the lowest in the developed world.
This should not be a partisan issue. This is simply a matter of logic and basic common sense.
There’s a movement afoot in America to go beyond this unbalanced, automobile-centric outlook. More people than ever are beginning to understand that, while cars are cool and they have a rightful place in our society, they are not the best option for every trip.
Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort by citizens to persuade them at the recent National Bike Summit, the Republican party appears to want to prioritize the use of heavily subsidized automobiles at the expense of other, more cost-effective modes of transportation.
I hoped that when House Majority leader John Boehner took over, he would perhaps come to the center when it came to transportation policy, but now it’s clear that his party isn’t far from the statements he’s made in the past about highway-widening being essential for American families and mocking a paltry tax credit for people who — gasp! — ride their bikes to work.
Instead of acknowledging that the revenue we need to pay for our crumbling transportation infrastructure isn’t there because we give away too much money to oil companies and we don’t charge enough for gasoline, they blame the shortfall on expenditures that equate to nothing more than budget dust — and in many cases actually provide an extremely large ROI.
Here is the excerpt from the GOP’s “Path to Prosperity”:
Over the past decade, highway spending has mostly exceeded the gas-tax revenues that finance the fund, because gas-tax levels leveled off while spending grew. Spending, meanwhile, has increasingly been diverted to non-highway projects, such as bike trails and museums, and politicized through earmarks such as the Bridge to Nowhere mentioned above. To make up for funding shortfalls, the trust fund has required three large transfusions of taxpayer dollars from general revenues, totaling $35 billion since 2008.
Without reform, another infusion will be necessary in 2013. This budget anticipates that Congress can keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent without additional general fund transfers or increases in the gasoline tax by consolidating dozens of separate highway programs that GAO has identified as duplicative. This will help focus every dollar on pursuing a targeted and cohesive national transportation policy.
The GOP’s “path” also seeks to end funding of high speed rail, saying its “long-term subsidization” is “infeasible” and that, “high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.”
I’m all for that rationale, as long as we apply it to all modes. If we did, I’d wager bicycling would be the only mode left standing (or should I say rolling?).
I’m all for cutting spending. A more efficient and lean government is in all of our best interests; but this proposal remains in the dark ages when it refers to “bike trails” as something not worthy of transportation spending and when it continues to stoke the false notion that driving a car can remain as cheap and subsidized as it always has been.