Transportation

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

Highway advocates often claim that roads “pay for themselves,” with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering – or nearly covering – the full cost of highway construction and maintenance.

They are wrong.

Highways do not – and, except for brief periods in our nation’s history, never have – paid for themselves through the taxes that highway advocates label “user fees.” Yet highway advocates continue to suggest they do in an attempt to secure preferential access to scarce public resources and to shape how those resources are spent.

To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy – particularly at a time of tight public budgets – it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century.

Gasoline taxes aren’t “user fees.”

Highway advocates often describe gasoline taxes as “user fees” in order to argue that those funds should be used only on highways. Yet, gasoline taxes are not user fees in any meaningful sense of the term. 

  • “Fees” are not connected to “use” – The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes – unlike other true user fees such as admission fees for state parks or turnpike tolls. Drivers on local streets and roads, for example, pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on those roads, even though those taxes are typically used to pay for state and federal highways. Efforts to ensure that residents of a given area “get back” what they pay in gasoline taxes – such as the federal equity bonus program – actually perpetuate wasteful pork-barrel spending since they allocate money with no consideration of need or the benefits those investments would deliver to society.
  • State gas taxes are often not “extra” fees – Most states exempt gasoline from the state sales tax. The substitution of the gasoline tax for the sales tax diverts much of the money that would have gone into a state’s general fund to a fund used often for the exclusive benefit of drivers. In some states, such as New Jersey, the gasoline tax is at times lower than the corresponding sales tax would be, meaning that drivers get a net tax subsidy that encourages the purchase of gasoline relative to other goods.
  • Federal gas taxes have typically not been devoted exclusively to highways – The federal gas tax began its life as a deficit-fighting measure under President Herbert Hoover decades before the Interstate Highway System.  Only during the brief 17-year period beginning in 1956 did Congress temporarily dedicate gas tax revenues to construct the Interstate network, a project completed in the 1990s. Since 1973, the gasoline tax has been used to fund a variety of important transportation priorities and has periodically been used to reduce the federal deficit.
  • Many states use gas tax revenue for a variety of purposes – While many states have historically dedicated their own state gasoline taxes to highways, that decision has not been universal. According to Federal Highway Administration data, roughly 20 cents of every dollar collected in state gas taxes, motor vehicle fees or tolls nationwide is used for public transportation and other governmental purposes.  Many of the states that do use gasoline taxes solely for highways do so because they remain bound by constitutional earmarks of gasoline taxes imposed three-quarters of a century ago, regardless of whether those decisions still make sense today.

Highways don’t pay for themselves.

  • Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called “user fees” by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.
  • Highways “pay for themselves” less today than ever. Currently, highway “user fees” pay only about half the cost of building and maintaining the nation’s network of highways, roads and streets.
  • These figures fail to include the many costs imposed by highway construction on non-users of the system, including damage to the environment and public health and encouragement of sprawling forms of development that impose major costs on the environment and government finances.
  • New or expanded highways are even less likely to pay for themselves in the future as changing demographic conditions and consumer choices limiting the growth in vehicle travel and fuel use that would otherwise provide the revenue for a major program of highway expansion.

Highway advocates use the “user fees/highways pay for themselves” myth in an effort to secure access to scarce government revenue for their desired public policy ends – distorting transportation decision-making.

  • Highway advocates often argue that the fact that highways come with their own built-in source of revenue in the form of gasoline taxes make them a financially conservative option relative to other transportation investments. 
  • Highway advocates often use funding myths to make public transit and other forms of transportation appear relatively expensive – diverting attention from the full accounting of costs and benefits that should be the basis of sound transportation decision-making.

To make the right choices for America’s transportation future, the nation should take a smart approach to transportation investments, one that weighs the full costs and benefits of those investments and then allocates the costs of those investments fairly across society.

News Release | Georgia PIRG | Transportation

High Speed Rail Grant Puts Georgia on the Right Track

Statement of Georgia PIRG Program Associate Stephanie Ali on the awarding of $4.1 million in high-speed rail grants for Georgia. Georgia was awarded this grant to complete a service development plan and corridor study as part of the Charlotte-Atlanta Corridor Plan. 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Track Record of Success

As America moves toward construction of new high-speed rail networks in regions throughout the country, we have much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what the United States can expect from high-speed rail and how we can receive the greatest possible benefits from our investment.   

Indeed, the experience of high-speed rail lines abroad, as well as America’s limited experience with high-speed rail on the East Coast, suggests that the United States can expect great benefits from investing in a high-speed passenger rail system, particularly if it makes steady commitments and designs the system wisely.

High-speed rail systems in other nations have been able to dramatically reduce the volume of short-haul flights between nearby cities and significantly reduce inter-city car travel. In the United States, similar shifts would ease congestion on the roads and in the skies, reducing the need for expensive new investments in highways and airports. Short-haul plane trips are the least efficient in terms of time and fuel, and replacing those trips allows air travel to be more efficient and focused on long-haul trips.  High-speed rail service has almost completely replaced short-haul air service on several corridors in Europe, such as between Paris and Lyon, France, and between Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany.

 

·       The number of air passengers between London and Paris has been cut in half since high-speed rail service was initiated between the two cities through the Channel Tunnel.

·       In Spain, high-speed rail service between Madrid and Seville  reduced the share of travel by car between the two cities from 60 percent to 34 percent. The recent launch of high-speed rail service between Madrid and Barcelona has cut air travel on what was once one of the world’s busiest passenger air routes by one-third.

·       Even in the northeastern United States, where Amtrak Acela Express service is slow by international standards, rail service accounts for 65 percent of the air/rail market on trips between New York and Washington, D.C., and 52 percent of the air/rail market on trips between Boston and New York.

High-speed rail saves energy and protects the environment. In the United States, high-speed rail could cut our dependence on oil while helping to reduce air pollution and curb global warming.

·       Continual improvement– Japan’s Shinkansen system is estimated to use one quarter the energy of air travel or one-sixth the energy of automobile travel per passenger. The energy efficiency of Shinkansen trains has continually improved over time, such that today’s trains use nearly a third less energy, while traveling significantly faster, than the trains introduced in the mid-sixties.

·       More efficient – On Europe’s high-speed lines, a typical Monday morning business trip from London to Paris via high-speed rail uses approximately a third as much energy as a car or plane trip. Similar energy savings are achieved on other European high-speed rail lines.

·       Replacing oil with electricity makes zero emissions possible – Energy savings translate into reduced emissions of pollutants that cause global warming or respiratory problems – particularly when railroads power their trains with renewable energy. In Sweden, the country’s high-speed trains are powered entirely with renewable energy, cutting emissions of global warming pollutants by 99 percent.

 

High-speed rail is safe and reliable. In the United States, reliable service via high-speed rail could be an attractive alternative to oft-delayed intercity flights and travel on congested freeways.

o   High-speed rail is safe – There has never been a fatal accident on Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail system or during high-speed operation of TGV trains in France, despite carrying billions of passengers over the course of several decades.

o   High-speed rail is reliable – High-speed rail is generally more reliable than air or car travel. The average delay on Japan’s Shinkansen system is 36 seconds. Spain’s railway operator offers a money-back guarantee if train-related delays exceed five minutes.

 

High-speed rail can create jobs and boost local economies. A U.S. high-speed rail system could help position the nation for economic success in the 21st century while creating short-term jobs in construction and long-term jobs in ongoing maintenance and operation.

  •      Construction of high-speed rail lines creates thousands of temporary jobs. For example, about 8,000 people were involved in construction of the high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.
  •      Well-designed high-speed rail stations located in city centers spark economic development and encourage revitalization of urban areas:
  •      A study of the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line in Germany estimated that areas surrounding two towns with new high-speed rail stations experienced a 2.7 percent increase in overall economic activity compared with the rest of the region.
  •     Office space in the vicinity of high-speed rail stations in France and northern Europe generally fetches higher rents than in other parts of the same cities.
  •     The city of Lyon experienced a 43 percent increase in the amount of office space near its high-speed rail station following the completion of a high-speed rail link to Paris.
  •     Property values near stations on Japan’s Shinkansen network have been estimated to be 67 percent higher than property values further away.
  •     Several cities have used high-speed rail as the catalyst for ambitious urban redevelopment efforts. The city of Lille, France, used its rail station as the core of a multi-use development that now accommodates 6,000 jobs.

 

The new international high-speed rail terminal at London’s St. Pancras station is the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project that will add 1,800 residential units, as well as hotels, offices and cultural venues in the heart of London.

·       High-speed rail has increased overall travel in corridors in Spain and France and the number of one-day business trips in Korea. Increases in overall travel indicate that high-speed rail is having an impact on broader economic decisions and improves the chances that high-speed rail lines can recoup their overall costs.

·       High-speed rail can expand labor markets and increase the potential for face-to-face interactions that create value in the growing “knowledge economy.” A British study projects that the construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail line will lead to more than $26 billion in net economic benefits over the next 60 years.

High-speed rail lines generally cover their operating costs with fare revenues. In the United States, a financially sustainable high-speed rail system will likely not require operating subsidies from taxpayers (although public funding is essential to getting the system up and running).

·       High-speed rail service generates enough operating profit that it can subsidize other, less-profitable intercity rail lines in countries such as France and Spain, as well as in the U.S. Northeast.

·       Two high-speed rail lines – the French TGV line between Paris and Lyon and the original Japanese Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Osaka – have covered their initial costs of construction through fares.

Properly planned high-speed rail can encourage sustainable land-use and development patterns. In the United States, focusing new development around high-speed rail stations can reduce pressure to develop in far-flung areas, reducing other infrastructure costs such as for sewers and electricity. By creating new centers of commerce and activity, high-speed rail stations can create new opportunities for riders to travel by public transportation, by bike, or on foot.

·        Cities throughout Europe have paired the arrival of high-speed rail with expansion of local public transportation options – in some cases, using new high-speed rail lines to bolster local commuter rail service.

·       Proper land-use policies in areas that receive high-speed rail stations, coupled with effective development of station areas, can ensure that high-speed rail does not fuel new sprawl.

To obtain the economic and transportation benefits experienced by other nations, the United States should follow through on its decision to invest in high-speed rail, while taking actions to maximize the benefits of that investment. Specifically, the United States should:

·       Follow through on its decision to build a national high-speed rail system akin to the commitment to build the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Doing so will create thousands of jobs and position the United States to meet the economic, transportation, energy and environmental challenges of the next century. 

·       Use high-speed rail to focus future development by locating stations in city centers, and planning for intensive commercial and residential development near stations.

·       Make high-speed rail stations accessible to people using a variety of transportation modes, including automobiles, public transit, bicycling and walking. The United States should follow the lead of other nations and pair high-speed rail with expansion of local transit networks.

·       Integrate high-speed rail with improvements to commuter and freight rail. Freight and commuter rail services should be allowed access to high-speed rail lines, where possible and appropriate, in order to maximize the benefits of track improvements and ensure that high-speed services will complement, rather than duplicate, current rail services.

·       Encourage private investment, but with strong public protections. Private contracts must make sense for the long-term public interest, not just act as a way to generate short-term infusions of cash. Public authorities must retain the right to make key decisions about the rail system, including fares and operations. Freight rail companies that receive publicly subsidized improvements in tracks and facilities they own should be required to ensure the access and reliability of passenger rail services that operate over those routes.

·       Keep clear lines of accountability by establish clear criteria for funding all high-speed rail projects to ensure taxpayer money is focused on the most important projects. Priority funding should be given to projects that increase ridership potential, generate economic development, reduce congestion, and foster sustainable development in cities connected by high-speed rail.

·       Guarantee transparency regarding how projects are evaluated, how decisions are made, and how funds are allocated and spent. Private partners should disclose at least as much information about their publicly subsidized operations as public entities.

·       Make high-speed rail green by investing in energy-efficient equipment, powering the system with renewable energy wherever possible, and designing and building the system to deliver strong environmental benefits.

·       Set technological standards for projects receiving federal funding to reduce the cost of high-speed rail, improve replicability of successful projects, and allow manufacturers to design for larger domestic markets. 

·       Encourage cooperation among states through federal funding policies that reward states that enter into and abide by compacts with neighboring states to conduct joint projects, synchronize route schedules, and coordinate response to operational problems.

·        Encourage domestic manufacturing through federal policy that expands the capacity of American companies to produce high-speed rail systems and components by negotiating technology transfer agreements and investing in research and development over the long term.

·       Articulate a vision for the future of America’s rail network and measure progress toward the achievement of that national vision. An ambitious but fully achievable and desirable goal would be to link all major cities within 500 miles of one another with high-speed rail by mid-century.

 

 

 

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Georgia's Transportation Crossroads

Georgia is in a transportation crisis. Roadway congestion wastes time and energy, tailpipe pollution causes health and environmental problems, and our oil dependence only grows.
 
Expanding public transportation can provide more Georgians with alternatives to driving, while addressing these problems and laying the foundation for an efficient transportation system for the 21st century.
 
Public transportation already helps hundreds of thousands of Georgians get where they need to go. Beyond saving consumers time and money, transit systems take cars off the road, cut air pollution, provide a dependable way to get around or help in a pinch, and jump-start economic growth.    
 
But Georgia’s transit systems, despite their importance, are disjointed, underfunded, and fall far short of their potential. Scores of good transit projects are waiting in the wings, while the problems affecting our transportation system only multiply.
 
Georgia must adopt a new course and develop a vision for transit in the 21st century that will fix the state’s historical shortchanging of transit. By funding and executing key public transportation projects, such as those identified by the Concept 3 and Connect Atlanta plans, we can drive growth and foster healthier communities statewide. In a time of increasingly limited public funds, Georgia must spend its transportation dollars where they have the most impact. For that reason, the state must reshape its transportation planning and funding priorities to address its decades-long underinvestment in transit.
 
Georgia’s car-centered transportation system is leading us to drive more, use more gas, spend more on fuel, lose more time stuck in traffic, and create more global warming pollution than a decade ago. 

  • Georgia residents drove roughly 109 billion miles in 2008, more than 50 percent more miles than they drove in 1990.
  • By 2007, drivers in the state were consuming 19 percent more fuel annually than they did in 1997. The price of gasoline jumped 91 percent over the same period, causing Georgians to increase the money they spent on gasoline by more than $6 billion.
  • Atlanta drivers lost 135 million hours to traffic congestion in 2007, a 49 percent increase from 1997. The wasted time and fuel cost Atlanta $3 billion in 2007.
  • Georgia’s transportation network increased its carbon dioxide pollution by more than 37 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Despite many shortcomings, public transit in Georgia is already paying dividends by saving money, reducing congestion, and cutting global warming pollution.

  • In the Atlanta region alone, public transit saved 88 million gallons of oil in 2006, translating to consumer savings of $230 million at the pump.
  • In 2007, public transportation prevented more than 10.5 million hours of traffic delay in Atlanta and saved the area economy more than $225 million in wasted time and productivity.
  • In 2006, Georgia’s public transit systems together avoided 670,000 metric tons of global warming pollution. This is the equivalent of removing more than 130,000 cars from the road.
  • More Georgians are taking advantage of these benefits. Nearly 9 percent more passengers rode Atlanta’s MARTA system in 2008 than in 2007.

Georgia needs to rethink its transportation system for the future and invest in efficient and clean public transportation. There are many worthwhile transit projects that can meet transportation needs in the state.
 
A 21st century transportation system for Georgia should include (not in order of priority):
 
1) Better Transit in Metro Atlanta

  • Commuter rail service to Athens, Bremen and Macon: Commuter rail service between Atlanta and Macon would connect two growing regional hubs. A Bremen/Douglasville line would expand access to rapidly developing suburbs, and the “Brain Train” from Atlanta to Athens would link an increasingly busy bioscience corridor and thousands of university students and professors with downtown Atlanta – as well as with each other.
  • Light rail service along the Atlanta BeltLine: Ringing the city with a belt of light rail would draw together neighborhoods on Atlanta’s perimeter, focus future development, make transit a viable alternative for trips along the BeltLine by eliminating the need to first travel into downtown, and serve as the backbone for a robust transit system in the future.
  • Improve local transit service and provide better transit connections: Expanding the MARTA system, building new light rail lines and increasing bus rapid transit service can fill gaps in the local transit network while improving connections between transit services, making it easier for passengers to reach a wide range of destinations in the metro Atlanta area.
  • Build a streetcar along Peachtree Street: Clean, electric streetcars can help revitalize downtown districts. On Peachtree Street, a streetcar can help renew the downtown and address growing residential and commercial demand for efficient local transportation, while also bolstering Peachtree’s reputation as Atlanta’s most notable destination street.   

2) Transit Between and Within Other Cities

  • Improve transit in smaller cities: Improved transit in smaller cities and suburbs, using a variety of transit systems such as light rail, bus rapid transit, and express bus services, would give residents local transit options beyond the automobile.  
  • Expand intercity passenger rail service: Regional passenger rail service can connect people and activity centers around the state, linking cities such as Albany, Dalton, Savannah and Valdosta with Macon and Atlanta.   

3) High-speed Rail

  • Build a high-speed “bullet train” network for the Southeast: High-speed rail along federally designated corridors would connect cities like Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with each other and with out-of-state points like Birmingham, Chattanooga, Charlotte, and Greenville, while providing a rapid alternative to travel through congested highways and airports.

To address our transportation crisis, Georgia needs bold vision and a smart plan. The state should:

• Lay out a clear and compelling vision for transit in the 21st century. With a strong vision and commitment to invest in transit as the sensible way forward, Georgia can build an integrated public transportation network to meet transportation needs and solve problems for residents in cities and towns around the state.

• Provide stable funding to make the vision a reality. Georgia uses state budget funds to pay for highway and road projects, but is one of the only states in the country that leaves counties to raise the capital for transit. As a result, transit in Georgia has been underfunded for decades. A bold new vision for transit in Georgia must be paired with dedicated, adequate and sustained funding from regional as well as state-level sources.

• Urge Congress to enact a new federal transportation funding law. The new law should prioritize investing new capital in public transit, fixing existing roads and bridges rather than building more highways, and spending taxpayers’ money more wisely by using federal dollars to invest in high-priority transportation solutions.

• Reform state allocation of federal transportation dollars. Georgia should focus federal money on a statewide list of priority transportation projects, rather than dividing up the majority of the funds among the state’s congressional districts.

• Coordinate with other Southeast states to develop better public transportation infrastructure throughout the region. Collaborating with both local and state decision-makers on a regional high-speed rail system would be an excellent start.

 

Road Work Ahead Holding Government Accountable for Fixing America's Crumbling Roads and Bridges

Over the last 50 years, America has built roads and bridges at a pace and scale that dwarfs most of the rest of the world. We’ve built a national highway network like no other, with more than 45,000 miles of interstate highway and 575,000 highway bridges. 

Now, much of that system is showing its age – and as maintenance needs continue to grow, we are falling farther behind. Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses. On some occasions – such as the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge connecting Minneapolis – it can lead to profound tragedy.

Why are America’s roads and bridges in such terrible shape? And who or what is to blame? 

The deterioration of our roads and bridges is no accident. Rather, it is the direct result of countless policy decisions that put other considerations ahead of the pressing need to preserve our investment in the highway system. Political forces often undermine a strong commitment to maintenance: Members of Congress, state legislators and local politicians thrive on ribbon-cuttings. Powerful special interests push for new and bigger highways. Meanwhile, federal and state policies – which should provide strong guidance in the wise use of taxpayer dollars – often fail to achieve the proper balance between building new infrastructure and taking care of what we already have built.

To fix our roads and bridges, America first must fix our transportation policies. To counteract the tendencies to neglect repair and maintenance, we must adopt strong “fix-it first” rules that give priority to maintenance of our existing roads and bridges, set national goals for the condition of our transportation system, and hold state governments accountable for achieving results.

This report describes how America’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, bringing together a wide variety of statistics and sources with state-by-state analysis. It shows how special interest pressure tilts the playing field toward the construction of new and ever-wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance. U.S. transportation policy fails to properly emphasize highway and bridge maintenance, with federal transportation policies allocating vast amounts of money to the states with little direction and no accountability, and with Congressional earmarks further tilting spending away from maintenance. State transportation funding policies are often similarly short-sighted, focusing on the creation of politically popular new highways rather than maintaining existing roads and bridges.

Spending more money on transportation won’t fix America’s roads and bridges without a top-to-bottom shift in funding priorities and policies. The report’s recommendations include ways to:

· Make highway and bridge maintenance a national priority.

· Reorganize federal highway programs to focus exclusively on either maintenance or new construction.

· Require states receiving federal aid to plan for future maintenance before building new roads.

· Measure performance the right way.

· Reward states for good performance on national objectives.

· Create fix-it-first policies in the states as well

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing The Wheels

In the wake of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse there was enormous public outcry and recognition of the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Americans expected public officials to respond to the tragedy with a large scale effort to address the nearly 73,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. The findings in this report suggest that did not happen.
As Congress prepares a new multi-year, multibillion dollar transportation bill, we explored the intersection of money and politics and recent transportation funding decisions.
We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors. Then, the report
looks at the number and dollar amounts of transportation earmarks from the 2008 federal transportation appropriations bill that were funded in each state to highlight the priorities of members of Congress.

Key findings:
• In 2008 there were 704 earmarked “member projects,” in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, totaling more than a half a billion dollars in federal-aid highway projects on the annual transportation appropriations bill.
• Members of Congress earmarked funds in the 2008 appropriations bill for just 74 bridge repair projects. Only slightly more than 10 percent of the highway funds allocated for “member projects” in that year’s appropriations bill went to bridge repair or restoration.1
• At the same time, in 2008, highway interests gave over 133 million dollars to candidates for both federal and state office. The findings suggest that elected officials often overlook preventative maintenance projects, especially when new capacity projects are encouraged by campaign contributions.

Recommendations:
We recommend reform of current campaign finance policy in order to ensure that the public interest is protected and that transportation decisions are made based on smart policy rather than politics.
• Congress should move to a voluntary system of publicly financing our elections that is focused on incentivizing small dollar donors and would raise the voices of individuals, keep elections competitive, and reduce the special access and influence of large corporate donors.
• Congress should spend taxpayers' money more wisely by focusing transportation dollars on solving our nation's biggest problems. Federal transportation money should be spent only on projects that produce real results over the long haul - for example, by reducing our dependence on oil, curbing global warming pollution, alleviating congestion, improving safety, and supporting healthy, sustainable communities.

Excluding emergency relief funding that was appropriated for the 1-35W bridge after the collapse.

Private Roads, Public Costs

A growing number of states are considering arrangements in which a private operator provides an up-front payoff or builds a new road in return for decades of escalating toll receipts. The report assesses these deals and identifies a number of problems, including: 

· Private toll roads typically require greater toll hikes to generate the same upfront payment that could be generated without privation.

· Private deals lead to serious loss of public control that hinders future transportation planning and typically force public payments to compensate private companies if policies reduce toll traffic.

· Deals are often conducted with inadequate public disclosure or input.

· States generally lack the capacity to oversee or enforce private road agreements

· Problems are compounded by the fact that contracts typically extend 50-plus years in order to obtain large federal tax subsidies.

The study examines 15 completed private road projects and 79 others that are proposed or underway.

The report, which provides numerous public opinion survey results on private roads, also provides six basic principles for protecting the public from bad road privatization deals.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending?

President-elect Obama has declared that the next recovery plan must do more than just
pump money into the economy. It will also create the infrastructure that America needs
for the 21st century.

This fall, Congress asked states to submit lists of “ready-to-go” transportation
infrastructure projects that could be funded by the stimulus package. Lists from nineteen state departments of transportation (DOTs) show that the broader goals articulated by President-elect Obama will be undermined if Congress, the Administration, and the states do not establish forward-looking rules for spending stimulus funds.

Only about one-third of state DOTs have released to the public the project lists they
submitted to Congress. However, a majority of the nineteen that have come to light are
badly out of touch with the current trends, public priorities and transportation system
needs that underpin the President-elect’s declaration. Most stimulus project lists from
state DOTs prioritize new highways while paying relatively little attention to repairing
crumbling bridges and roads and even less emphasis on forward-looking transportation
options, such as public transit and intercity rail. As a result, they are contrary to
President-elect Obama’s stated intention to use smart spending to reduce America’s
dependence on oil and emissions of global warming pollution.

On average, the nineteen states would spend more than 75 percent of funds on
highways and only 17 percent on public transit or intercity rail. In fact, seven states
would allocate 1 percent or less, including four that would allocate nothing at all. This
would be a step backward from even the grossly inadequate 20 percent share received
by transit in federal transportation laws since the 1970s. It runs counter to Americans’
stated preferences, declining automobile use, and rapidly increasing transit ridership.
Of the fourteen state lists for which adequate data on types of proposed highway
spending were available, states on average would divert the majority of highway funds
for new and expanded roads rather than addressing their backlog of repair and
maintenance projects. More than a third of states would use less than a quarter of road
funds on backlogged repair or maintenance.

To prevent a misspending of recovery funds, Congress the next Administration and state
leaders should apply six principles:

(1) Any road funds should go first to maintenance and repair of structurally deficient
bridges and roads, not new highways or lanes;
(2) The combined total for public transit, intercity rail, and bicycle and pedestrian
projects should be no less than funds for highways;
(3) Public transportation funds should include support for operations so agencies
can accommodate the rising demand.
(4) Surface Transportation Program highway funds should be distributed as under
current law so that a portion of resources flow directly to metropolitan areas that
know best about which local projects are needed;
(5) All states, cities, and agencies should publicly disclose the stimulus lists they
have submitted;
(6) Direct recipients of stimulus funds should report on how money was spent and
any transportation spending that it displaced.
The economic recovery package will present an opportunity to advance widely
recognized, new transportation priorities for the 21st century. It will be up to Congress,
the Obama Administration, and the states to make sure that happens. So far, however,
too many of the states are off to a troubling start.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Squandering the Stimulus

America’s dependence on oil has become increasingly painful. Two thirds of oil in the United States goes to transportation, with the largest share consumed by cars and trucks. As the rising price of gasoline makes driving more expensive, Americans have sought alternatives by driving a little less and riding public transportation more. 

Unfortunately, government policy does too little to help Americans drive less. Energy experts generally agree that the era of cheap gas is over. Scientists likewise agree that road-based global warming pollution must be reduced. But lawmakers have not taken enough steps to help Americans consume less at the pump. On the contrary, overall government policies continue to encourage more driving at the expense of alternatives, leaving Americans poorer, stuck in worsening traffic, and emitting dangerous levels of global-warming pollution. 

Nothing illustrates how the lack of transportation options hurts consumers and our economy more than the fact that, since approval of the tax rebates in February, Americans on average have already spent the amount of their stimulus checks at the pump. The standard stimulus rebate check for American families with a joint filing couple and a child is $1,500. As of this week, the average family household will have already spent over $1,500 at the gas pump since February 13th when President Bush signed the tax rebate checks into law.  

The situation is akin to families signing over their rebate checks to big oil companies like Exxon Mobil or sending them to oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia. We can reduce our crippling dependence on oil through long-term solutions that will make it easier for Americans to drive less. Modern buses, light rail, commuter rail and other forms of transit more efficiently move passengers with less fuel. 

Transit also reduces traffic congestion and encourages more compact development patterns which, in turn, further reduce the amount Americans must drive. Existing public transportation already reduces America’s oil dependence. Analysis by Georgia PIRG shows that net oil savings from public transportation totaled 3.4 billion gallons in 2006, the last year for which full data on transit agency and ridership is currently available. These oil savings are enough to fuel 5.8 million cars for an entire year and to save about $13.6 billion in gasoline at today’s prices. 

In metro Atlanta, public transit saved 88 million gallons, the equivalent of $359.2 million at today’s gas prices. Comparing spending on transportation in neighborhoods with different access to rail and bus routes underscores the gas-saving benefits of public transit, according to newly released analysis by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) as part of a Brookings Institution project. Based on analysis of 2000 Census data in 52 metro areas, neighborhoods with the best access to transit routes spent an average of $728 monthly on all transportation costs, including gas, insurance, upkeep, and transit fares. Households in communities with the least access to transit, by contrast, spent an average of $925 per month.  Public transit solutions can do far more. 

At present, underfunded transit agencies are struggling to keep up with the record volume of riders. Despite the success of new rail lines and bus routes around the country, a long line of new transit projects remains stuck on the drawing board due to lack of funding. Federal, state, and local governments must invest in solutions to oil dependence through more and better public transportation. 

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