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John Petro

More Shovel-Ready Transit Projects Than Meets the Eye?

Shovel ready.jpg

In the proposed Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $40 billion of the $825 billion recovery package is in the form of transportation investments. Of the $40 billion, $30 billion is for highway “construction” and $10.1 billion is set aside for transit and rail.

Those who have advocated for infrastructure investments as economic stimulus are getting used to being disappointed. First, as Amy points out, the amount of the stimulus package going towards tax cuts – a less effective form of stimulus – is around one-third of the total package. Nearly every rational economist agrees that spending on infrastructure investments are a better form of stimulus than tax cuts. We're told that not enough infrastructure projects are “shovel-ready”, and therefore an increasing amount of the stimulus has been shifted over towards cutting taxes.

But if there aren’t enough shovel-ready projects, why does the draft legislation include less money for transit projects than what was proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee? A proposal submitted by the committee on December 12 included $12 billion for transit and $5 billion for rail projects. Now the House legislation has slashed transit investments by one-fourth while keeping the proposed level of highway construction spending.

Not only is the amount of money for transit investments included in the draft legislation less than what was recommended, it’s likely that the proposal made by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee didn’t match the actual need for transit spending. A survey by the American Public Transportation Association identified 736 ready-to-go transportation projects at a total cost of $12.2 billion. Additionally, there are more than $4 billion in projects that the FTA has committed to fund that are not currently being met.

And what about operating expenses? Transit agencies across the country are facing budget deficits that will likely result in increased fares, service cuts, or both. The proposals by the Committee and the draft legislation do not even consider operating expenses as a part of the recovery package. However, by assisting transit agencies with operating expenses cites across the country will be able to save the jobs that are at risk of being slashed. Now that transit agencies are experiencing record levels of ridership, this is a time in which transit agencies should be hiring more staff, along with increasing service.

The list could go on. What about an accelerated schedule for the Second Avenue Subway, L.A’s Subway to the Sea, or Charlotte’s ambitious rapid-transit system expansion?

We need to ensure that our infrastructure spending is in line with our national priorities:

1) We need to create jobs. One estimate is that public transit spending creates 19 percent more jobs than spending on new road construction. In addition, mass transit systems are job generators in themselves. Just look at the development that follows any new rapid transit line, such as Charlotte’s Blue Line.
2) We need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Transit systems not only reduce the number of commuter car trips, but when dense development springs up around transit stops, also reduces the number of secondary trips that are made (i.e. to the supermarket, etc.).
3) We need to cut our emissions of greenhouse gasses. A no-brainer. A person taking transit to work has a smaller carbon footprint than someone driving alone.
4) We need to remain competitive in the 21st century. We can’t build enough roads to eliminate congestion in our cities. We can’t build enough runways to relieve our air transport system. Japan, Europe, and China are investing heavily in transit and inter-city rail. If we don’t do the same, our economy will be left behind, sitting in traffic.

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Posted at 2:35 PM, Jan 19, 2009 in Transporation | Urban Affairs
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