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Monday, December 15, 2008

A good outline for that letter you're going to send to Congress

via Streetsblog:

Here's a template op-ed on the Transportation for America coalition's concerns about the shaping of the stimulus bill. This is a VERY critical moment in the debate. We think Congress should:

Conduct the discussions about what gets funded in the open: All states should make public what they are proposing. They should get no blank checks, but should be accountable toward national priorities. Those national priorities should include longterm benefits to the economy, safety, reduced oil dependence and carbon emissions. We should fix what we have before we build new highways.

Obama, Congress Must Back Up Rhetoric on Recovery

Last week President-elect Barack Obama made a promise to the American people and issued a charge to his incoming Administration and the next Congress:

"We won't just throw money at the problem. We'll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve – by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world." Dec. 6 Radio Address

As to how to achieve this progress, the President-elect proposed to “create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”

While the new President is clearly eager to chart a bold and new course to rebuild our economy from day one — and the new Democratic-controlled Congress should be poised to follow his lead — rhetoric alone will not be enough.

Members of Congress are already hard at work writing the stimulus package, reviewing transportation projects and infrastructure requests from states. Disturbingly, though, this is being done behind closed doors, and only a handful of states have made their wish lists public. Those that have are less than encouraging, focusing overwhelmingly on repaving, or worse, expanding highways in an era when people are driving less and transit is seeing surging demand.

Missouri DOT’s wish list, one of the few made public, includes an eye-popping $800 million worth of projects, 95 percent highway projects. This has next to nothing for St. Louis or Kansas City, population centers that surely need more than just highways. Arizona DOT’s list isn’t much better, with less than ten percent of money going to public transportation.

Congress is proposing to distribute stimulus money for infrastructure projects without requiring the usual local match, meaning that federal taxpayers will pick up the full tab. Given that reality, Congress must require transportation agencies to select projects that meet national goals for the future, rather than merely build yesterday’s highway projects.

If American tax dollars are spent the right way, we should get a three-for-one-return on our investment: a revitalized economy well positioned for long-term prosperity; less dependence on oil; and a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

This is possible if the economic stimulus package the President-elect is expected to sign on day one includes a $100 billion investment to:

· Repair and preserve highways, bridges and existing public transportation service, and support the green jobs associated with this work;

· Build modern rail and rapid bus lines and upgrade all forms of service in cities large and small;

· Develop high-speed and other forms of inter-city rail; and

· Make streets safe for walking and biking.

Such investment will not only move America closer to fulfilling Obama’s vision for a bold, green recovery that will create jobs, reduce our oil consumption, and help America compete and thrive. It also will provide a down payment on a 21st Century transportation mission to build the second half of America’s transportation network, completing the system that began with the national highway system.

While repairing existing roads and bridges is a necessary expenditure, given that the national highway system has been built, federal resources and attention must go toward supporting the cleanest forms of transportation — public transit, high speed rail, walking and biking. The Transportation for America Campaign has identified more than 65 such ready-to-go projects within the next year, requiring over $17B in funding to get going.

Given that the stimulus is meant to fund only ready-to-go projects, states, transit agencies and metropolitan areas should quickly turn around a specific list of which projects will be funded, in an accessible and transparent manner. Tracking systems should also be instituted to provide the public with indicators on the number of jobs created, cost-effectiveness, carbon emissions, fuel use and demand forecasting.

U.S. Senator Harry Reid said earlier this month that the stimulus can allow us to “abandon the baby steps and embrace some great leaps forward” on energy, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added that the recovery is “about innovation and about the future, about building the jobs of the 21st century.”

That change is possible, but only if we put action behind rhetoric. And if we fail, Americans will not see the change the next Congress and Administration were elected on; rather, they will see more of the same.

David Goldberg
Communications Director
Transportation for America
office/mobile (202) 412-7930

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