Monday, December 8, 2008

Where Should Washington Spend Our Stimulus Money?

President-elect Obama's economic stimulus proposal announced over the weekend has received wide spread approval for its strategy of investing in rebuilding America's infrastructure. The big question to be answered is how that infrastructure spending pie would be divided among the various transportation modes.

New evidence reported today suggests a rationale for directing a larger share of those funding in public transportation. Public transit ridership rose by 6.5 percent during the third quarter of the year, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). That's across all modes - bus, light rail, subway, commuter rail - and came despite a drop in gasoline prices and increased unemployment.

Meanwhile, Americans drove 4.4 percent less, or almost 11 billion fewer miles, in September versus September 2007, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That was the 11th straight month of declining driving. Also

In the November elections, voters passed 25 of 33 ballot initiatives to increase local and state taxes for public transportation

These are trends that policymakers in Washington need to heed as they make decisions on infrastructure spending. Clearly Americans are moving to public transit in growing numbers, so the money should follow where the market is heading, not where it has been.

Plus, well planned public transit investments can be more cost-effective, they reduce reliance on imported oil and they have a smaller carbon footprint, which means they can retard the consequences of climate change.

And, as transit expands mobility increases. If a city has a single linear route, a traveler can use it only to get from point A to point B. When a second route running in a perpendicular direction is added, the travel now has three destinations he or she can reach.

Policymakers need to project future travel needs according to current trends, which are accelerating. Then they need to invest so that as demand grows, the capacity will be there.
"Transit officials have identified 736 ready-to-go projects nationwide, valued at $12.2 billion, that would create more than 40,000 jobs if federal money is made available. An additional $20 billion in improvement work could be ready in two years."
There will always be need for highways, but as transit mobility increases, more people are opting for the latter.

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