A transport law for the 2050s, not the 1950s

Our transportation system is huge. Over 4 million miles of road, 140,000 miles of freight rail, 21,400 miles of intercity passenger rail, and over 180,000 miles of public transportation such as bus lines and commuter rail lines. All of this is managed by groups of people organized into state transportation departments, 420 metropolitan planning organizations, and around 4,000 mass transit agencies.

The federal role in all of this? Huge sections of the U.S. code, particularly Titles 23 (highways) and 49 (public transportation and railroad), contain authority for federal spending, providing about a fifth of the resources needed to build and maintain the system. And national legislation, administrative policy and investments influence the direction and shape of this huge system based on national priorities and goals. The law must be reauthorized regularly, usually every 3 to 5 years, by Congress.

The latest installment, a new $ 547 billion INVEST in America Act that is marked in the House

Transport and Infrastructure Committee this week is a new game-changing benchmark for this law. This is an important and visionary down payment on the US presidential plan for jobs, and should be passed in its entirety.

The INVEST law is also a strategic and prospective restructuring of the entire program. Passage of this bill would prepare and re-equip our transportation system for the challenges we face by 2050 – and beyond. In terms of its scope and historical significance, it is comparable to the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, which shaped the course of our country’s highway system.

How does the bill get there? First, lawmakers are proposing to measure how the entire transportation system is meeting pressing goals, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to ensure that billions of dollars in federal investment are used to support these goals. The INVEST law also tackles climate change by integrating climate and resilience into transport planning and project selection processes, making changes, including:

  • Add ‘tackling climate change’ and increasing resilience to national goals for highways and national policies for public transport and intercity railways (including the requirement that Amtrak move to 100% solar power) and wind power by 2030);
  • Adding greenhouse gas reductions and climate resilience to metropolitan roads and transit planning
  • Demand a national measure of “greenhouse gas emissions per capita on public roads” with targets that cannot be regressive;
  • A requirement that projects of national or regional importance should be selected for funding partly on the basis of their resilience and their greenhouse gas reduction potential;
  • Adding the review of techniques and tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as one of the goals of many federally funded analysis and research programs;
  • The addition of “climate change mitigation” among the project selection criteria for new inter-city rail subsidies and funding for a new assessment of the climate change vulnerability of the rail network.

This is a monumental achievement on the part of the members and staff of the House transportation and infrastructure committee. While it often seems that people see the federal transportation program as just a bunch of money distributed to states and metropolitan areas, there is – or should be – a national strategy with aligned goals for recipients of the tax. federal taxpayer money. And the good news is that this bill also focuses on other pressing goals besides tackling climate change, such as reconnecting communities divided by highways and bridges through a new grant program from $ 3 billion, “fix first” by including specific requirements that our $ 1,000 billion deferred maintenance and repair backlog be addressed before building new highways, providing better access to communities low-income groups in urban and rural America, to support housing affordability and to develop a 21sttransport workforce of the century and lots of good jobs (including disadvantaged companies).

In addition to the new policy guiding all federal transportation investments in states and metropolitan areas, the bill proposes new grant programs or competitive funding formulas to fuel movements in these new directions. Overall, the bill commits proportionately more investment in public transportation at $ 109 billion – more than any previous transportation bill, ever – and a historic $ 95 billion for intercity rail. . It also includes a set of separate grant programs to drive innovation and performance across the transportation system:

  • A major carbon pollution reduction program with incentive funding for the best performing states and a deterrent effect for the less performing, as well as the possibility of investing up to 10% in transit operations;
  • New programs to increase access to high-quality public transportation, including a one-year (2022) billion dollar program to tackle “transit deserts” by increasing service to buses to underserved communities, including operating assistance, and an expanded program to support transportation planning-oriented development, including affordable housing, administered by a new transit communities office;
  • A set of new community-driven programs, including a $ 2.4 billion program to support investments in local infrastructure that support national goals (including greenhouse gas reduction); and a billion dollar grant program specifically to fund local projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • An increased focus on the safety of all road users, including a $ 1 billion grant program to connect active transportation networks and a $ 400 million wildlife crossing program.

Funding is included to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, including a $ 4 billion clean corridors program to provide charging infrastructure and a significant increase in funding for zero-emission transit buses.

The bill is also replete with other changes that align it with current national, state and metropolitan goals, such as expanding funding eligibility for existing programs and granting preferential federal shares of funding to projects based. of their performance against important goals. Importantly, it also avoids unnecessary cancellations of environmental reviews and public comments like the 60-plus that Congress has included in the last three surface transport reauthorizations.

To be clear, there is still room for improvement, for example by further increasing investment in public transport, including providing $ 20 billion per year in operating support, which, according to a recent analysis, would bring huge benefits to cyclists nationwide. Keep an eye out for changes that would provide sufficient operating support, especially the “Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act” co-sponsored by a growing list of representatives including Hank Johnson (GA-4), Adriano Espiallat (NY-13), Jared Huffman (CA-2), Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) and Jan Schakowsky (IL-9).

Overall, the INVEST law is a historic and visionary proposal. It breathes new life into the transportation debate and offers a real down payment on the US Presidential Jobs Plan. Now is the time to move forward with this exciting bill.

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