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House principles could finally connect transportation spending to tangible outcomes

Transportation for America and the National Complete Streets Coalition released this statement regarding the principles for infrastructure released today by the House majority of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee:

The new transportation policy framework released today by the House majority and Chairman Peter DeFazio could finally represent a long-awaited step toward aligning the billions we spend on transportation with the outcomes people care about: fixing crumbling infrastructure, prioritizing saving people’s lives on our roadways, and connecting people to jobs and daily necessities. For the last 40 years, lawmakers have largely focused on pouring more money into a broken federal program that fails to hold states accountable for maintaining our infrastructure, produces more congestion, makes safety secondary, and fails to affordably and efficiently connect us to the things we need. It’s high time to stop spending billions on a broken system, and these principles would be a transformative guide as Congress crafts a transportation law to serve the country’s greatest needs.

These structural changes to core formula programs are the highest priority, particularly:

1. Fix it first. For decades, presidents, governors, and members of Congress have decried our crumbling infrastructure with increasingly dire warnings. However, funding has gone to fund expansions that we can’t pay for rather than focusing on repair needs. Taking a fix it first approach will deliver on the age-old promise to fix what is crumbling.

2. Safety over speed through Complete Streets. Since the beginning of the highway program, the priority has been to move vehicles quickly, creating unnecessary danger on roads in cities and towns, especially for those outside of a vehicle. Implementing Complete Streets policies is an essential tool in prioritizing the safe movement of all road users, and stemming the current increase in non-motorized deaths. A forthcoming bill that focuses on Complete Streets and other safety improvements within the transportation formula funds would be a huge step in the right direction.

3. Access to jobs and services. The point of transportation is to get people where they need to go. Since the dawn of the modern highway era, we have used vehicle speed as a poor proxy for access to jobs and important services like healthcare, education, public services, and grocery stores. The way we build roads and design communities to achieve high vehicle speed often requires longer trips and makes shorter walking or bicycling trips unsafe, unpleasant, or impossible. Having transportation agencies consider how well the system connects people to the things they need whether they travel by car, transit, bike or foot would be a game changer.

We are also happy to see a focus on retrofitting vulnerable infrastructure to prepare for inevitable natural disasters, funding public transportation and getting transit projects done more quickly, and putting real funding into the country’s passenger rail network. These changes, along with proposals to address safety and access for all users, would have a very positive impact on providing economic opportunity to more people and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

As the proposal moves from an outline to full legislative draft, we will watch with interest to see how the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chooses to craft the program to fund projects of regional and national significance to support community investments. We are also interested to learn whether the committee believes a 80/20 split between highways and transit is still warranted considering that nearly a third of the program is paid for with general funds instead of user fees.

As long-time advocates for structural reform to the transportation program, we’re cautiously optimistic that the House majority can translate this framework into policies that are tied to clear outcomes and will leave the status quo behind.