I'm the editor of the Progressive Congress News Transit & Urban Development feed. This is the second in a weekly series on roads, rails, and the cities they connect.
Driving out of DC into Maryland, you'll find one in three roads in poor condition. About one in five bridges is "functionally obsolete." Maryland is Exhibit A for why the American Society of Civil Engineers gives American roads a D minus. But never mind the 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and 70,000 structurally deficient bridges -- the House Republican majority is moving full speed ahead to slash the budget for the US Department of Transportation and turn the remainder into a highway slush fund.
Beginning with $9 billion in proposed cuts under H.R.1, the Republican majority has doubled-down with Paul Ryan's proposal to cut $1.5 billion in high speed rail corridors and cut the federal budget for public transit nearly in half. Their budget will slow or stop repair of unsafe bridges, subway and rail safety upgrades, a broad range of new transit projects, unsafe intersection improvements, small ports modernization, and clean water controls.
The safety case cannot be overstated. Contrary to the NTSB's urgent calls for safety improvements to the Washington Metro, for example, Republicans would completely eliminate funding to improve signaling. This is all on top of America's long-running infrastructure deficit, currently running at about $200 billion. If we wanted to bring our transit systems up to par, it would cost more than $77 billion (.PDF). That's not the price tag for world-class, or even "good" -- just "fair."
America already wastes some $67 billion a year (.PDF) on the wrong transportation priorities. Untold tens of billions more are wasted on inefficiency: vehicles stuck in traffic, accidents on unsafe highways, and so on. Transportation is an enormous expense for American families. As USDOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari recently said, "if you make between $20,000 and $50,000 a year, odds are that transportation is your number one household expense, higher than housing." He wasn't exaggerating: fueling up costs as much as health care.
Nor is it correct to say that prosperity will follow these cuts. Every dollar invested in public transit returns at least four dollars in revenue. Infrastructure spending is a huge jobs machine: Democratic staffers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee estimated H.R.1's $9 billion in cuts to the USDOT would kill 284,000 jobs across all fifty states (.PDF).
But the Republican Party isn't merely interested in tea party-pleasing reductions to our safety and efficiency. Back in charge, the very first point of order for House Republicans was to overturn a part of the 1998 surface transportation bill called TEA-21 which assured all highway user fees collected by the federal government were invested in surface transportation improvements -- a roads and rails "lock box," if you will. This naked chicanery was enough to make West Virginia Blue Dog Nick Rahall say,
As their very first act in the Majority, I find it incredible that Republicans would want to pursue a job-killing proposal like this. One that not only threatens jobs but that could also lead to dramatic reductions in spending for very necessary and worthy highway projects throughout the Nation.
In brief, this move allows the GOP to use Highway trust Fund monies to hide the size of the deficit. By putting highway funding back in the appropriations process instead of a transportation bill, House Republicans transform America's road system into a pure pork product that fattens their deficit reduction numbers at an enormous cost to states and cities. It will be nearly impossible for them to make long-term plans, and the American worker -- whether driving or riding -- will be the big loser in that picture.
Remember the bridge to nowhere? Assuming it still stands, there may or may not be a highway to get you there. That decision won't be made on the relative merit of your planning, either, but the loving support you give your Republican representatives. We have been here before, haven't we?