Senate Reauthorization Proposal

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have reached an agreement on a broad outline for surface transportation reauthorization. This agreement includes:

  • Fund programs at current levels to maintain and modernize our critical transportation infrastructure;
  • Eliminate earmarks;
  • Consolidate numerous programs to focus resources on key national goals and reduce duplicative and wasteful programs;
  • Consolidate numerous programs into a more focused freight program that will improve the movement of goods;
  • Create a new section called America Fast Forward, which strengthens the TIFIA program to stretch federal dollars further than they have been stretched before; and
  • Expedite project delivery without sacrificing the environment or the rights of people to be heard.

On one hand, this is amazingly unambitious for the Democrats, who don’t seem to be proposing any huge increases in funding for transit or high-speed rail. On the other hand, it is surprising that Republicans like Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma are agreeing to the two new programs, for freight and America Fast Forward.

Perhaps the biggest problem, America Fast Forward is a proposal by the city of Los Angeles for low-interest, long-term federal loans allowing cities to build more rail transit. The Antiplanner doesn’t think the funding mechanism for the Interstate Highway System was ideal, but one of its virtues was that it was a pay-as-you-go system, so it was only built as the money came in. This ensured that states didn’t build a lot that wasn’t needed because unnecessary roads wouldn’t have brought in much money. While L.A. interstates are some of the most heavily used highways in the world, Los Angeles officials never explain just why we need to hasten the construction of trains that will run empty most of the day.

The freight program is worrisome because there really isn’t any need for it. As Don Phillips of Trains magazine recently wrote (not available on line), America’s “freight railroading is now the most profitable, best managed, best organized, most ‘green,’ and almost the best maintained and best planned transportation system in the world.” It is this efficient, says Phillips, because unlike almost every other form of transportation, freight railroads do not depend on government for their right of way or the infrastructure they use. This is pretty good from someone who, a few years ago, was extolling the imaginary virtues of European central planning.

One reason some people want to create a separate freight bureau in the Department of Transportation is that they want to demonize the personal mobility provided by the automobile without appearing to threaten the goods mobility provided by trucks. They think they can focus highway investments on ports and other areas primarily used by trucks even as they let the roads used primarily by cars creep ever closer to gridlock. Of course, the truth is there are very few places trucks go that aren’t also heavily used by cars, but they hope truckers won’t notice that.

Republicans get sucked into this because they don’t want to appear to be against truckers. Mobility supporters can hope that Republicans in the House will take a more principled stand in favor of smaller government.

Update: Some idea of the response from House Republicans might be gained from yesterday’s proposal to privatize Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in the hope that private investors would finance upgrades to speed up trains. Democrats immediately panned the proposal, probably because they know no private investors will fund such a money-losing proposition. (Railfares in the Northeast Corridor covered operating costs in 2010, but are not likely to ever cover capital costs.) Rail fans feel threatened by the proposal because they know that, if the Northeast Corridor is ever spun off as a private operation, support for Amtrak subsidies in the rest of the nation will dwindle.

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6 thoughts on “Senate Reauthorization Proposal

  1. metrosucks

    One reason some people want to create a separate freight bureau in the Department of Transportation is that they want to demonize the personal mobility provided by the automobile without appearing to threaten the goods mobility provided by trucks.

    Absolutely, in most cases. However, some areas, namely Portland, OR, are so hostile to rubber wheels of any kind that officials have openly come out and said that they “hate freight”. Naturally, they actually said that Portland residents were the ones who felt that way:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/04/freighted_with_skepticism_in_t.html

    Remember people, these loony-bin planner types can be found in local governments everywhere, waging their stupid, clueless war on mobility and the automobile.

  2. LazyReader

    Portlanders hate freight????? I suppose their better off having all their goods brought by those dirty trucks.

    “Fund programs at current levels to maintain and modernize our critical transportation infrastructure” In Portland they spent billions building unnecessary light rail infrastructure by diverting funds from their bus service (back when they only operated buses), and inevitably having to force the taxpayer with future debts.

    The government’s projection of handouts is essentially welfare for millionaires; the people that lobby and firms that build these rail transit systems, their the ones actually making money. Then 30 years later, the cities beg for more money to overhaul the system. And the supporters of transit like that.

    “reduce duplicative and wasteful programs”…………….

    http://blog.thenewstribune.com/letters/2011/05/20/rail-wasted-money/

    There are really only a few given hours a day when large numbers of people need to be moved, and buses can do a lot of that heavy lifting. Levels of traffic congestion in and around highways will get much worse as financial resources are diverted for rail transit.

  3. LazyReader

    “One reason some people want to create a separate freight bureau in the Department of Transportation is that they want to demonize the personal mobility provided by the automobile without appearing to threaten the goods mobility provided by trucks”.

    Perhaps. Another reason……….beauracracy….nothing like another organization with it’s own logo, it’s own workforce and it’s own appropriated budget. Why do we even have a Department of Commerce. The mission of the department is to “promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth. The Department of Labor’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights”. It’s responsible for occupational safety, wage and hour standards, unemployment insurance benefits, re-employment services, and some economic statistics. Why do we need two agencies to do what should be interlinked…..Economic growth, markets and personnel.

    President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to consider the idea of reuniting Commerce and Labor. Arguing the two departments had similar goals and that they would have more efficient channels of communication in a single department. However, Congress never acted on it. Shouldn’t Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security be merged. Why not merge Education with HHS the way it used to be and add Agriculture, afterall food is a human service.

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