A Recovery for Transportation Investment?

As I’ve written about on these pages and in the Huffington Post, the transportation provisions in the recovery bill need to tilt more towards saving oil and cutting global warming pollution, meaning public transportation and rail. I’m not the only one who believes investments should have multiple payoffs: In a recent national poll, the vast majority (80%) of respondents said stimulus funds should not only create jobs, but also help the goals of reducing oil dependency, improving the environment, and increasing transportation options. This is especially important as transit and intercity rail systems across the country struggle to meet maintenance, repair and capital needs.

Fortunately we are working with the Transportation for America coalition to build support for an amendment offered by U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Steve Ellison (D-MN) and Michael McMahon (D-NY) to increase investments in public transportation back up to the level proposed by Transportation Committee Chairman Oberstar a month ago.

This amendment would provide $1.5 billion in funding for transit capital improvement program and $1.5 billion for the New Starts program (aimed at getting new rail lines built), adding $3 billion of investment into the package. This money would be put to good use since U.S. DOT finds that $12 billion is needed every year to maintain and improve transit, and Transportation For America has identified more than $5 billion in new transit extension  and rail projects that could be ready to go in 120 days, generating more than 178,000 new, good jobs.

I talked about the advantages of public transportation quite a bit in my testimony at a hearing on energy reduction and sustainability held yesterday in the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Among other things, I noted “…a wild imbalance in mode share for public transportation, especially compared to other OECD countries. According to a 2001 study, for every transit trip there are 44.5 auto trips. By contrast in Canada, Great Britain, and Germany the ratio is a much less lopsided 7.6, 4.6 and 3.1 respectively.” And that:

"The evidence is clear: Transportation alternatives save oil. A recent study found that it causes direct savings of 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline annually, and a followup analysis found that when coupled with indirect benefits (fewer and shorter trips due to more efficient land use and more walking and biking) the total savings jumps to 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year.Another analysis found that biking and walking avoids 70-200 billion miles of driving annually, saving billions of gallons of fuel and cutting tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution."

The vote on this takes place TODAY. I urge the House to adopt the amendment, thereby improving a good bill in so that it creates more jobs, saves more oil, and cuts more global warming pollution.