See How Your State Is Putting Transportation Dollars to Work

Last month Congress avoided "transpoggedon" -- the expiration of the federal transportation program -- by finally enacting new authorizing legislation. That's good news for the construction industry and communities around the country facing a fiscal crunch when it comes to fixing roads and bridges, as well as funding much-needed public transportation.

But despite this rare act of legislative bipartisanship, the new federal surface transportation law is an unfortunate "throwback" that falls far short of putting America on the path to a true 21st century transportation system. Particularly egregious is the fact that the new law reduces public oversight of highway projects and cuts funding for transportation choices that would have reduced traffic while lessening our dependence on oil.

What is meant by more transportation choices? Simply put, it means that study after study shows most people are tired of being stuck in traffic and want alternatives to driving to get where they need to go. They understand that simply building new roads won't solve congestion and therefore they support investing in other commuting options like public transporation -- most notably, buses and trains.

This begs the question: How are states spending transportation construction dollars? Are states prioritizing creating new roads or maintaining their existing roadway network? Are states developing bicycle and pedestrian projects or building new transit lines? How do states’ investments in transportation projects compare to each other?

In many states, basic answers to these questions are surprisingly hard to find. Which is why the Tri-State Transportation Campaign should be applauded for helping everyone understand funding priorities for all 50 states through its new analysis: Tracking State Transportation Dollars.

[UPDATE: Smart Growth America cautions that this analysis show what states are planning to spend, not what will actually be spent. “That these state plans emphasize road and bridge repair, safety measures and public transit is refreshing, but we’ll have to wait to see if these priorities are maintained,” said SGA President and CEO Geoffrey Anderson.]

Just check out to see how each state allocates its transportation dollars. The website categorizes spending under nine categories: new road capacity, bridge capacity expansion, road maintenance/minor widening, bridge maintenance/replacement, road or bridge project with bicycle/pedestrian components, bicycle/pedestrian, safety, transit and, for projects not falling into these categories, other. By categorizing the projects in each statewide transportation improvement program, TSTC was able to determine each state’s priorities. TSTC’s analysis also allows a comparison across the states as well as insight into transportation investment on a national level.

Why is this information so crucial? As the site explains:

Billions of taxpayers dollars are spent every year on transportation in the United States. The national government provides significant resources for transportation projects, but the federalist system gives substantial decision making power about road, bridge, transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects to state departments of transportation, governors, and state legislatures. Collectively, these decisions impact our country’s climate, our economy, what our neighborhoods look like, and what kind of world we are leaving for our children.

Making smart transportation choices that embrace values such as accessibility, equity and environmental sustainability will be even more important going forward. The economic recession has ravaged government, forcing policy makers at all levels to do more with less. The “baby boomer” population is aging, and more and more people, young and old, are choosing to live in cities. Energy prices are increasing and concerns over global warming and greenhouses gas emissions remain.

By showing every state’s planned near-term transportation investments, the Tracking State Transportation Dollars project attempts to bring to light transportation investment choices in each state. We hope this project adds to the conversation in each state, and allows the public to better engage in transportation debates and decision making going forward.

The information on the site is well-organized and it's so easy to navigate. As an example, I live in Maryland. A quick click on the site reveals that my state has slated the largest chunck (40%) of its planned spending on maintenance/minor widening projects. Spending on other projects is as follows:

  • transit projects (28%)
  • new road capacity (23%)
  • bridge maintenance/replacement (4%)
  • other (3%)
  • bicycle/pedestrian (1%)
  • bridge capacity (less than 1%)
  • road/bridge projects with bicycle/pedestrian components, such as adding sidewalks when reconstructing a roadway (less than 1%)

Blogging these numbers doesn't do the website justice. There you can find the information displayed in easy-to-decipher charts and graphs, along with an even deeper level of description beyond the number crunching analysis. Trust me, if you're a transportation geek like me you'll find the interactive website incredibly useful and addictive. Check it out:

Without a doubt, this analysis is a great policy tool for taxpayers and legislators interested in understanding how federal transportation dollars are being spent throughout the states. That can only help the public, elected officials, and the federal government understand the kinds of transportation investments each state is making with its federal dollars. Moreover, the increased transparency can help citizens watchdog how transportation dollars are allocated -- to best suit their needs -- while helping state transportation agencies gain public support for their projects.