Creating a Transportation System for the 21st Century

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Our nation’s transportation policy is in desperate need of reform. Significant portions of America’s roads, bridges, and transit systems are in a state of disrepair. Our auto-dependent transportation sector consumes two-thirds of the 20 million barrels of oil used each day in the United States and emits roughly one-third of the nation’s greenhouse emissions.

The Highway Trust Fund, which funds our transportation system, is facing chronic shortfalls. The current transportation authorization, SAFETEA-LU, expired on September 30, 2009. It is time to develop a new transportation policy that will foster and invest in a 21st-century transportation system. Representative James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has drafted the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 bill that is a strong start to creating that system. Our nation’s transportation system is at a crossroads – we can continue to fuel our addiction to oil by haphazardly building new roads, or we can achieve transportation, climate, and public health objectives by planning strategically and prioritizing investment in low- and no-carbon, oil-saving transportation choices. To create a transportation system for the 21st century that reduces our dependence on oil, curbs global warming, and creates transportation choices, the next transportation authorization must:

Create national transportation goals, performance targets, and accountability. To create a truly integrated, intermodal, national transportation system for the 21st century, the bill should outline a set of national objectives and goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving oil. Further, it should create a plan for the programs within the bill to work together towards achieving those goals. The national transportation objectives detailed in HR 2724 provide a strong foundation for an integrated, intermodal transportation system. We urge representatives to cosponsor HR 2724, which sets goals for a cleaner, more efficient national transportation system.

Maintain or expand the Critical Asset Investment Program. The Critical Asset Investment Program included in Chairman Oberstar’s bill creates substantial, dedicated funding for maintaining our roads and bridges. Repairing existing infrastructure before building new roads is desperately needed – according to the Federal Highway Administration, more than one-quarter of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, roughly 25% of the nation’s bus and rail infrastructure is in marginal or poor condition, and more than 50% of the miles driven on the federal highway system are on roads that are in less than good condition.

Strengthen the Metropolitan Mobility and Access Program. The Metropolitan Mobility and Access Program in Chairman Oberstar’s bill begins to address the serious problem of congestion and lack of transportation alternatives in our cities by supplying increased funding to metropolitan planning agencies. Reducing congestion is critical; however, the program should provide similar emphasis on managing travel demand through transit-oriented development and better planning for linking where people live, work, and play.

For more information, contact Chapter Conservation Chair and Transportation Chair Ken Hughes (505/474-0550, b1family@comcast.net). —Ken Hughes