Congress Can Save $30 Billion More from the THUD Bill

At $54 billion, the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill contains a lot of excessive spending.  Of course, while the Senate bill is far more egregious than the House bill ($44.1 billion) and blows through sequestration spending caps, both bills could save more.

The folks in Congress should be aware that our nation is nearly $17 trillion in debt.  The Heritage Foundation’s Emily Goff identified several ways in which Congress could substantially cut wasteful spending in this appropriations bill.

A number of programs should be terminated or eliminated altogether; others should be privatized; still others should have their funding reduced.  Below are Heritage’s suggestions:

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Remember Federalism? 20 States Are Taking the Lead on Transportation Infrastructure

Last year, 30 Republican Senators voted to turn back control of transportation spending to the states.  Senators who opposed the plan insisted that when it comes to building roads, the States need leadership from Washington.  Only in Washington is “leadership from Washington” considered a good thing. Right now, at least 20 states are taking the lead on transportation infrastructure.

Over the past several months, Innovation Briefs has highlighted a list of “Can-Do” states.  In April, they identified 14 states that are raising additional funds for transportation.  Policy aside (conservatives don’t like tax hikes at the state or federal level), these states are taking steps they believe will improve their transportation programs.  Since then, the list has grown to 20 states.  Innovation Briefs highlights some lawmakers’ “opportunistic calls for more federal infrastructure spending.”

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Sequester Impact: Driving and Talking

Earlier this week, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) made headlines as the man “who destroyed Obama’s sequester scare story.”  The gist of the story was that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not back up the Obama administration’s claims children would lose access to vaccinations due to the sequester (watch the take down here). Today, to prove their relevance, the CDC released a blockbuster new study: More US than European drivers are on the phone.

The Associated Press summarizes:

In a survey, nearly 69 percent of U.S. drivers said they had talked on a cellphone while driving within the previous 30 days. The share of European drivers who said they chatted on their phones ranged from 21 percent in the United Kingdom to 59 percent in Portugal. 

A larger share of U.S. drivers also reported reading or sending text or email messages while driving than drivers in six of the European countries. Only Portugal’s drivers matched those in the U.S. for this distracting habit – 31 percent in both countries. Spain had the smallest share of drivers who said they texted or emailed, 15 percent. 

The study was based on online surveys of drivers ages 18 to 64 in the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom in 2011.

The CDC explains further:

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Let Locals Take Transportation Lead

What is the Federal role in building and maintaining America’s infrastructure?  Today, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing intended to answer that question.  Although the witnesses possess a great deal of knowledge, they also possess an obvious predisposition to favor federal action.

Mayors and governors from both parties have been outspoken in their desire for more local control of transportation dollars and the associated cost of federal intervention.  Theirs is an important voice in this debate, and one that will be sorely missed at today’s hearing.

Over the past year, governors like Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and mayors like Atlanta’s Kasim Reed have sought innovative approaches to their local transportation problems.  The plans differed, as did the needs that led to the plans.

If present, local leaders could explain the constraints placed upon them by costly and time-consuming federal mandates, such as Davis-Bacon, the National Environmental Policy Act, small business and minority contracting requirements, etc.  They could explain how, outside the federal one-size-fits-all program, they could tailor their transportation spending and investment to their particular needs.

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Got Traffic? Washington’s Not the Answer

Heritage Action has been a frequent critic of Washington’s all-too-frequent desire to centralize control, especially when it comes to transportation.  Rather than pursuing more funding gimmicks, such as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, Heritage explains Congress should “‘turn back’ the federal highway program to the states, where it once belonged.”

Over at National Journal, transportation correspondent Fawn Johnson seems to embrace that argument:

The federal government has failed miserably at keeping a steady stream of reliable funding headed to the states for roads. It’s time for Washington to get out of the game. In the past year, lawmakers couldn’t even put together a whole highway bill, barely cobbling together enough money to cover two years when past measures have spanned five to six years.  

 

Some options to reduce traffic are costly, but others can be implemented with a can of paint. New York City has seen its automobile traffic thin with an increased emphasis on pedestrian and bike paths. Car-culture areas such as Los Angeles and Northern Virginia are experimenting with variable-priced tolls that guarantee drivers a certain speed. The price goes up when congestion gets worse. 

The common thread is that decisions are made on a local level. In Denver, city planners went to neighborhood representatives to divvy up their streets into parking areas, bike lanes, mixed-use lanes, and green medians. Residents and business owners did the prioritizing. City officials simply followed their directions. “Local government has to make the choices,” says Gideon Berger, an urban planner who headed the Denver project. “Local government has citation and permitting authority. The role of the private sector is so important.”

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