A surprisingly full committee room of activists and journalists gathered in the Rayburn House of Representatives Office Building on Capitol Hill Monday, to witness the release of a blueprint for a better federal transportation policy, especially for America’s cities. The report, released by Transportation for America, a coalition of smart growth, environmental, public health and other organizations, calls for an ambitious overhaul of federal transportation policy in the re-authorization of the Surface Transit bill that is due this fall.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who has become outspoken on transit issues of late, gave the opening remarks, in which he endorsed T4A’s principles and touted his state’s success with some of the features they recommend, such as an infrastructure bank. After Rendell spoke a panel of local transportation and planning officials, from Connecticut to Portland, Oregon, ran down the specific principles of the plan. They include such laudable goals as reducing traffic fatalities and air pollution, conserving energy, increased attentiveness to the needs of poor people, seniors and people with disabilities, and providing equal access to everyone, regardless of whether they live in cities, suburbs or small towns. The way to achieve these goals? In a nutshell, mass transit. T4A calls for doubling federal expenditures on mass transit construction and maintenance, but only if they adopt these principles and measures to determine that they are being met effectively.
As panelist Astrid Glynn of New York City’s Department of Transportation explained, much of our crumbling infrastructure will need to be replaced during this next bill’s lifetime. For instance, she noted that the Tappan Zee bridge is in disrepair and connects two growing areas in New York’s Hudson River Valley. “It needs to be rebuilt with transit,” said Glynn. Glynn also noted that improved inter-city rail service in the Northeast corridor would remove plane trips from over-crowded airports such as those in New York City and open up valuable air capacity.
Luckily for T4A, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, recently dashed off his plans for the bill, and they are awfully similar to T4A’s. There are plenty of hurdles in the House and Senate, but if it Oberstar can clear them, it will be good news for American cities.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.