Congress Presses DOT for Cities

At a House Transportation Committee hearing, Secretary Ray LaHood explains why stimulus infrastructure money is not going directly to cities.

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

On Wednesday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson. Unfortunately, the bulk of what I witnessed was slobbering praise for LaHood (a former Congressmen) from his erstwhile colleagues, and petty whining about parochial concerns. (One Republican Congressman complained that his staffs calls to the EPA were not returned, and D.C.‘s non-voting representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, chimed in that she was appalled to hear such a horror story.)

But a few questions did touch on a topic of real importance for cities: how states will spend the stimulus infrastructure money. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), inquired about using Community Development Block Grants to dispense the money. As Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) noted, that’s an “intriguing,” idea. But, alas, as LaHood explained it would be illegal under the rules Congress made in the law. (Much of the hearing seemed to consist of LaHood educating members of Congress on the provisions of the bill they had themselves voted for.)

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), asked if the Department of Transportation would make any effort to assess whether state governments were spending the money in an equitable manner. Many cities have feared that the statehouses, which are often biased against them, will not use the stimulus funds fairly. They lobbied to have money dispersed directly to local governments, but to no avail. “Some cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles could do it,” said LaHood, “but many smaller cities do not have the staff and expertise to administer the projects.” LaHood’s suggested solution? That cities should lobby their statehouses. That’s cold comfort to, say, a New Yorker who has recently watched her state government veto congestion pricing and fail to bail out the ailing Metropolitan Transit Authority. Hopefully the upcoming Surface Transit Re-authorization will make money available directly to cities.

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

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.

Follow Ben

Tags: infrastructurewashington dctransportation spendingray lahood

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities
  • Brandi in Louisville, KY at $5/Month
  • Nancy at $10/Month
  • Gavri in Plantation, FL at $10/Year

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    20th Anniversary Solutions of the Year magazine

has donated ! Thank you 🎉