Friday, March 11, 2005

US House Passes Transport Bill

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, The Transportation Legacy Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU) by a vote of 417-9.

As the New York Times reports, when it comes to bringing money home to districts, the partisan rancor that usually divides the House quickly fades. The bill authorizes $284 billion worth of guaranteed spending over six years on highway, transit, and safety projects. Last year's Senate version of the bill authorized $318 billion over the same period, making the prospects for an interesting political showdown between both Republican-controlled chambers and Bush likely.

Whatever happens with the actual funding level, there are certainly going to be important ramifications for urban and suburban development over the next several years once an agreement is hammered through.

I haven't done a thorough analysis of the projects funded by TEA-LU, but as in previous years, transit takes a back seat to highway spending. Given this fact, low-density, sprawling development is getting continued subsidy in this bill.

Interestingly, many of the "transit" projects funded by the bill are intimately tied to automobility--there seems to be a high number of "park and ride" projects as opposed to mass transit expansion and improvements.

Take, for instance, the case of Illinois. Of the $31.9 million authorized for transit projects, more than half ($17 mil.) is going to develop "park and ride" facilities. Of that figure, half is allocated to just TWO parking structures located in the suburban district of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. There is no money earmarked for the expansion of the most used transit system in the state--Chicago's CTA. This comes at a time when the CTA is discussing drastic service cuts.

Of course, the real problem of suburban development lies in land use policy that demands low density and auto-centric mobility. But this bill does little to prod states and locales to change their behavior in this regard. The sum result will likely be continued federal subsidies for sprawling development and increasing fiscal stress on local governments to support this rather inefficient pattern of suburban expansion.

The independent watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, has state-by-state listings of earmarked projects on their website. Here are some examples of local coverage of projects recommended for funding in Boston, Nebraska, San Jose, and Colorado.

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)