50 Happiest People in America Today
The 50 happiest people in America this morning are waking up from a 20-year nightmare. You probably don’t know their names and you certainly wouldn’t recognize them in the street – they are the heads of the 50 state Departments of Transportation and they’ve just been promised a check for more than $200 billion over the next four years, no strings attached, to do what they love best: build highways.
For the last 20 years, they’ve had to pretend that they care about other things than highways, cars and trucks. But if the proposed highway bill introduced into Congress yesterday actually makes it into law, they can do away with that pretense. They won’t have to pretend to do anything for people who don’t drive cars; they’ll be able to skip through the public involvement process and environmental reviews; they can override local officials and plant an interstate in your back yard in double quick time – oh, and there will be heavier and longer trucks than ever thundering past your bedroom window, not only on those interstates but on many other roads besides.
Even better, the huge check comes with a variety of complex and intricate financial measures allowing them to leverage those funds and borrow a whole lot more, effectively mortgaging the future of these programs for years to come. Too bad that these agencies are among the least accountable and transparent of any at arguably the least accountable and transparent level of government – really, who knows their state legislators and if they have any effective control over their state DOT?
Surely all this money comes with a big vision and plan, right? Wrong. The bill has no vision or discernible direction short of just handing the keys of the car over to the State DOTs. Of course, it is purportedly about the safety of the traveling public – yet prohibits the funding of red light or speed cameras; eliminates the Safe Routes to School program, and allocates ten times more funding to increasing and speeding up traffic than it does to safety projects. Of course, it is supposedly about relieving congestion – yet eliminates most of the funding for any alternatives to driving alone and promises more and bigger highways for more and bigger vehicles which results in, if the last 60 years of evidence is anything to go by, more people getting stuck in traffic for longer than ever.
Perhaps the bill is about jobs and infrastructure? For sure, it’s about building a lot of highways. Unfortunately, it’s not so much about rebuilding and repairing the highways we’ve already got, which is an admirable goal we can all share AND sustains more jobs than building new highways we then can’t afford to maintain. And sadly there is NO place in the bill for cost-effective programs to create a more walk-able and bike-able transportation system for people that also creates more jobs per dollar spent than new highways.
Of course, we’re biased. The bill would be a disaster for bicycling and walking programs, because they are all gone. That should matter to you whether you ride a bike or not (we’re going to assume that you do walk and need to get across the street every now and then) because the principles of local control, providing transportation choices, and improving the quality of life in communities are important way beyond the bicycling community. That’s what investing in bicycling and walking is all about.
The tiny sliver of funding – just 1.5 percent – currently carved out to serve the needs of people making 12% of trips and comprising 14% of fatal crash victims, clearly is a major irritant to these agencies and their political allies. No doubt they will celebrate the return of this money and each of the 50 agencies can build another few hundred feet of Interstate instead…But it all adds up, right. Because they are also getting back all the money from discretionary programs and a 5% bonus from those high priority projects that won’t be foisted on them this time around.
No wonder this group of 50 people is smiling so broadly this morning; they are getting the closest thing to a blank check that the Federal government is writing these days.
To be fair, there are a few of this group that genuinely does care about local priorities, promoting alternatives, creating more livable communities, and the safety of people other than speeding drivers. We need them to stand up and speak up for the things they care about, because they aren’t going to be able to do them if this bill passes.