Skip to comments.Transportation Funding: Why Itís Still Toll Roads Versus Public Transit
Posted on 09/21/2017 11:08:05 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Is fighting sprawl still a goal for those who decide the fate of transportation funding at the federal, state and local levels?
Transportation planning is deeply connected to economic development, but there in any agreement about transportation funding among government leaders often ends.
Parag Khanna, a senior public policy analyst in Singapore and author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, summarized the political divide over transportation planning like this: “America is increasingly divided not between red states and blue states, but between connected hubs and disconnected backwaters.”
But division that stymies transportation planning goes further. Government leaders have always been divided in a third way, on what kind of transportation they want to develop. Two Maryland projects — one a recently-completed toll road and the other a new light rail line — illustrate that what transportation funding should be for is still an argument of toll roads versus public transit.
Two Tales of Transportation Death & Resurrection
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently dedicated the Intercounty Connector (ICC), also known as Route 200, an 18.8-mile toll road, which runs outside the Beltway and was first envisioned back in the 1950s, to former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.. Ehrlich’s predecessor, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, stopped the expensive road project, calling it an environmental disaster based on studies that concluded the road would significantly impact woodlands, streams and wildlife. But Ehrlich replaced Glendening in 2003 and revived the project.
At the same time, Ehrlich also tried to kill a 16-mile east-west public transit project, now known as the Purple Line, linking Montgomery and Prince Georges counties, according to recent coverage by Maryland Matters. Hogan also recently dedicated this public transit project. He was with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last month at groundbreaking, where she announced a Trump Administration pledge of $900 million in Federal aid for the project.
Hogan, ironically, expressed skepticism about the Purple Line project while campaigning, according to the story.
The Purple Line has seen an amazing number of twists and turns since it was first proposed in the 1980s endless debate at the federal, state and local levels, funding fights, lawsuits, expensive lobbying campaigns, political treachery and so much more. The drama has touched every prominent Maryland politician of the past three decades, with a changing cast of heroes and villains,” wrote Maryland Matters author Josh Kurtz.
According to Kurtz, the Purple Line project carries potent symbolism and national as well as local political implications.
Fighting Sprawl with Public Transit
Glendening made the Purple Line rail project a priority in the late 1990s despite opposition. In 2003, after he left office, he became president of Smart Growth America’s Smart Growth Leadership Institute. In a 2003 article about New Urbanism on the Smart Growth website that heralded his achievements, fighting sprawl became the new charge of several governors, from places like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah.
Glendening in his new role expressed a need for shift in government investments, chiefly toward transit-oriented development. “The government policies are generally anti-transit and pro sprawl…In terms of governmental policy, roads are generally free but transit is increasingly expensive. So in federal and local policy we [have to be] really committed to transit and a transit-oriented budget for transportation, he said then, noting that about 80 percent of the budget is spent building roads and 20 percent for mass transit. Glendening prescribed an even split — 50 percent in highway investment and 50 percent in mass transit.
What we need are two things: one is a change in land use so we wont continue to go forward [in the same direction] and be in need of more transportation, and the second is a much better balance between transit and road building…The fact is that we need to greatly reduce road building in America, and transfer the majority of the money into building stateof-the-art train systems like in Europe. A rational well-used mass transit system is key to our strategy, he said, noting that such a transition would take several decades.
Transitioning Federal Transportation Funding
In 2009, former President Barrack Obama provided stimulus for high speed rail, envisioning a state-of-the-art train system that would rival highways. “Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination, Obama told the nation. After two terms, Obama’s plans for high speed rail went largely unfulfilled with several states concerned about how to pay for ongoing operations and unwilling to build.
However, the Obama-era FAST Act, though it emphasized highway and road development, made transit-oriented development projects like rapid rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit and ferries eligible for funding, too. The new transportation law also made it possible for the cities that received funding to design streets more friendly to bikes, pedestrians and transit users — and differ from their states official road design standards.
There were also several U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) funded initiatives, like Safer Streets and Smart Cities Challenge, that came out of its thinking, summarized in its vision Beyond Traffic: 2045. The latter competition resulted in at least 78 cities thinking and developing a transportation vision for the future. Plans that might serve their future funding requests.
Transportation Funding Today: Show the Fed the Money?
Back in Maryland at the Purple Line groundbreaking, Secretary Chao said DOT would fund the project after the state and local governments, and the private sector, demonstrated their commitments.
The administrations comprehensive infrastructure plan seeks this innovative approach, she said.
What types of projects federal transportation funding will favor under the Trump Administration has yet to be decided, however.
Maryland “Freak State” PING!
>>The fact is that we need to greatly reduce road building in America, and transfer the majority of the money into building stateof-the-art train systems like in Europe. A rational well-used mass transit system is key to our strategy, he said, noting that such a transition would take several decades.
A key issue here is that most of Europe was built up pre-automobile, and thus is much, much more dense than most of the US. This is important when you are discussing what sort of transportation options make sense. Trains only work if you have significant density, lots of multi family housing in close proximity to the stations.
Post-automobile cities, particularly those in the Sunbelt, are built around the single family house in the suburbs. The density simply isnt there.
Unfortunately, we have a large number of policy/media elites who live in NYC (Manhattan in particular) and DC. Manhattan was built out before the automobile, and has density such that trains do work. DC has a significant train system for the suburbs, but has the advantage of being the Imperial City on the Potomac, and thus this system was heavily subsidized by the rest of the country. This is not an option for, say, Indianapolis.
The city planner establishment has totally drunk the mass transit / greater density Kool-Aide, from what I can see. People still largely want to live in single family houses, though walkability is something people do like. The two concepts are at odds with each other.
I see trains as a 19th Centuy solution to 21st Century transportation problems. For me its like continuing to use hardwired circuit-switched networks when the packet-switched Internet has been the way to go for 20+ years. People like the much greater flexibility afforded by cars. With Uber and the coming autonomous cars, roads are seeing and will see a utility jump.
Trains should only be expanded in the most dense of locations. They make no sense at all in places like the Inland Empire of California, which is essentially where Browns train to nowhere is being built.
There needs to be a much more robust public discussion of this issue, and people should not just let the train fanatics and density mavens who tend to dominate the city planning establishment rule the day.
Central Planning is at its most hypocritical nonsense when we look at Transportation.
Here in Atlanta, the MARTA station at the intersection of the two rapid transit lines was intentionally designed to be surrounded by open space and sparse commercial. Yet, the only way for mass transit to be profitable is for transit stations to be the center of dense residential or employment centers. Result? The rest of you pay for Atlanta’s mass transit.
Here in Atlanta, Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley has been built to compete with MARTA. The motivation behind it has been purely emotional and nostalgic. There is no logic behind it on any level.
Nationwide, any competent technocrat will tell you that in the US, heavy cargo should be taken away from trucks on the highway and placed on rail. Passengers should be placed on the highways, not on rail. Heavy trucks break up the cement and asphalt and cause much resurfacing and rebuilding of highways. Heavy trucks have a longer stopping distance. So they leave long distance in front of them when driving. Faster traffic lane changers use that space in front of heavy trucks to change lanes. This is the root cause of many crashes, loss of many lives.
But emotional central planners push for Amtrak to get in the way of efficient railroad traffic.
Central Planning claims to be technocratic, logical, data based, scientific. But inevitably, it is nostalgic for something that only existed in Mr Rogers Neighborhood or some other entertainment fantasy. Inevitably it is emotional and ideologically driven and not logical at all.
Me and my wife recently took the light rail through the middle of Baltimore on the way to the airport. We had no clue as to what was coming in central Baltimore, but we did make it, because thankfully we sat at the front of the ‘train’, near the conductor - just to be better able to see where we were going. Never met those kinds of people when driving to the airport.
It seemed a great way to get to the airport, but never again. They can keep it.
Focus on improving “high density” over “sprawl” creates “core areas” that also tend to higher rents/mortgages in the core, and over time increase “sprawl” anyway as the not subsidized middle class “wants room for families” and less income needing to go to housing.
Higher density cores also increase greater income inequality within them as, on a percentage basis, they become less affordable to the middle class and housing mostly higher incomes and those getting some sort of subsidy or government supplied “affordable housing”.
That density also NEEDS the mass transit. What “higher density” and mass transit are is actually public policy that demands the CREATION of the need for the policy it advocates.
I will agree with you that a big problem is that these transportation planners are from NYC and are all in on mass transit. They do not realize that a major portion of the population that needs to be convinced their schemes can be implemented, never mind practical has a very different lifestyle than the one they are so familiar with.
I think the divide gets to the point where you have people who walk and take mass transit from their apartment to their office trying to convince small farmers who live on 1/8 sections that transit is the way to go. The transport needs of the two populations are so different as to be incompatible.
I like trains, but their limitations need to be acknowledged. They are a very large upfront capital investment, and the ongoing maintenance is entirely borne by the operator. With roads a large chunk of the maintenance is borne by the users (vehicle repairs and preventative maintenance). Trains can be faster than the alternatives, but this requires a destination near the train station, and still trains are only faster when the train train is less than ~4 hours. Much more freight could and probably should move by rail, however, the class 1 railroads are not interested in cargoes that are less than 1 TEU (basically a 20 ft shipping container), or are traveling less than 500 to 750 mi (probably varies by region and railroad). This means that US RRs do not want less than car load shipments that could be truck shipped to their final destination is less than one day.
On the other end of things, once density get past a certain point adding lanes to the roads gives diminishing returns. I am highly skeptical of the plans here by the DC beltway of widening 66 through Arlington VA, due to the need for all those people that have been encouraged to drive in having to find a place to park.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.