USDOT Secretary LaHood Calls for Direct Funding to Cities, Counties
By Ron Thaniel
September 28, 2009
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for direct funding to cities, providing an exciting glimpse into the Obama Administration’s thinking regarding a long-term transformational authorization of the next federal surface transportation law.
In his September 3 remarks before the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, LaHood said, “ I believe it’s time to re-think our federal spending priorities and focus on transportation investments that more effectively meet the needs of our communities. For many years, federal transportation spending has mainly been driven by rigid formulas and divided by modes of transportation – with separate funding for each type of need, from highways to subways to ferries.”
“We need to turn this around, so that our priorities and the outcomes people care about – such as building transit and affordable housing closer together – drive our investments. In order for this to happen, we have to change the way we operate. We need to make our national priorities clear, and then empower state and local jurisdictions and other stakeholders to make them a reality,” said LaHood.
He added, “And we don’t want to pit one mode of transportation against another. Instead, we’re asking communities to put outcomes first – and then determine the type of transportation infrastructure that works best to meet those outcomes. We’re hoping and expecting that this will be an effective way to strike a new balance among all forms of transportation.”
LaHood also mentioned the U.S. Conference of Mayors priority for the next surface transportation authorization. “We also want to allow counties and cities to work together to develop regional plans reflecting both regional and national priorities. Then we’d fund them directly,” he said.
“The fact is, metro areas hold over 80 percent of the U.S. population. They’re major centers of economic activity. And they account for most of the congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Empowering metro regions to tackle their transportation and energy problems will move us closer to enjoying cities and suburbs that are cleaner, less congested, and less polluted than many are today,” LaHood continud.
The Conference continues to urge House and Senate transportation leaders to develop new-targeted mode-neutral investment policies to ensure increased federal funding commitments to transportation infrastructure in cities and their metropolitan areas through the creation of a Metropolitan Mobility and Access Program. And, while much of the debate over the next week will be the length of the SAFETEA-LU extension, it is important that mayors continue to meet with their Representative(s) and Senators and urge them to support increased transportation investments in cities and their metropolitan areas through the creation of a Metropolitan Mobility and Access Program. In those meetings, cite specific examples of how federal stimulus funds for transportation administered by state departments of transportation continued decades of underfunding and inattention to transportation infrastructure in the very metros that drive the nation’s economy.
Although USCM is making progress, under the leadership of The U.S. Conference of Mayors President Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Conference Transportation and Communications Committee Chair Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, in advancing metropolitan transportation investment policies before the House and in discussions with the Senate and the Obama Administration, the powerful highway industry is lobbying against reforms that would redirect federal resources and decision-making to cities and metropolitan areas.
House Passes Extension of SAFETEA-LU
As U.S.Mayor goes to press, the House passed a three-month extension of the federal surface transportation programs beyond their September 30 expiration. H.R. 3617, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2009, will extend the current law through December 31. It was approved by a vote of 335-85.
With support from the Obama Administration, the Senate is expected to move legislation within the next couple of days that would extend SAFETEA-LU 18-months.
SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) was signed into law in 2005. The prior law, Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), was extended 12 times over two years.
FAA Three-Month Extension Approved in House
Also, at press time, the House approved and sent to the Senate H.R. 3607, a bill to extend funding authority for federal aviation programs through December 31, 2009. Current authority is set to expire on September 30 unless extended. This bill was passed on a voice vote.