More on each point:
1. Incentivizing costly new construction, making repair optional
In our polling and conversations across the country over the last three years, Americans have said consistently, and emphatically, that Job One is keeping the roads and bridges we have in good repair. They also emphatically say we need a better range of travel options, and they’re voting with feet and fare cards: Record numbers of people are riding public transportation today, and demand continues to rise, with a corresponding rise in walking and bicycle travel
Unfortunately the new program doesn’t entirely match up with those impulses. MAP-21 encourages new highway Interstate construction by requiring states provide only 5 percent of the total cost, compared to the 20 percent they paid under the previous program. Other highways still require a 20 percent match. Transit projects, by comparison, are being matched at close to 50 percent by local taxpayers.
Although we have nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges and almost half our highways are rated below “good” condition, this bill takes a huge gamble by eliminating all money dedicated to repair. Under the old law, states had to reserve at least 30 percent of their funds to fix roads and bridges, although even that was not enough to reduce the backlog. Now, repair of bridges and roads is purely optional, from a funding perspective.
States will be required to create plans, establish targets, and report on the condition of their infrastructure every four years. But the first report on those conditions won’t be due for almost six years, which means we’ll be waiting for four years after this bill expires to find out whether or not states with this new “no strings attached” approach has actually made any progress. That’s a big gamble on new and untested measures to take with some of our country’s greatest assets.
Even as some House Republicans were claiming that the tiny share directed toward safe walking and biking was the reason that our roads and bridges were crumbling, they were pushing to eliminate the repair program to fix our roads and bridges. The bill they negotiated ends up being as blasé about funds for maintenance and repair is it is about the safety of people on foot or bicycle.
2. Steps toward accountability for performance, but few teeth
The bill does take some steps forward in measuring the performance of transportation dollars. States and regions are required to set performance targets for highway and bridge conditions, freight movement, and safety; some regions are also required to look at air quality and congestion. After accounting for their current conditions, states and metros must tell citizens and local officials what progress their four-year spending plans are making towards their performance targets.
This is a good first step, but to create a truly performance-based system we must find ways to reward states and regions that set ambitious targets and make progress towards them. Another area for improvement is expanding the number of performance measures to examine other important areas like household transportation costs, energy security and access to jobs.
3. A false fromise of “flexibility”