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August 14, 2007 - It's Transportation Policy, Stupid!
Thoughtful "PenTrans Update" reader Andy Singer writes:
The problem with America's infrastructure isn't taxes. It's the lack of an imposed "Fix it first" policy for state DOTs, the FHA and the Army Corps of Engineers. All three agencies have lots of brand new projects that they are building even as they ignore maintenance on their existing infrastructure. The Minnesota DOT had at least a dozen brand new highway and bridge projects under construction in the state even as they let existing bridges and roads rot and collapse. This is because there's more money and jobs (long term) in expansion than there is in maintenance-- so big agencies will always focus on expansion even if it means deferring much needed maintenance.
The only solution is for states and the Feds to impose a "Fix it first" policy on DOTs, the Corps and other big infrastructure agencies. This is what has been advocated by the Washington lobby organization "Surface Transport Policy Project" for years ...but Government officials in both parties have ignored them because there's so much pork in new expansion mega-projects.
The Army Corps was trying to do a totally unnecessary billion dollar lock and dam expansion on the upper Mississippi as far back as 2002 (which local Minnesota environmental groups were fighting) ...even as they ignored the crumbling New Orleans Levees. The saddest part is the politicians in both parties then REWARD these agencies for their failure by giving them even more money to fix problems they should have fixed to begin with (instead of expanding). The FHA and MnDOT will probably get huge gas tax increases (dedicated exclusively to highway spending), which these agencies will use for more expansion or to free up other money for expansion. The result will be more cars, more driving, more sprawl, more oil consumption, more greenhouse gas emissions and more dependence on foreign oil.
So the issue isn't taxes ...it's how the taxes are spent. Already MnDOT plans to replace the collapsed 8 lane span with a 10 lane span, on a highway that they were in the process of expanding this very summer (over community opposition), in a project dubbed "The 35 Cross-town Project."
If we are serious about energy conservation and global warming and the safety of US infrastructure, we should impose a "Fix it first" policy on our highway agencies. Any money beyond what is required for maintenance should be spent on public transit, urban revitalization and efforts to get people OUT of their cars. This is the only solution. New taxes (if they are dedicated to highway spending) will only make the problem worse.
Andy Singer Author, Alternative Transportation Activist. firstname.lastname@example.org