Region Forward Blog

Reminders from home and abroad of the importance of transportation funding

May 12, 2011
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Funding Transportation Matters. It’s a really simple notion that bears repeating. As American roadways become more and more clogged we desperately need to be investing in alternative ways for getting around. Even if the environmental and climate impacts of traffic congestion – such increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – aren’t a top priority for you certainly reduced economic activity is. That’s your wallet we’re talking about. For years we’ve known that traffic congestion results in major economic losses ($115 million in 2009 for example) due to lost productivity. Two new reports however add some additional analysis to the economic implications of transportation policy.

Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program today released Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America an innovative examination of transportation’s impact on economic and jobs growth. The good news is that metro Washington is performing well compared with much of the rest of the country – headways (waits for trains buses) are short during rush hour and the percentage of jobs accessible by transit is relatively high. However performing relatively well (especially in a country that has less transit usage and less transit in general than other developed nations) isn’t good enough. There’s still so much work to be done.

In the U.S. home to quite a few sprawling suburbs one major way to make a positive impact is to increase development at and around transit stops/stations. That’s the focus of Reconnecting America’s new report Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and Employment. If the title doesn’t say it all for you the report analyzes the impact of TOD (or the lack thereof) on economic and employment growth throughout the country. Not surprisingly the report advocates for increasing TOD but also for taking a broader look at what it means. As the report notes traditionally TOD has been heavily focused on increasing housing near transit; “however given that concentrated employment uses have been found to be more closely associated to transit ridership than dense residential uses it is clear that employment uses are a key component of the TOD equation.”

A week or so ago we pondered whether a little shaming from across the pond (in the form of The Economist lambasting America’s transportation system) might sharpen leaders attention on this pressing issue. That’s still to be seen. With their repeated statements in support of high-speed rail and livable communities President Obama and Secretary LaHood seem to be on board with transforming the way America gets around. Congress – which just gutted funding for high-speed rail – has been less visionary. Even Germany’s current government which is very concerned with fiscal stability and responsibility recognizes the positive economic impacts produced by investment in alternative forms of transportation. That’s why it’s investing €6 billion (or roughly $8.5 billion) to build the world’s most advanced high-speed rail network. Maybe two weeks worth of shaming and upstaging from the “old” continent will do the trick.

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