Infrastructure Update: Transportation Reform in the Limelight

Last week was a big week for transportation, with the House leadership and the Administration proposing differing approaches for how to proceed with transportation legislation and funding. And a new interagency program to coordinate USDOT, EPA, and HUD activities and priorities—also announced last week—represents an exciting step forward in efforts to better integrate land use and transportation. More details on both are below.

Two Approaches to Transportation Reform
In the House, Rep. Oberstar (D-MN) outlined his transportation reform package on June 18 and called for immediate mark up of a full bill in Subcommittee. A day earlier, USDOT Secretary LaHood asked Congress for a quick 18-month highway reauthorization to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. Longer-term reform should wait, he said.”We should not rush legislation. We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country.”

Oberstar’s proposal, “Blueprint for Investment and Reform,” calls for moving away from “prescriptive programs” into a performance based framework designed around national objectives. Programs would be consolidated and simplified into four core formula categories (repair/maintenance, highway safety, surface transportation, and congestion mitigation/air quality). Oberstar would also create four new programs, including metropolitan mobility and high-speed rail programs, as well as an Office of Livability and a new transportation infrastructure bank.

Oberstar calls for total funding of $450 billion over five years, a significant increase from current funding levels, with an additional $50 billion for high speed rail. But he does not address where new revenues will come from. The funding issue “will be resolved in the Ways and Means Committee,” he said at the press event. Oberstar released his full bill just yesterday. For outlines of the bill, click here.

HUD, DOT, and EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new joint partnership on June 16 to help Americans gain access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.

The collaboration will be guided by six main principles:

  • Provide more transportation choices
  • Promote equitable affordable housing
  • Enhance economic competitiveness
  • Support existing communities
  • Coordinate policies and leverage investment
  • Value communities and neighborhoods

Echoing ULI’s recent Infrastructure 2009 report, USDOT Secretary LaHood called for “a holistic approach. . .to improve the linkage between housing, water, and transportation investments.” For surface transportation programs, DOT will be taking a “hard look at potential changes to metropolitan and statewide transportation planning processes to ensure that they improve livability,” he said. The new federal initiative represents a promising start to creating a more integrated approach to infrastructure, housing, and sustainability.