Dear Campaign Advocate,
"Out of Gas," a new report from Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), is a very misleading attack on trails, walking, biking and other highly beneficial and popular Transportation Enhancements (TE) investments. The basic premise of the report is that the only legitimate use of gas tax dollars is to fund the maintenance and expansion of highways and bridges. The report selectively cites from an analysis the senators comissioned from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
On the contrary, in order to provide affordable mobility options for all, enhance public health and safety, and reduce congestion, oil dependence, and pollution, now is the time to make greater investments in walking, bicycling, and public transportation.
The McCain / Coburn report is out of gas because it:
1. Seeks to cut safety funding in the name of making driving safer.
While we can all agree that safety is a paramount concern, "Out of Gas" deceptively invokes the safety risks of disregarding crumbling bridges and roads as justification for eliminating investments in trails, bicycling and walking. The report mocks modest safety investments that save many lives. More than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed and more than 100,000 injured on America’s roads each year, yet the report mocks spending about $1,000 per life lost and $100 per injury to try to prevent these tragedies.
In community after community, new investments in safe and convenient active transportation infrastructure have encouraged more people to walk and bike, thereby reducing fatalities and injuries. In 2008, many Americans switched to public and active transportation, reducing their miles driven and helping to decrease traffic deaths to levels not seen since 1961.
Further, more than 200 Americans die each year and many thousands more are injured due to motor vehicle collisions with wildlife. Yet the report also finds fault with a small program to prevent those crashes by creating safe passages for wildlife.
2. Masks the role of highway expansion in undercutting needed maintenance.
"Out of Gas" wrongly points the finger at relatively tiny investments in TE to explain the poor condition of roads and bridges, but ignores the insatiable drive to expand highways that has routinely trumped maintenance and repair of existing facilities. This expansion bias is evident in the way that many states spent economic recovery funds, even though the stimulus was designed to favor quick, labor-intensive projects such as bridge and road repair. Despite a multi-trillion dollar backlog of structurally deficient bridges and degraded roads, states committed almost a third of stimulus transportation funding to new road and bridge capacity rather than repairs. Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas, and Florida each spent more than three-quarters of these funds on expansion projects.1
Similarly, in the years prior to the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse, states routinely responded to federal transportation rescission orders by returning a disproportionate share of their bridge repair (and TE) funds to preserve highway expansion accounts. "Out of Gas" fails to acknowledge existing priorities and the real reasons why too little has been spent on maintenance and repair. Endorsing a 'fix-it-first' policy would signal a true interest in solving the maintenance problem.
3. Is blind to the benefits to all Americans of a balanced transportation system.
Bicycling and walking are transportation, accounting for about ten percent of all trips in America despite minimal investments (one to two percent of transportation spending). Active transportation offers a cost-effective way to enhance mobility and accessibility, and to reduce congestion, oil dependence and pollution.2 Further, increasing bicycling and walking reduces wear and tear on roads and bridges and increases the effectiveness of transit systems. These are choices the public wants—a national poll found that Americans would allocate 41 percent of transportation funds to transit (double actual spending) and 22 percent to bicycling and walking (15 times actual spending!).
The GAO concluded in a March 2009 congressional testimony that limiting transportation funding to a single mode may prevent the greatest improvements in mobility. Even the GAO analysis from which the authors of "Out of Gas" selectively cite acknowledges the Department of Transportation's position that TE helps expand transportation choices.
4. Forces unduly narrow federal priority on local governments.
Local governments that are attuned to the needs of their citizens understand the importance of active transportation infrastructure and other transportation enhancements, and routinely combine their resources with federal dollars to meet those needs. If Congress were to limit Trust Fund spending to highways, they would effectively force local governments to steer all their matching dollars to roads at the expense of public transportation, bicycling and walking. We believe it would be wiser to help local governments deliver the mix of transportation choices and enhancements that best meet the needs of their constituents.
We hope these responses will be useful if you encouter challenges like those presented in "Out of Gas."
1 "The States and the Stimulus," Smart Growth America. www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/120days.pdf
2 "Active Transportation for America," Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. www.railstotrails.org/ATFA