The Transportation Lobby

Published — January 15, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Stimulus for planes, trains, but mostly automobiles.

Introduction

The big winner in the $825 billion stimulus proposal revealed Thursday by House Democrats is roads. State road projects get a proposed at $30 billion, while mass-transit projects got only $10 billion.

“It’s more of the same,” said David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, a coalition of reform-minded housing, environmental, public health, urban planning, and transportation groups. “If we have a dollar left over after we build the last highway, we will build the stuff that allows people to get to work when traffic is too nightmarish and gas prices are too high.”

The legislation comes after months of lobbying by opposing forces. Mass transit advocates wanted to require states to repair older roads rather than building new ones, which they believe could encourage sprawl. Meanwhile, roads groups like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials argued that the feds should pass transportation money along to the state DOTs and let them decide how to spend.

“[States and local governments] don’t need help from inside-the-beltway advocacy groups to make those decisions for them,” said John Horsley, the association’s executive director.

The states had sent their wish lists of “shovel ready” projects to Washington in anticipation of the stimulus proposal. The lists are heavy on road building (often in rural areas) and short on public transpiration and bicycle and pedestrian projects. Several states included no proposals for mass transit or rail. Some have suggested that is because they did not have plans ready to submit.

Mass transit proponents say the legislation is sure to put people to work, but will do little to improve transportation. “It is the worst way to spend economic stimulus money,” Christopher Leinberger, a real estate developer and Brookings fellow, said of the legislation. “This is a very bad move if we want to achieve energy independence and if we want to achieve a green economy.”

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