Road woes have long plagued Los Angeles, and much of the country, but Congress is still struggling to pass a long-term transportation bill. Jae C. Hong/AP
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It’s the Washington spat that keeps on coming back — the bruising struggle over crafting a long-term bill to fund America’s transportation projects.

The last long-term measure, worth $286 billion over four years, expired in Oct. 2009. Since then, Congress has passed nine short-term extensions of the legislation, the most recent one in late March. But the March extension lasts only three months, so lawmakers will begin bickering over transportation policy again by mid-June. And given the politically charged atmosphere, it’s unlikely anything more than another short-term extension is in the offing. So it’s hard to imagine a real end to the controversy.

The myriad obstacles to crafting any rational long-term transportation policy were detailed in a Center for Public Integrity investigation back in 2009. Sad to say, not much has changed. The money for transportation bills comes from a federal gas tax that’s no longer sufficient, but who wants to talk about raising gas taxes right now? There’s controversy over highway spending versus cash for mass transit. And the bills have been a free-for-all of special interest spending with little national strategy behind them. As the previous measure approached its expiration date, some 2,000 lobbyists were competing for a slice of the pie.

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Gordon Witkin joined the Center in September 2008 following a long career at U.S. News & World Report and...