America’s Waning Commitment to Transportation Funding

Highlights from around the Streetsblog Network today:

Transportation spending has been declining as a share of GDP since the Reagan era. Image: Yglesias

Transportation Funding on a Downward Slope Since 1980: Since the Reagan years, U.S. investment in infrastructure has been on a downward trajectory, and we’re paying the price, says Matt Yglesias: “Have you noticed how America’s transportation infrastructure seems pretty shoddy? Like everything’s broken all the time and new projects don’t get completed. Why’s that? A big part of the answer is that since the Reagan Revolution we’ve been disinvesting in this area.”

Yglesias continues: “Over time, we get better at making almost everything. But we don’t add hours to the day. Letting people move from place to place in a rapid and convenient manner is very important.” The Center for American Progress is urging the Washington to increase federal investment in transportation by 20 percent. That would bring transportation investment more in line with 1980s levels, measured by percentage of GDP. But the early word from Capitol Hill is that the Senate wants to hold transportation spending constant, adjusting for inflation, while the House would be content to let it fall even farther. That’s going to make it harder to build a modern and efficient transportation system.

Connecticut Makes Strides Toward Complete Streets: Six months ago ConnDOT made a commitment to help bring biking and walking on more equal footing with driving. The agency promised to spend one percent of their funding to support non-motorized transportation. At the half-year mark, Ryan Lynch at Mobilizing the Region reports back on the state’s progress. “One of ConnDOT’s new policies was a ‘Quick-Fix’ program that used operational funding to make safety improvements aimed at slowing traffic and providing more space for pedestrians and cyclists,” writes Lynch. “The program aims to make quick changes while funding is limited with the intention of implementing more capital intensive improvements in the long term.” As a result of that program, Main Street in New Haven got a road diet that added shoulder space for pedestrians and cyclists while reducing the space for cars and calming traffic. Not a bad start. But further progress will be needed to help protect Connecticut pedestrians, who are the victims of 1 in 8  traffic fatalities in the state, said Lynch.

DC Mayor Gray’s Ultimatum to Wal-Mart — It’s Five Stores or Nothing: Washington has been buzzing about the entrance of suburban mega-retailer Wal-Mart into the city. In a rather bizarre development, Mayor Vincent Gray has threatened to banish the retailer if it decides to downsize its urban ambitions. Gray is playing a game of chicken with developers, saying that if they do not build all five stores they’re planning, Wal-Mart won’t be welcome in the city. Two to three of the stores are jeopardized because of problems at the sites.

The mayor’s tough talk didn’t sit well with Richard Layman at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space:”Mayor Vincent Gray threatens to deny Walmart stores building permits — not because two, maybe three of the projects, have significant problems in terms of how the sites will be developed, the lack of transportation capacity to serve the stores, and whether or not Walmart is committed to developing urban-appropriate operations and customer service practices — but because four Walmart stores aren’t enough for Washington, DC, he wants Walmart to open a fifth store, in the Skyland Shopping Center in Ward 7.” Layman noted however that the mayor might not have the legal standing to deny building permits to Wal-Mart.