On Transport, Romney-Ryan Ticket Presents Extreme Contrast to Obama

What would a Mitt Romney presidency look like for transportation?

Mitt's been mum about his vision for transportation, but his running mate, Paul Ryan, has a telling record. Photo: ABC News

Well, the election is less than three months away yet there remains a fair amount of mystery about where Mitt Romney stands on various policy issues, from trade agreements to transit. As governor of Massachusetts, he had a mixed record but did initiate some innovative smart growth programs. If there’s one thing that’s become clear this election season, however, it’s that Romney’s past performance has little bearing on his current positions.

So this weekend’s selection of Wisconsin Tea Party darling Paul Ryan as his running mate is one of the best clues we’ve got to understand what kind of president Mitt Romney would be.

Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic says it’s hard not to read the selection as a resounding endorsement for a roads-only transportation program paired with unprecedented levels of austerity:

On transportation, Mr. Ryan voted against every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, with the exception of a bill subsidizing the automobile industry to the tune of $14 billion in loans in December 2008. This record included a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment. Meanwhile, he voted for a failed amendment that would have significantly cut back funding for Amtrak and voted against a widely popular bill that would expand grants for public transportation projects. He did vote in favor of the most recent transportation bill extension.

And Ryan’s widely debated 2012 budget proposal? Well, there’s more bad news there for sustainable transportation policy, Freemark says. Ryan’s statement that “Congress can keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent without additional general fund transfers or increases in the gasoline tax by consolidating dozens of separate highway programs” could be interpreted like so, says Freemark:

All Department of Transportation programs that are not user-fee funded (like TIGER, high-speed rail, and perhaps even transit capital funding) would be eliminated. And ground transportation spending would be limited to revenues from fuel taxes, which he would not increase. Overall, DOT outlays would decline from $95 billion overall in 2011 to a low of $66 billion in 2016, rising to only $72 billion by 2020. As House Republicans showed with H.R. 7, their proposed transportation bill that would have eliminated the mass transit account of the highway trust fund and eliminated aid for bike and pedestrian projects, they are willing to sacrifice non-automobile transportation programs in favor of establishing a “targeted and cohesive” policy, which in this case appears to mean roads-only.

In contrast, President Obama’s proposed budget would expand transportation expenditures massively over the next six years, with a particular focus on intercity rail and public transportation. Under his budget, federal expenditures going to transit and rail would increase from 22.9% of transportation funding in 2013 to 35.7% in 2018; under Mr. Ryan’s program, they could decline to almost nothing, since transit cannot pay for itself using user fees, like it or not.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Greater Marin talks about what it would take to make the areas near freeways attractive sites for housing development. Greater Greater Washington explains that Maryland is getting new street signs that emphasize cyclists’ right to the road. And Seattle’s Land Use Code examines the moral landscape of residential choices.