New Investigation Finds 2,100 Transport Lobbyists Working the System

Interest groups seeking to influence transportation policy-making have long flooded the capital with campaign cash and lobbyists
— and their numbers are rising at an eye-popping rate. Nearly 1,800
interests are employing at least 2,100 transportation lobbyists to work
the system in anticipation of the next federal infrastructure bill, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation unveiled today.

6a00e5538696cf883401156fccf6d2970c_320wi.jpgPhoto: Pufferfish

The Center’s work directly answers a question asked by many attendees at last week’s University of Virginia infrastructure conference: How can the public be awakened to the relevance and political importance of transportation as an issue?

Unfortunately
for the elite industry players who attended the conference, the answer
may be that the public isn’t yet aware of just how much waste is built
into state and federal transportation spending. From the Center’s
initial report:

The matter of how and from where the federal money is actually doled
out is among the biggest headaches. The majority of federal dollars for
these various transportation programs actually get distributed to state
and local governments to be spent at their discretion. But that has
caused problems.

For one thing, wrote

the Government Accountability Office last year, “Rigorous economic
analysis does not generally drive the investment decisions of state and
local governments.” That was an understatement. Most state
transportation agencies surveyed by the GAO in 2004 — 34 out of 43 —
called political support and public opinion “very important” when
investing federal dollars. Only eight states attributed the same
importance to cost-benefit analyses.

With the debate in Congress currently focused
not on how to reform the bloated, broken system but how long to delay
reform, it’s unclear whether the Center’s findings can move the needle
in the short term.

But that all-but-certain postponement of
the next federal transportation bill makes today’s report all the more
shocking. Anyone who reads it will find no reason to support 12 or 18
more months of federal transportation funding distributed through an
unaccountable system of state DOTs.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Is the ‘Road Gang’ Losing Power in Washington?

|
That is the thesis posited in a new investigation from the Center for Public Integrity, which sent a reporter to sprawl-saturated South Florida to examine how much of a return the transportation construction industry is getting on its multi-million-dollar contributions to congressional campaigns. In a time of sluggish economic recovery, when federal dollars can make […]

GOP-ers and Dems Agree: Feds Need to Get Their Transpo Act Together

|
Reports on federal transportation policy — like campaign fundraisers and lobbying groups — seem to proliferate in Washington, most of them drawing a few days’ worth of news coverage before fading from memory. (Remember the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission?) Former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), […]

Consensus on National Transport Goals Still Eludes Industry Pros

|
Policymakers and private-sector players seem to be struggling to agree on how — and whether — to set national performance targets for America’s transportation system, as evidenced by today’s debate at a high-profile infrastructure conference. (Photo: UVA) "Performance-based" is a popular buzzword in transportation circles, where clear and definable national standards are seen as the […]

Fred Barnes: Americans Mainly Want to Stay in Their Cars

|
After yesterday’s electoral drubbing, the Obama administration will have to deal with a starkly different Congress when they make their expected push for a multi-year transportation bill early next year. We know that some influential House Republicans, like John Mica, don’t necessarily believe that bigger highways will solve America’s transportation problems. And we know that […]

Defining the ‘Public’ in Public-Private Partnerships

|
In a must-read piece for the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), Matt Lewis digs deeper into the network of cities and towns that employ D.C. transportation. He begins with a thought-provoking anecdote: A ribbon-cutting in Dubuque, IA, for IBM’s new tech center. (Photo: Gazette) Last September, city fathers in Dubuque, Iowa, lured three members of […]