A Republican Returns to Congress With A Map to Transportation Reform

During his 24 years in Congress, former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was known for
a brand of Republicanism now considered endangered. An ardent
environmentalist and defender of objective government science, he
played a key role in drafting the acid rain limits that are serving as a model for this year’s climate change fight.

Sherwood_Boehlert_1.jpgFormer Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) (Photo: Wikipedia)

Boehlert
is returning to the Hill today, three years after his retirement from
politics, to testify on climate legislation in his capacity as
co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s transportation project.

He
has yet to begin speaking to the Senate environment committee, but it’s
worth taking an early look at Boehlert’s remarks — which lay out a
path to bipartisan transportation reform that’s both conservative and
conservationist.

Boehlert’s testimony begins with a fact that few of
Congress’ current Republican members acknowledge: if legislators cannot
agree on a system for cutting emissions, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) will step in under Supreme Court mandate.

"Realistically, that is the alternative: Congress or EPA taking the lead
role," Boehlert’s remarks state. "Inaction by both would be unacceptable."

Boehlert
then cites a few compelling statistics about transportation’s role in
the climate problem, noting that the sector swallows close to 70
percent of U.S. oil consumption and that 30 percent of the nation’s
carbon emissions come from shuttling its people and goods.

His
next recommendation may well sound counter-intuitive to state DOT
officials and community advocates alike — America needs to think
bigger than its traditional, locally-driven approach to transport:

We
usually think about new investments as specific “projects” such
as a new transit line. But to actually achieve emissions reductions
and other national goals such as economic growth and safety, we need
to shift from a project orientation to a programmatic one. This means
thinking about how that new transit line can be integrated into an overarching
program or plan that considers land use decisions, pricing options,
access to the transit line, and any other policy that can improve performance.

Changing the culture of infrastructure, Boehlert adds, requires
selecting projects based on "a suite of overarching national goals"
that goes beyond the environment to include economic growth and safety.

He
also makes the case for entirely "mode-neutral" transportation
spending, which would take a free-market approach to project selection
by setting rail, roads, transit, and freight on an equal footing and
choosing the mode that best meets those "overarching national goals."

Boehlert’s remarks praise the Senate climate bill’s sponsors,
environment panel chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA), for devoting
nearly 3 percent of their plan’s valuable "emissions allowances" to
clean transport. Still, he makes clear that the 3-percent share should
grow as the process goes on — a banner that Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) is
poised to carry when the first votes on the legislation occur (expected
next month).

  • tomtakt

    Interesting that nobody has commented on this, but I would say it sounds like this guy might really know what he is talking about. The “mode-neutral” approach is the kind of common sense transportation funding and planning that has been embraced to a healthy extent in Germany (despite their own powerful road lobby) and some other European countries. But the really important point is that transportation, land use and other policies all desperately need to be coordinated. Such coordination would be very difficult to achieve anywhere without federal or state level changes.

  • Luke

    I really like the idea of putting roads, and transit on equal footing economically (though I would add pedestrian and bicycle facilities, which tend to shine in comprehensive cost-benefit analyses), but I’m not confident that any political process will be able to really comprehend how deeply roads are actually subsidized. That would require a broad-spectrum analysis that would consider parking and land use patterns as well as easier targets such as construction costs.

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