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Transportation 101: Cliff’s Notes for the Reauthorization Debate

1:40 PM PST on February 28, 2011

A few weeks ago, I put together a little cheat sheet listing the last three transportation reauthorization bills, their dates of passage, and the dollar amounts. It helped me save some time I would have spent Googling.

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Now there's a more comprehensive cheat sheet. I’ll never again be at a loss to remember what the gas tax was before 1993 or how much money has been taken from the general fund to bail out the Highway Trust Fund or how many earmarks were included in SAFETEA-LU or the names of all the core highway programs. All of that information is included in Transportation for America’s new primer, “Transportation 101: An Introduction to Federal Transportation Policy.”

T4A was inspired to publish the document after November’s election ushered in 94 freshman House members and a handful of new Senators, many of whom are new to transportation policy. Twenty of the 59 members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are new. Members, and perhaps more importantly, their staffers, would need to be caught up on the ins and outs of the reauthorization.

“It’s sort of like walking into a movie 15 minutes late, if you’re coming to the transportation debate right now,” said T4A’s Steve Davis. “There’s a lot of history that, if you’re just walking into the room right now, can be very confusing.”

Transportation 101 isn’t necessarily something that everyone will want to devour in one sitting, Davis acknowledges. (Of course, Streetsblog readers are another breed – I see you clearing out your agenda to spend some quality time with this document.) In any case, it will be a useful reference for legislative aides new to the issue who are tasked with becoming an expert overnight. And not just Congressional staff – Davis says they expect the document will be just as useful to T4A’s 500+ partner organizations.

T4A has its own platform on what would improve the nation’s transportation systems, but it’s gone light on the recommendations this time, preferring to give people a reference guide. The document includes some of the overarching conclusions of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The only recommendations they make are outlined in broad strokes, without getting down to specifics on various modes:

    • A national vision with clear goals
    • More accountability and a focus on results
    • Sustainable funding and innovative financing
    • A better way to plan and pick projects

T4A’s Capitol Hill briefing to launch the publication drew a standing-room only crowd. The panel included Roy Kienitz, undersecretary for policy at U.S. DOT, former Virginia DOT secretary Pierce Homer, and other transportation all-stars.

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