Skip to Content
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Log In
Streetsblog.net

Feeding the Beast: The Backdoor Ways Transit Subsidizes Roads

9:48 AM PDT on March 16, 2012

We've done our share of commentary on this blog about how transit is underfunded in the first place.

false

So it's all the more upsetting to see highway projects pick the pocket of transit agencies. But that's exactly what's happening, in different forms, in different places throughout the country, writes Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations.

Levy outlines some of the obscure and creative ways that highway and parking construction have forced transit agencies to pony up:

Supporters of transportation alternatives talk about the inequity between highway and transit funding in the US, but what they’re missing is that the transit funding bucket includes a lot of things that are manifestly not about transit.

One third of the MBTA’s outstanding debt, about $1.7 billion, comes from transit projects built by the state as part of a court-imposed mitigation for extra Big Dig traffic; interest on this debt is about two-thirds the agency’s total present deficit. Metra was prepared to pay for a project to rebuild rail bridges that would increase clearance below for trucks and cut the right-of-way’s width from three to two tracks. Rhode Island is spending $336 million on extending the Providence Line to Wickford Junction, with most of the money going toward building parking garages at the two new stations; Wickford Junction, in a county whose number of Boston-bound commuters is 170, is getting 1,200 parking spaces.

The situation in the US today is a surreptitious underfunding of transit, and at the same time a surreptitious overfunding of roads. It is not subject to democratic debate or even to the usual lobbyist funding formulas, but, like the obscure regulations that impede good passenger rail, hidden in rules nobody thinks to question. To pay for road mitigations and for parking, transit agencies will cut weekend service and reduce frequency. It’s bad enough when done in the open, but it’s done while claiming that transit is too expensive to provide.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America continues its series on how the House transportation bill could be transformed from horrible to acceptable. And Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic gives his appraisal of the Senate bill, which passed earlier this week.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog San Francisco

BART Grant is Good News for Oakland, Alameda, and Other Cities

Latest round of 'Safe Routes to BART' program includes $16 million for bike and ped improvements leading to and from BART stations

March 1, 2024

Advocates Hammer City College Trustees’ Climate Hypocrisy on Frida Kahlo Way

City College talks a good game about supporting bike lanes and better transit, until it comes to losing a few parking spaces

March 1, 2024
See all posts