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House Bill Would Give Cities and Towns More Say Over Transpo Spending

U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced the legislation alongside Chris Koos, mayor of Normal, Illinois, last month. Photo: Transportation for America

A bill to give local governments greater access to transportation funds has bipartisan sponsors in the House of Representatives.

The Innovation in Surface Transportation Act, introduced late last month, would let local communities access a much more significant share of federal transportation funds. The legislation would set aside a share of various federal programs that flow to state departments of transportation, which would be distributed to cities and towns through a competitive grant process. The amount of funding reserved for local governments would add up to $5.6 billion per year.

Normal, Illinois' up-and-coming Uptown area will receive a boost, thanks to $33 million in federal funding that will help move the Amtrak station to this central location. Photo: Transportation for America
The bustling Uptown area in Normal, Illinois, will receive a boost thanks to $33 million in federal funding that will help move the Amtrak station to this central location. Photo: Transportation for America

The grants would be awarded by a committee of state and local officials, based on nine criteria, including potential to attract private investment and to promote "multimodal connectivity." (Full text here [PDF].)

Currently, less than 15 percent of federal transportation funds are allocated to localities, according to Transportation for America.

The legislation is sponsored by Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Illinois) and Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-Nevada). Sponsors say the bill will help ensure that increasingly scarce transportation funds are directed toward the highest-priority projects.

“This bill recognizes our nation’s fiscal realities by giving preference to projects that strengthen the return on investment, encouraging public-private partnerships and increasing transparency so that every federal dollar spent goes a little bit further," said Davis.

Proponents of the legislation cite the Uptown Multimodal Station in city of Normal, Illinois as a prime example of the way communities benefit from access to federal transportation dollars. The city was the recipient of $33 million in transportation funding to rebuild its Amtrak station in the middle of Uptown, which has seen significant growth recently. That investment will help leverage investment in the area, which has already seen almost $220 million in private development.

Gabe Klein, former commissioner of the Chicago DOT and the District of Columbia DOT, said city transportation officials have long sought more local control over federal funding. Klein was formerly treasurer of the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

"The innovation is happening at the local level," he said. "It’s not a diss to the state. It’s just that the state has different pressures and priorities.”

Transportation for America is urging its supporters to contact their representatives to encourage them to support the bill.

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