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USCM Priorities for Next Surface Transportation Legislation

By Ron Thaniel
March 9, 2009

President Eisenhower laid the groundwork for our 20th century national highway/interstate system. President Obama will build the new 21st Century transportation system that will put millions back to work, and one that is consistent with our national priorities to provide energy independence and curb carbon emissions through alternative forms of transportation.

The nationís future economic growth and security area inextricably linked to our cities and their metro areas. If U.S. metros were treated as nations our metro economies would comprise 40 of the worldís top 100 economies (e.g., New York Cityís economy ranks 12th and is larger than India). In todayís world it is the metro economies that drive our national economy. Economic activity ignores political and governmental boundaries. In many instances, our metro economies cover multiple states. The top ten metro areas exceed the combined economic output of 37 states.

Mayors urge the following fundamental reforms to underlying federal transportation statutes to set the context for an energy, climate, and metropolitan focused next surface transportation law:

  • Allocate federal surface transportation funds based on its economic output and empower mayors to determine investments in their metro areas, redirecting a substantial share of funding now allocated to state transportation departments.

  • Develop a new national policy to make increased federal funding commitments to critical transportation infrastructure in cities and their metropolitan areas.

  • Federal transportation investments need to reflect energy and climate priorities, so that we can reengineer and expand our transportation infrastructure in ways that curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

  • Federal funding mechanisms must move past programmatic silos and eliminate the biases embedded in current law that favor some transportation modes over others.

  • The disparity in planning requirements for transit versus highway projects promotes road investments, disadvantaging the urban core that most benefits from public transportation.

  • Rail transportation for both freight movement and passenger travel is a top priority going forward, and Americaís mayors seek a better approach to investments that can accelerate the deployment of infrastructure within and between our nationís metropolitan areas.

  • Transportation planning processes in our nationís metropolitan areas cannot be meaningful if there is little connection between those plans and control of resources to implement them.

  • Federal transportation policy does not support or provide incentives for crosscutting functional relationships and planning collaboration. With major population growth projected in many metropolitan areas and congestion already prevalent, managing decisions about meeting mobility needs and quality of life will entail decisions about more than just building more transportation capacity.

  • All key federal transportation programs are short of resources. The shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund posed the most acute challenge, but other accounts to varying degrees are also challenged by resource constraints. This situation argues for consideration of creative, broader revenue and financing options that allow us to increase our national commitments to transportation infrastructure broadly, not just one mode at a time or in piecemeal fashion.

For more information on The U.S. Conference of Mayors priorities in the next surface transportation law, send e-mail to Ron Thaniel, Assistant Executive Director, at