States Shut Public Transportation Out of Stimulus Plan

Media Contacts
Jenny Levin

Proposed Project Lists Shortchange Transit and Repair Work, According to 16-State Study

According to a 16-state study released today by Maryland PIRG, President-elect Obama’s stated intention to use investment in infrastructure to improve the economy and reduce oil consumption could be undermined if states spend transportation stimulus funds the way they have suggested in wish lists to Congress. The wish lists dramatically favor new highway projects over road & bridge repair and transit projects.

“It is wrongheaded, in an era when public transportation is booming and bridges need repair, for state wish lists to be skewed toward building new highways,” said Kristi Horvath, program associate at Maryland PIRG.

Maryland PIRG’s national advocacy office, U.S. PIRG, obtained wish lists from 16 state departments of transportation. Those lists for “ready-to-go” projects reveal that:

  • States on average would spend only sixteen percent of funds on public transit or intercity rail projects. Seven of the sixteen states would allocate 1 percent or less to transit or intercity rail, including four that would allocate nothing at all.
  • More than three-quarters of transportation funds would flow to highway projects. Most of the funds would be used to build new or wider highways instead of addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance and repair. Half of states would spend less than a third of road funds to protect and restore existing bridges and roads. According to the State Highway Administration, Maryland has 129 structurally deficient bridges.
  • The vast majority of states, including Maryland, have not disclosed their transportation wish lists for public scrutiny. Only a few states have even made their lists available for this report, and even fewer have released the list to the public. 

“We’ve got ready-to-go transit projects that would create at least as many jobs as new highways while reducing oil consumption, traffic congestion and global warming pollution,” said Horvath, “The new Congress and President need to put their foot down if they plan to deliver on the forward-looking green recovery they’ve promised.”

“We call on the Maryland Department of Transportation to disclose the wish lists they’ve submitted to Congress,” said Horvath. “American taxpayers will eventually have to foot the bill for this infrastructure investment and we should know what state officials are asking us to pay for.”

The report also called for stimulus funds to support operations for transit agencies struggling to accommodate booming ridership.

In Maryland, recent budget cuts have forced the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to make hard choices and cut service on commuter bus lines and MARC service between Baltimore and Washington DC. MTA has worked with local counties to restore as much of that service as possible, but with budget woes continuing to plague the state, MTA officials have warned that we have only seen the beginning of the budget crunch on public transportation.

“President-elect Obama has likened his economic recovery plan to President Eisenhower’s vision in the 1950s to create an Interstate Highway System,” said Horvath. “But today, highway-heavy transportation investment would be likened to if Eisenhower had spent billions of dollars for a network of horse-drawn carriage paths.”