How Did We Get Here?

In an interview, Rep. Jim Oberstar gives a retrospective of American infrastructure funding and talks about the need to consider transportation in light of the "post-interstate era."

"REP. OBERSTAR: What we have after the interstate era, is if there is a roadway here, we build and expand on that road. Because you have an 80–20 funding formula for highways - 80 percent federal funds, 20 percent state funds - and, on the other side, a transit funding program that is project-oriented - some projects might get 50 percent federal funds, some might get 60 percent, some might get only 40 percent - if you are a state department of transportation managing funds, you look at the formula and you say, "Well, we get 80 percent of the money if we build the road. We only get 50 percent or less if we invest in the transit system.""

"Funding is skewed away from transit and into highways because transit grew up in a different environment. It was a spin-off of railroads. It was during the 1960s, just before the creation of Amtrak. The railroads wanted to get rid of their passenger service. And they wanted to pass it off as a transit program. And secondly, transit was considered something to help the elderly and the disabled and the poor - it was a social program instead of a transportation program.

For example, Los Angeles had one of the most extensive streetcar systems in the country. But, they tore up the tracks, put in highways, roadways, streets and paved to accommodate the car. We have suburbs because we have the car. We have exurbs because of the car. Now, we have to transform our thinking in America."

Thanks to Franny Ritchie

Full Story: Rep. Oberstar on the transportation bill and reform

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