Jaffe lays out the two opposing arguments for what role the federal government should play in funding transportation.
"On one hand, there are those who believe the country would be better off if federal governance of transportation were either significantly reduced or entirely eliminated." In this scenario, transportation funding responsibility would be shifted to states and localities.
"Proponents of decentralization also point out that, like it or not, the process has already started," notes Jaffe. "This past fall, a number of cities passed referendums to fund local transportation, extending a trend that goes back several years."
On the other side, the arguments for continued federal investment are based on "the historical roots of national transportation investment and the need to coordinate interstate infrastructure."
"It's kind of a myth that it will be feasible for the federal government simply to shed responsibility and leave it to the states," says transport scholar Martin Wachs of the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank. "There's a national interest in every aspect of the transportation system, and it's a political question as to how to organize it. It's a terrible mistake to think that the best thing to do is just to let it go."
"Of course there's a middle ground to this discussion." adds Jaffe. "The federal government can keep some sort of funding involvement in the nation's roads and rails but see its traditional top-down role of governance reformed."
In the current political climate the prospects for significant reform, whatever form it might take, are slim.