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For Transportation, Real Reform Can Only Happen at the State and Local Levels
Yonah Freemark offers a little perspective about the future of transportation planning and policy heading into the presidential election next week, starting first with a nod to the conventional thinking about the potential of a major sea change at the federal level to deliver necessary change in how the nation plans and funds its transportation priorities:
Hoping to respond to the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 and the prospect of Democratic control over both houses of Congress and the White House, Senate Democrats have begun preparations for a $1 trillion infrastructure package.
The list of possibilities for a Democratic-led coalition on transportation are enticing, but Freemark insists that far bigger prizes can be found at the local and state level:
Yet the key questions regarding transportation in the United States—whether the country is able to truly adapt its mobility system to mitigate the devastation wrought by climate change; whether we integrate transportation and land-use planning so as to reduce exurban expansion and automobile dependency; whether we harness access as a tool to reduce inequality, rather than as a mechanism to further empower and enrich a lucky few—are in fact more often than not in the hands not of the federal government, but rather in those of elected officials at the state and municipal levels.
According to Freemark, states and cities have a habit of making regressive choices on transportation, and "neither the federal government nor lower levels of government have been particularly effective custodians of their massive expenditures on transportation—at least when it comes to achieving more sustainable and equitable outcomes."
In the rest of the article, Freemark throws water on the idea that an infrastructure stimulus will provide equitable or sustainable projects without buy-in from local and state governments. The solution to these challenges, according to Freemark: change at lower levels of government, not just at the very top.