Proposal Would Link Highway Funding to Zoning

Experts argue that zoning, housing, and transportation policy are intimately linked.

2 minute read

February 22, 2024, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of housing and freeway in Cupertino, California.

Housing and freeway in Cupertino, California. | MichaelVi / Adobe Stock

In an article for the Federation of American Scientists, Sam Maloney and Rohit Swain propose a new mechanism for forcing states to adopt zoning reform: highway funding.

According to the article, “The mandated underbuilding of US housing in rich coastal cities led to an estimated 36% loss in growth from 1964 to 2009 (newer estimates are smaller but still are significant amounts of lost value).” Thus, federal action is needed to boost housing production.

As a legal precedent, they point to “23 U.S.C. §158, which imposed a national minimum drinking age by taking away recalcitrant states’ highway funding,” as well as state laws in California and Montana that limit the ability of local jurisdictions to impede housing construction.

“Congress should pass legislation following 23 U.S.C. §158 requiring each state with a Metropolitan Statistical Area where the median renter is rent-burdened (i.e., median rent is at least 30% of area median income) and where area median income exceeds the US median income to submit a plan to HUD detailing how they will address the rent crisis in their state.” States that don’t comply could then lose Highway Trust Fund appropriations. The authors also recommend that federal agencies include density and housing criteria when awarding transit grants.

For the authors, the link between transportation and housing is clear: “[T]he federal government has an interest in ensuring its transportation is an efficient use of taxpayer money, and under exclusionary zoning, development is encouraged to unnecessarily sprawl overloading interstate highways, thus forcing expensive highway widenings.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2024 in Federation of American Scientists

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