A better title for the law, which allocates billions of dollars from federal gas taxes, might be the Urban Immobility and Pork‐Barrel Act. ISTEA gives urban governments incentives to promote congestion and build pork‐barrel projects.
Rail transit projects funded by the law increase congestion because they carry so few people and divert funds from activities that could improve traffic flows. Even Washington, D.C.’s well‐developed but expensive rail and bus transit network moves fewer than 14 percent of all commuters.
Light rail in particular is a 19th‐century technology that is slow, inconvenient and expensive. Many cities now pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into light rail lines that will replace two or three bus routes could have doubled bus service on every one of their routes for far less money.
Portland, Oregon, is often touted as a model for urban planning and transportation. Yet its light‐rail line is a failure, carrying fewer than half the people originally projected by planners. Since the line went into operation, transit’s share of weekday Portland traffic has significantly declined.
Portland planners “have stopped trying to ease traffic congestion,” reported National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” recently. “Instead, they are embracing congestion; they want to create more of it.”
They are succeeding. The Texas Transportation Institute’s annual congestion survey says that congestion is increasing faster in Portland than in any other western city. Portland planners quietly predict that their land‐use plan will triple congestion over current levels.
Why would anyone want more congestion? Supporters of immobility fall into four distinct groups: