Getting What You Paid For — Paying For What You Get: Proposals for the Next Transportation Reauthorization

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When Congress passed the Federal Aid HighwayAct of 1956, it gave the Bureau of PublicRoads a clear mission: oversee construction of asafe, high-speed Interstate Highway System. Asthat system neared completion in the 1980s, themission of the Department of Transportationbecame increasingly murky. Now the departmentis supposed to reduce congestion; attract peopleout of their automobiles; clean the air; promoteeconomic development; improve livability; createa sense of community: and accomplish a varietyof other often conflicting goals — most of whichare not easily quantifiable.

As the mission became muddied, each surfacetransportation reauthorization since 1982 hasincluded an increasing number of earmarks,divided revenues among more and more differentfunds, and added lengthy rules for how thosefunds may be spent. Each earmark, apportionment,and rule has made transportation spendingincrementally less efficient.

This increasing politicization of somethingthat began life as a fairly efficient program is thepredictable result of government involvement inwhat is essentially a private economic activity. Theinevitability of such decline is a good argumentfor abolishing the U.S. Department of Transportationand devolving federal transportation programsto the states.

Short of that, Congress should make everyeffort to return to a system where people get whatthey pay for — that is, transportation user fees are dedicatedto systems that benefit the people who paidthose fees — and people pay for what they get — that is,people pay the full cost of the facilities they use.

As a second-best solution to abolishing theDepartment of Transportation, this paper offerseight proposals essential for the 2009 reauthorizationto achieve these goals. These proposalsinclude

  1. Apportion funds to states based on population,
  2. land area, and user fees

  3. Require that short-term plans be efficient
  4. or cost efficient

  5. Create a citizen-enforcement process that
  6. will ensure efficiency and cost efficiency

  7. Eliminate long-range transportation planning
  8. Allow unlimited use of road tolls
  9. Eliminate clean-air mandates
  10. Avoid earmarks
  11. Remove employee protective arrangements from transit law