This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
I think Matt Yglesias is right about what we should and shouldn’t expect the upcoming federal stimulus bill to accomplish vis-a-vis transit investment:
It was true that Americas infrastructure policy needed a serious overhaul before this economic crisis hit. And it will continue to be true that the way infrastructure spending works in the United States is screwed up and in need of reform. Barack Obama had proposals for addressing these issues before the interest in a stimulus bill came around. As it happens, I think he had some pretty good ideas. And ultimately this is where the real action is going to benot in terms of what is and isnt in the stimulus package, but what kinds of enduring reforms does his administration bring about. For example, the stimulus proposal currently offers $30 billion for roads and $10 billion for rail and transit. Thats not the ratio of my dreams, but its a much better ratio than is reflected in current spending priorities. And those current priorities are entrenched in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) a.k.a. the highway bill in a manner that reflects its disproportionate emphasis on highways. Its a law thats set for renewal and rewriting in 2009.
In the short-runi.e., in the stimulus time frametheres only so much change of priorities that its feasible to do. But in the longer run, priorities can be shifted much more dramatically. This is a very big deal and in some ways where the real action will be in terms of whether or not we see a national shift in priorities.
The national infrastructure bank in particular, if properly created, is one of the most promising ideas for transit spending to come along in a while. And by properly created, I mean sufficiently independent, with the ability to give money directly to transit agencies (and not filter it through state governments), and with a funding formula that correctly values moving people not cars, transit-oriented development, the long-term cost benefits of rail, etc.