With the 116th Congress kicking off on January 3rd during a partial government shutdown, there seems to be little that Republicans and Democrats agree on. However, there is plenty of speculation that infrastructure, including transportation, is one area where legislators of both parties could work together with the Trump Administration. This is despite the White House’s February 2018 release of a deeply-flawed infrastructure proposal that received only scant support from congressional Republicans and Democrats.
With the potential for action on transportation at the federal level, our coalition sent a letter last month to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation outlining the priorities we would like to see in any type of federal infrastructure package. We have shared this letter below.
Transportation for Massachusetts works closely with our partners at Transportation for America on federal policy. T4A is a great resource for federal issues, and for state and local initiatives across the country.
December 13, 2018
Dear Members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation:
Congratulations on your electoral victories, and the opportunities for leadership in the coming session of Congress.
Many of you spoke on the campaign trail about a desire to advance legislation to improve the nation’s infrastructure, including transportation, and we are encouraged by the apparent momentum for action from Congress. We applaud you for your focus on this important need in Massachusetts and around the country, and look forward to working with you on this effort, as well as on transportation appropriations and the successor to the FAST ACT, which expires in 2020.
Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) is a statewide coalition made up of business, environmental, planning, community-based, and public health organizations. We advocate for improvements in transportation across the Commonwealth. We care deeply about making existing infrastructure work better for everyone, and ensuring that new investments bring benefits to the state’s people, economy, environment, and public health.
As you prepare for the 116th Congress, we respectfully offer our thoughts on what transportation infrastructure legislation should include:
Funding should be real, sustainable, and generated from users. When transportation funding comes from the users of transportation, such as in the case of the gas tax, the resulting price signals lead to better outcomes, including fewer miles driven, reduced carbon emissions, and more fuel-efficient vehicles purchases. In recent years, as the Highway Trust Fund has become less solvent, a variety of one-time fixes have been employed that have broken this vital link between the funding of the system and the use of the system. While we strongly support new revenue for transportation, we would be concerned about funding approaches that further deteriorate this important connection. While there is a role for public-private-partnerships, government should be careful before selling off transportation assets.
The types of investments matter. Direct federal investment should include fixing and modernizing the transportation infrastructure we have. This is especially important for Massachusetts, which, thankfully, has moved beyond the era of highway expansion. At the same time, any infrastructure package should also include significant funding for targeted investments in non-vehicular transportation (public transportation, walking, and biking), particularly in areas that have been historically underinvested. This would provide people with transportation options that are associated with economic growth and with better environmental and public health outcomes. Massachusetts has a high transit mode-share compared to other states, so we particularly encourage you to fight for public transportation dollars in an infrastructure package. Finally, the federal government should use performance measures to prioritize funding for new projects that will most benefit communities, and then measure the success of these investments. In sum, any infrastructure package should do more than merely fund existing formula programs.
Climate mitigation and resilience should be centrally considered in all funding decisions. Climate change is an enormous threat to our economy and way of life, and transportation emits more climate pollution than any other sector of the state and country’s economy. Investments that reduce transportation emissions and/or strengthen resilience to extreme weather should be prioritized.
States and local governments need more tools, but the package cannot rely too heavily on funding matches. Any effort should take steps including, but not limited to, reducing or eliminating tolling restrictions, so that local and state governments can decide what is best for their regions and states. On the other hand, we cannot upend and overturn decades of federal commitment to transportation funding. The Trump Administration’s failed infrastructure plan of 2017 would have flipped the traditional federal funding percentage from 80% to 20%, and relied on an overly narrow definition of funding matches, rather than on the merit of transportation investments.
Policy language should seek innovation and efficiency, but not at the expense of important transportation goals. It is an exciting time in transportation, where new technology and innovation continue to advance, and new mobility options are emerging. But to ensure access for all users, appropriate regulations must be in place. We support the safe testing and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs), but we also have serious concerns about the safety, equity, and climate impacts of AVs, which could lead to a sharp increase in vehicle-miles-traveled. We hope that any language addressing AVs in an infrastructure bill or separate legislation is clear that a) state and local governments have a role to play in regulation and are not preempted by federal law from doing so, and b) companies are required to share certain portions of data that will be most helpful to transportation planners and decision makers.
Thank you for considering T4MA’s perspective. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these issues, please contact T4MA’s Policy Director Charlie Ticotsky at firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank you for your service to the Commonwealth and the country, and we look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
Director, Transportation for Massachusetts