Friday, July 16, 2004

Money Not Well Spent

Ken Orski's Innovation Briefs have been the best source of informed news and commentary on the state of federal transportation programs for many years  Ken's latest reporting has been about the status of the six-year Surface Transportation reauthorization bill now in House-Senate conference.
There is, of course, more politics than transportation involved. Competing versions of the bill, ranging from $256 billion to $375 billion have been considered at one time or another.  This is big-time pork.  WSJ editorials have cited as many as 3,000 earmarks for pet projects that involve special favors for individual Congress members.   More earmarks than members.
There is little reason, of course, for a federal role in any of this -- other than to provide  the politicians with a cash flow.  It is not surprising that we keep spending more and getting less.  Sound familiar? 
Altshuler and Luberoff report that in the years 1980-2000, U.S. urban vehicle miles traveled grew by 95% while available urban highways increased by 37% .
It is not that taxpayers have been stingy.  Comparing the two years, annual expenditures on highways (all levels of government) are up 77% in constant dollars.
Wendell Cox reports that in the 20-year time span, $565.2 billion of highway user fees have been collected by the feds but almost 15% went to transit.  And how did transit do in those 20 years?   Commuting by transit kept falling, down to 4.7% in 2000, from 6.4% in 1980.  In fact, transit commuting even dropped in absolute numbers.  Down to 6.07 million annual boardings  in 2000, from 6.18 million annual boardings in 1980.
Transit advocates keep saying that they want a "balanced" transportation system.  So do we all.  But what we get is a highly politicized and pathetically wasteful system.