Transportation in the States

Are you following the transportation crisis that illustrates the tension between the federal government and state governments?

The federal government is low on funds and that is causing problems for the states. That’s not a new scenario, but rather a case of same story, different venue. This time it is not a matter of sequester or Medicaid issue but rather a matter of funding for transportation projects.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently warned that it could run out of money by late summer. States are pleading with the federal government to find a solution to keep their roads open for summer travel.

This week, the DOT issued a major change to current policy: it asked Congress to allow states to collect tolls on interstate highways in order to fund necessary reconstruction work. This will provide a temporary fix to current funding woes, but it isn’t a long-term solution.

The current funding structure is at heart of the problem. National transportation policy is yet another example of states relying too heavily on federal dollars.

So how bad is the state reliance on federal transportation funds?

31 states depend on federal dollars for over half of their highways and bridge improvements according to analysis from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. As a result, the federal government possesses too much control over the process, leaving states with few options, save begging, to solve current infrastructure problems.

As transportation expert Dennis Polhill described so clearly last year in his analysis, “Because about half of gasoline taxes cycle through Washington, D.C., cost-sharing and benefits in transportation are distorted.”

Simply put, federal involvement interferes with states’ ability to see and measure the cost of transportation projects. States’ reliance on the federal government inevitably leads to situations like we’re facing today, with states facing a shortage of federal dollars and no plan for how to proceed without them.

Polhill points to a bright solution, a recent proposal from Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Tom Graves to block grant federal transportation funding to the states. The plan would give states autonomy and flexibility over their transportation projects, removing the cumbersome restrictions the federal government currently places on states. Moreover, this proposal would reduce state dependency on federal aid and allow local solutions to take shape.

Until states gain control and flexibility over transportation policy and funding, they’ll continue to find themselves in similar crises.

To learn more about local solutions to transportation and infrastructure issues, check out some of the great research and analysis from the Reason Foundation.

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