Local Governments Advocate For Greater Role In Federal Transportation Spending

With transportation reauthorization under consideration, local governments are looking to Congress to find new transportation dollars and seeking a larger role in how these funds are spent.  An article in Governing describes the concerns and challenges facing local governments.

First, they want federal lawmakers to find an elusive source of new money so that federal highway and transit funding does not dry up.

Second, they want Congress to revisit changes it made two years ago in how that money is divvied up. Local leaders say the changes, instituted under the law called MAP-21, disproportionately hit cities and counties. Under the law, Congress not only cut money available for local roads, it also gave local leaders less say in deciding how federal money should be spent by putting states in charge of more of those decisions.

The 2012 federal law put more money toward big highways and less toward local roads. It cut money for bridges and roads that are not part of the National Highway System by 30 percent. Local governments own more than half of those smaller roads. The law also gives states a greater role in determining how to spend federal money on everything from run-down bridges to bike lanes and sidewalks.

There has been no consensus on raising the federal gas tax and with this most recent funding shift, many local governments have been forced to raise property or sales taxes to generate revenue for transportation projects.

But if Congress were to find money, there is a chance it might reconsider how the funds are allocated. Two members of the U.S. House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are sponsoring legislation that would require states to set aside a portion of the federal transportation money they receive for competitive grants, for which localities could compete.

David Goldberg, a spokesman for Transportation for America, which supports greater local involvement in transportation decisions, said that approach would allow the federal government to set national priorities. Then states and localities could decide which projects best meet those national goals.

That way, cities and states could focus on spurring economic development, creating links between different modes of transportation or attracting private money to a project, rather than simply just building and maintaining highways, Goldberg said.

These grants would be very similar to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) grants.