The Wall Street Journal comments that Americans don't want to live in Ray LaHood's car-free utopia; moreover, top-down transportation planning creates massive inequalities between states.
Nothing shows off the worst of Congress like a highway bill. And this year's scramble for cash is worse than ever because the 18.4 cent a gallon gasoline tax will raise $70 billion less than the $263 billion Congress wants to spend over the next five years. Let the mayhem ensue.
The Senate has passed a two-year $109 billion bill sponsored by Barbara Boxer of California that bails out the highway trust fund with general revenues, including some $12 billion for such nonessentials as the National Endowment for the Oceans and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill requires little or no reform. The prevailing Senate view is the more concrete that gets poured, the more jobs back home. So more "shovel-ready" nonstimulus.
House Republicans oppose the Senate version amid a $1.3 trillion deficit and have their own bill to give states more flexibility—though still not enough—on how to spend transportation dollars. Congress had to pass a temporary 90-day extension of highway funding through June 30 because the two sides can't agree.
What's missing is any new thinking. Clear evidence of inefficient transportation spending comes from a new Treasury study estimating that traffic gridlock costs motorists more than $100 billion a year in delays and wasted gas. In cities like Los Angeles, commuters waste the equivalent of two extra weeks every year in traffic jams. This congestion could be alleviated by building more highway lanes where they are most needed and using market-based pricing—such as tolls—for using roads during peak travel times.