By Clifford F. Lynch
In March, I wrote about Transportation for Tomorrow, the National Surface
Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commissionís recently released report,
and my (and othersí) disappointment in its failure to deliver a draft of a
national transportation policy. In my opinion, without a clear vision and
clearly stated goals, we simply cannot formulate infrastructure or energy
strategies, develop tactics for executing those strategies, or intelligently
discuss how the necessary improvements will be funded.
As recently as early July, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was still
advocating private investment in our highway infrastructure. Whatever happened
to the governmentís commitment and responsibility to aid in the development of
highways Ė and, indeed, the entire transportation infrastructure? The National
Transportation Policy contained in the Transportation Act of 1940 was quite
clear in this regard. Among other provisions, it stated that the federal
government was "Öto cooperate with the several States, and the duly
authorized officials thereof; Öall to the end of developing, coordinating, and
preserving a national transportation system by water, highway, and rail as well
as other means, adequate to meet the needs of the commerce of the United States,
of the Postal Service, and of the national defense."
The first two decades following the actís passage saw some progress on that
front. In 1954, the current system of interstate highways was conceived. And on
June 29, 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed into law by President
Eisenhower, who had earlier told Congress, "Our unity as a nation is
sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people
More than 50 years later, we have yet to achieve the goal of "easy
transportation." Instead, we seem to be operating in a state of total
To the readers of this column, the issues are well known Ė a deteriorating,
50-year-old highway system; inadequate rail structure; disintegrating locks on
the Mississippi River; dangerous bridges; an ailing airline industry; and all
the associated problems. And to top it all off, we have the rapidly dwindling
Highway Trust Fund, which is projected to run a deficit of $3 billion by the end
of 2009. This being an election year, I was hopeful that we might see a flurry
of activity. And we have, but it appears to be the same old political rhetoric.
We are trying to treat symptoms instead of the disease.
A May-to September moratorium on the federal gas tax was suggested, but in a
less-than-timely July decision, Congress decided we could not afford to deplete
the trust fund and put road and bridge construction jobs in jeopardy. It was a
rather weak idea, anyway.
House Transportation Committee chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) has said his
committee is working on the next highway bill; but if itís anything like
previous bills, it will be more conspicuous by its "earmarks" than by
anything remotely resembling a national transportation policy. The 2005 bill
contained a record 6,376 "special interest projects," most of which
did little to help shore up the basic infrastructure.
I have never been a political activist, but I have become convinced that this
problem will not be solved until our industry rises up and demands a master plan
for the country. During the 110th Congress, the House Transportation
Committee has reported out six pieces of transportation legislation, all of
which address narrow issues and can by no means be considered part of a total
Just for fun, since itís an election year and we have politics on our
minds, letís give the political process a try. Why donít we all e-mail our
representatives and senators and suggest the novel idea of developing a sound
policy and plan before they plunge further into transportation legislation?