Department of Transportation would see spending increase

February 13, 2012

In a year of widespread budget cuts, the Transportation Department is a bright spot.

Mandatory and discretionary federal transportation funding would climb about 2 percent, or by $1.4 billion from the previous year, with major investments in highways and public transportation.

The cornerstone of the proposal is a six-year, $476 billion surface transportation plan, with $47 billion spent over six years to develop high-speed rail projects, a priority of the Obama White House.

The budget proposal also would provide $50 billion for transportation infrastructure projects in fiscal 2013, including highway and runway construction. Part of the funding would be paid for with $231 billion spent in previous years on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even with such a large allocation, the budget's allocation falls short of what transportation experts say the country needs to invest in its transportation infrastructure. A 2010 report by 80 experts, led by former transportation secretaries Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel K. Skinner, called for an annual investment of $262 billion in the nation's deteriorating transportation infrastructure. And that estimate may even be on the low side.

The Obama budget plan differs considerably from House and Senate transportation bills under consideration this week that would provide funding for a shorter period of time. The House measure would be for five years and allocate more than $200 billion less than the Obama plan. The Senate plan would stretch over two years.

The budget also would provide more than $1 billion in fiscal 2013 for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which transportation experts have long said is an overdue fix to the nation’s antiquated air traffic control systems. The budget also would cut $926 million in funds for large- and medium-sized airports, while boosting money for smaller airports. Those larger airports would be allowed to boost certain ticket fees to pay for airport construction projects.

In the Washington area, the Metro transit system would lose $15 million in federal funding that pays for capital and safety  items, including new rail cars and escalator replacement. Metro would still receive about $475.5 million in federal dollars, according to the budget plan.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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