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Greater Washington Partnership joins national push to end transportation ‘logjams’

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The Greater Washington Partnership, a group of corporate executives and civic leaders, is joining similar organizations from around the country to press Congress on federal transportation policies, priorities and projects.

The joint effort, launched Thursday, comes as the Trump administration and Congress struggle to plug a major gap in funding for road and transit projects.

Top executives from Washington and New York; Houston and Columbus, Ohio; Silicon Valley and beyond are calling on Congress to give major metropolitan areas more flexibility and resources to dramatically improve congestion and ease the movement of freight to buttress the national economy.

Backers of the newly formed Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance — representing 10 regions around the country with nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population and 30 percent of its GDP — say they hope to tap their experience pushing for transportation improvements locally to help secure similar breakthroughs nationally.

“The future success of our regions — which is directly tied to the nation’s prosperity — requires a strong federal partner on transportation,” the group wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders Wednesday.

Among the members of the regional groups that formed the alliance are top executives and leaders from Microsoft, Boeing, Bank of America, Nintendo, Johns Hopkins University, Hearst and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The letter calls for changes in how transportation resources are allocated and which projects are eligible for federal dollars, and says “transparent, objective data” and clear measurements should drive government decision-making.

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“However, Congress and the U.S. DOT are increasingly limiting competition for funds to less populated states or rural areas and limiting the amount of funds going to major metropolitan areas regardless of need and other objective factors,” the letter says, adding that “in doing so, they hurt both rural and metropolitan economies by making it difficult to get goods to market and stifling economic opportunity.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said that transportation in rural areas has been “historically neglected,” and she has sought to redirect funding to such communities.

The alliance also said a new surface transportation bill should jettison an “arbitrary cap” on federal funding for freight projects beyond highways. It said transit, rail and Amtrak all need more funding. And it said the federal government should increase the amount of money it provides directly to metropolitan areas, rather than through states.

Joe McAndrew, director of transportation policy at the Greater Washington Partnership, said successes and ongoing work in New York on congestion; in Chicago on snarled freight rail; and in Washington on Metro funding can lend the group’s leaders credibility with local congressional delegations and other officials on Capitol Hill. Atlanta, Washington state, Massachusetts and California’s Bay Area are also represented in the effort.

“We’ve all been in the trenches here at the regional level. We understand full well that the logjams we face in the transportation system impact our regions’ economic growth and our nation’s economic growth,” McAndrew said. “If we can’t unlock our infrastructure bottlenecks, those metropolitan challenges we face impact our nation’s economy.”

The Trump administration last month proposed cutting billions of dollars in discretionary spending in next year’s Department of Transportation budget. But it also called for a new $810 billion transportation package.

Transportation Department officials said the “baseline insolvency” of the Highway Trust Fund, which covers road and transit projects nationwide, is $185 billion over 10 years — and the administration is proposing to add an additional $75 billion.

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Yet political sparring continues over whether to raise the gas tax to replenish the fund, and it remains unclear how much progress can be made on funding and policy issues in an already fraught election year.

McAndrew said the alliance is hopeful.

“We’re optimistic that Congress is ready to make a move. I think they have to,” he said. “The Highway Trust Fund . . . is nearly running on fumes.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said that “the engagement of business leaders . . . will provide valuable input and motivation for members of Congress to pass transportation infrastructure legislation.”