Their big promise: Republican leaders plan to eliminate Highway Trust Fund spending on projects such as mass transit, bike-share programs, sidewalk improvements, and rail-to-trail projects.
The Highway Trust Fund is a pot of money designated for transportation projects, funded by the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal tax on gas. That rate hasn’t changed in 23 years … and as everything else in the world has gotten more expensive, the gas tax fund has begun to have less and less purchasing power.
Many Democrats (and a few Republicans) have called for an increase in the gas tax to help pay for more of the country’s transportation needs. But most Republicans, committed to reducing federal spending, don’t agree. When it comes to the Highway Trust Fund, they believe the better option is to quit spending gas tax money on infrastructure projects that aren’t directly related to cars.
As GOP leaders outlined in their platform, they want to focus that money on highways, roads and projects that help cars move more quickly in urban and rural areas. In the process, they threw some jabs at “livability” advocates, referring to the push toward sustainable transportation as a form of “social engineering.”
The current Administration … subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to “coerce people out of their cars.” …We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government. More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations.
Urban transit advocates argue that funding for bikes and public transit projects actually have sizable benefits for the highway system: When more people use trains, buses and bikeways, there is more space on roads for people who need to drive and trucks carrying goods across the country. And public transportation can be a lifeline in rural areas where people don’t have the money to own cars.
But Republicans are also pushing to eliminate public subsidies for passenger rail services such as Amtrak, and allow private companies to operate them.
And they want to axe all federal support for California’s high-speed rail project. “We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere” they wrote in their policy statement.
The irony? Donald Trump is actually a big fan of public transit — and it’s one of the issues on which he’s been absolutely consistent since he entered the race. He often talks in glowing terms about the state-of-the-art train systems he sees during his international travels.
Take this speech back in March, in which Trump highlighted the need to upgrade America’s train networks and airports to match the much more technologically advanced infrastructure that exists in Europe and Asia:
“You go to China, they have trains that go 300 miles an hour. We have trains that go ‘Chug, chug, chug.’ And then they have to stop because the tracks split, right?”
That jibes with Trump’s promises to make infrastructure a priority during his administration, if he becomes president … and he’s not just talking about a wall on the border with Mexico.
In the preface of his 2015 book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again,” he talks about the need for an overhaul – both when it comes to roadways and public transit.
Domestically, we need to undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure. Too many bridges have become dangerous, our roads are decaying and full of potholes, while traffic jams are costing millions in lost income for drivers who have jobs in congested cities. Public transit is overcrowded and unreliable and our airports must be rebuilt. You go to countries like China and many others and you look at their train systems and their public transport. It’s so much better. We’re like a third-world country.
At the Republican National Convention, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, told Business Insider that Trump told him he’s planning to be “the greatest infrastructure president in the nation’s history.”
What’s Trump’s plan to make that promise a reality? Unclear. But if he follows through, he’ll have to get his not-so-transit-minded Republican colleagues on board.