July 20, 2021
Congress’ Infrastructure Bill Must Address Climate & Equity
We cannot afford to repeat the status quo, every investment must consider the long-term health, economic opportunity, and mobility of all Americans.
America’s transportation infrastructure is the bedrock of our economy, but for too long it has been weighted towards unsustainable and inequitable priorities. The House of Representatives’ INVEST Act incorporates climate and equity goals into virtually every aspect of the federal transportation program, offering a great opportunity to modernize our transportation policy. With transportation now the leading source of the pollution driving the climate crisis we cannot afford bad policy that will continue to invest in the very system that makes cleaning up the sector harder, if not impossible on the timeline science demands.
It’s hard to miss the news that a bipartisan group of Senators is busy working on a deal to invest in America’s infrastructure broadly – our roads and bridges, water systems, and more. But instead of building on the foundation the House offered that will deliver a better transportation system that fixes the roads and bridges we have and improves transit and safety for all users, and invests in a climate resilient system, the Senate bipartisan group is relying on the Senate’s backward looking Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (STRA) as the base for a large portion of the package.
ELPC joined a coalition of 130+ organizations calling on the Senate to recognize the challenges of the 21st century and create transportation policy to address them. Here are some highlights from that letter:
“The transportation sector is the largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and a lack of safe, accessible, and affordable transportation has cut many Black and brown neighborhoods off from economic opportunity. Any final bill must address two of the most significant challenges facing our nation today: climate change and racial equity.”
No final bill is complete without the following policies:
- Comprehensive performance measurement framework – Agencies should be measuring how well their systems connect people to jobs and essential services.
- Highway-level commitment to transit, including funding for operations – For the past forty years, transit has received only $1 for every $4 that has gone to highways.
- Focus federal highway funds on maintenance – This nation faces a road repair backlog of $435 billion, before states add road capacity (and thereby encourage more driving) they should be required to create a plan for maintenance.
- Zero emission vehicle facilities and infrastructure – Should support deployment of charging and fueling infrastructure for all zero emission vehicles (including scooters, bikes, cars, buses, & trucks) in all communities.
- Reconnecting Communities program – It is past time to fix the historic damage wrought by urban highway construction that has divided Black and brown communities.
- Safe streets for all – Our roads and highways are becoming increasingly dangerous for those outside of a vehicle, especially Black people and Native Americans. States must target reduced traffic deaths.
- Stronger role for local governments – Cities are hotbeds of innovation in transportation, they should have greater authority over design & selection of federally funded projects.
The important points in the coalition letter only touch on the surface transportation slice of the package. From the INVEST in America Act, we know Congress can ensure our transportation dollars are invested to improve how we get around. The climate crisis is here and we cannot afford to lock in bad policies and bad spending.
ELPC also believes it is important to focus on the revenue as well as the expenses in transportation. Over the last decade, we have transferred $114 billion of general funds to the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund. This essentially amounts to paying people $114 billion to drive more and increase air and climate pollution and congestion. Revenue to the highway account should only come from the gas tax and other user fees, and every highway investment must be fiscally prudent and weighed against other options. We cannot continue to subsidize driving with transfers of general revenues and from other sources to highways we don’t need and cannot afford.
A bipartisan deal must meet the climate moment and deliver a better, safer, and smarter transportation system for all. We cannot afford to throw more money at failed policies and bad outcomes.