Changing course: Biden’s historic transport budget
Government ships are notoriously difficult to steer. Fortunately, like real ships, they are equipped with a helm which, under intelligent leadership, can help us change direction. One of those tools is the federal budget. And, when it comes to transportation, President Biden is making the most of his fiscal year 2022 budget proposal to point us in the right direction.
Let’s be clear: we need a change of direction. Whether it’s the sins of racial inequalities or the looming climate crisis, we need new policies to create a cleaner, more just society.
In the Department of Transportation’s budget plan, Secretary Pete Buttigieg explains how he will tackle these long-overlooked historic crises (along with a philosophy they cite as underpinning all their work: traveler safety). Specifically, the administration envisions the budget working as a nested item with the surface transportation reauthorization bill now making its way through Congress and the U.S. Jobs Plan, unveiled two months ago. . The administration intends to work with Congress to make sure they point us in the right direction.
Advancing racial equity
Starting at the top, the commitment to fairness is clear. The administration is proposing a new $ 110 million Thriving Communities program that aligns with a similar $ 20 billion AJP proposal to reconnect black and brown communities that have been crossed by highways or bridges. damaged. The renamed $ 1 billion RAISE program (which was originally the TIGER program in the 2009 ARRA Act) complements this new program with competitive grants awarded in part on the basis of their equity benefits.
The Federal Highway Administration has requested substantial funding for traditional highway programs. The implementation of this funding is a critical determinant of whether or not it strengthens equity, and the FHWA clearly intends that this will be the case by “recognizing[ing] that our current transportation system does not provide everyone with access to opportunities; and that improvements are needed in our laws and public policies to make transportation more equitable. This is particularly important not only for the billions of dollars spent on road improvements, but also for the 357.9 million dollars requested to support metropolitan planning and the 20 million dollars for training support services in employment courses and support services for disadvantaged businesses.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is perhaps the most important in improving fairness given the disproportionate role of public transportation in providing mobility choices to low-income people and communities of color. The budget calls for funds for projects across the country as well as $ 550 million for four new infrastructure grant programs that would help build equity and $ 30 million for research on transit needs in a post-COVID world. In addition, the Federal Rail Administration (not surprisingly, given Amtrak Joe’s long-standing commitment to rail) receives substantial funding and attention, including a new $ 625 million grant program called PRIME – Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion – which together with the $ 375 million CRISI (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements) program dollars, would help provide more rail services. service to more communities, which gives another boost to equity.
The request also includes $ 13 million for the Office of Civil Rights, a substantial increase for an office focused on improving equity.
Fight against climate change
In addition to highways, mass transit and rail, the administration is pushing for a major investment in electric vehicles, which is critical so that we can move to selling all zero-emission vehicles in the 15 coming years. Pollution from tailpipes is one of the main sources of carbon emissions that cause climate change, and also a key source of toxic pollution that leads to soot and smog.
One of the keys to this transition is to ensure that the United States is a world leader in the manufacture of these vehicles, so that they can lead to the growth of good national jobs. The budget proposes to add $ 10 billion in new advanced energy manufacturing tax credits (Section 48C of the Internal Revenue Code) that companies can tap to build electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants. It is important to note that one of the criteria for granting tax credits is an assessment of wages to help ensure that manufacturing jobs are good jobs to support the family.
The Biden budget will also help reduce dangerous truck pollution with new tax credits for companies that replace dirty diesels with zero pollution electric trucks. And, the administration would expand the tax credits in Article 30C of the Tax Code for individuals and businesses that install electric charging and hydrogen refueling stations. Over the next five years, taxpayers installing a home charging station would be eligible for $ 1,000 and commercial facilities could receive up to $ 200,000 per charger.
And, the federal government itself would take the lead in leading this transition. Each year, the federal government purchases tens of thousands of new cars and trucks. The Biden budget would allocate $ 600 million to federal agencies to purchase clean electric vehicles and their charging stations. Purchases help create jobs in the United States, as vehicles must meet Buy America criteria for domestic production.
Investments in low carbon transport
Targeted but importantly, the budget recognizes and responds to crises of racial inequity and climate change. The FHWA notes its intention to authorize the use of road rights-of-way for the purpose of reducing carbon emissions, such as the establishment of renewable energy projects. The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, funded at $ 12.1 billion, and the low percentage earmarked for alternative transportation (i.e. bicycle and pedestrian projects) may help reduce emissions since it can be invested in a range of alternatives to building new roads. States as well as metropolitan planning organizations should be encouraged by the FHWA to exercise this flexibility more than in the past. The budget also includes $ 2.5 billion for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), a 1991 program that supports projects to reduce air pollution. air – including greenhouse gases – from transportation sources.
The $ 13.5 billion for the FTA helps fight climate change. This includes not only reducing the deferred system maintenance backlog – estimated at $ 105 billion – but also funding new projects as well as a competitive $ 50 million grant program to improve systems resiliency and adaptation to climate change.
Throughout this budget there are references to ‘fix first’, which is an important concept that should guide our surface transportation decisions in the years to come, and which also deals with climate in the future. moving on to necessary repairs and moving away from optional highways. building. We need to fix the roads and bridges we have, not waste money on new highways that will lead to more congestion and pollution. “Fix-it-first” and “fix-it-right” are overdue principles and we must hold DOT accountable for adhering to them.
No proposal is perfect, and that is also the case with this budget. On its own, it would not resolve the existing imbalance between the funding of highways and public transit; strengthening support for public transit to equal highways should be a priority to tackle both racial equity and climate change. It is only in combination with the US jobs plan that this imbalance will begin to be corrected.
And if the overall budget is an inspiring document, two specific requests deserve to be pointed out. First, the $ 364 million for Essential Air Service. As I wrote about ten years ago, this annual subsidy is wasteful and carbon intensive, and should be reconsidered in light of national policy priorities. Second, it is not clear whether the $ 623 million in grants from National Highway Traffic Safety come with strings attached so that they do not fund law enforcement activities that disproportionately harm black drivers and brown, as described in this report written by my colleague Rabi Abonour. This needs to be clarified.
Take the budget bar
The gist of the FY2022 transportation proposal is that – combined with the U.S. jobs plan and a landmark surface transportation reauthorization law – would set us on a new path as a country, towards a climate more stable, more racially equitable communities, and world-class infrastructure. Congress must now act so that we can move in the right direction.