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Posted by Stuart Macdonald, American Trails Magazine and website editor
Mayors were asked what their biggest challenges are in using transportation as part of their city’s broader strategies to reduce congestion, improve livability, and increase economic competitiveness. Lack of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects emerged as a key issue facing three in five mayors (60%). To meet this challenge, 75% indicated support to increase the federal gas tax if a greater share of the funding were invested in bicycle and pedestrian projects. This is significantly more than the 54% who support increasing the gas tax to build high-speed intercity passenger rail infrastructure.
trail along freeway right-of-way in Salt Lake City at
connects Bonneville Shoreline and Parley's Canyon trails
Ninety-three percent of the mayors urge reforms in federal transportation programs to allow cities and their metropolitan areas to receive a greater share of federal funds directly.
A key issue is more control over setting local priorities as opposed to the current system of funnelling federal transportation dollars through the State departments of transportation. Absent a greater share of funding directly to cities and metropolitan areas, only seven percent of the mayors indicate support to increase the federal gas tax.
“As the federal government sets priorities for long-term spending and deficit reduction, future transportation infrastructure investments should focus spending on pressing metropolitan transportation infrastructure needs as opposed to low-priority highway expansion projects such as the infamous Bridge to Nowhere,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The survey also points up the conflict over spending priorities, which are often seen to be skewed toward rural highways and exurban arterials. Accordiing to one respondent, “Existing funding mechanisms should be completely overhauled to express genuine support for livable, healthy, and economically competitive 21st century cities. We don’t need the last great highway projects of the 20th century, but rather the first great transportation projects of the 21st century.”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors concludes that "In the United States, metropolitan areas account for 86 percent of employment, 90 percent of wage income, and over the next 20 years, 94 percent of the nation’s economic growth, but they are burdened with the nation’s worst traffic jams, its oldest roads and bridges, and transit systems at capacity. Simply put, these areas are receiving significantly less in federal transportation investments than would reflect their role and importance to the nation’s economy."
Eighty percent of the mayors indicate that highway expansion should be a low priority. As another survey responsent noted, "the future of our nation lies in our ability to revitalize existing places (namely inner cities and older suburbs) rather than continuing to grow outwardly."
The five biggest challenges identified by the mayors are:
road/street maintenance (78%);
bicycle/pedestrian projects (60%);
public transit operating assistance (45%),
public transit capacity (40%); and
road/street expansion (36%).
According to Tom Cochran of he United States Conference of Mayors, "this survey confirms what mayors have been saying for years: through a new direct partnership with mayors, the federal government should make tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure more metropolitan-focused, more energy-efficient, and more environmentally sustainable."
Mayors throughout the United States were surveyed from March 14 to April 8, 2011. The survey was developed by The United States Conference of Mayors with Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Download the summary of the Metropolitan Transportation Infrastructure Survey (pdf 926 kb)