The Merced Sun-Star editorialized today for a greener, more sustainable economic stimulus, offering some excellent reasons for using this economic crisis as an opportunity to finally move beyond the now-failed policies of automobile dependence:
Environmentalists must understand that roads, bridges and highways are going to be an important part of our transportation infrastructure for a long time to come. We have neglected that infrastructure to the point of real danger, and that must be urgently addressed.
But proponents of the conventional wisdom in transportation must also recognize that we cannot build our way out of congestion and air quality problems by simply adding more freeway lanes.
That contributes to urban sprawl, with its attendant environmental damage, and does nothing to reduce our dependence on imports of foreign oil. Also, transit and rail systems are often less expensive to build than more highways to carry similar capacity.
One thing is clear: The time has passed for the heavy emphasis on roads and highway now enshrined in federal policy.
That dependence on foreign oil, the legacy of the decision to rely on cars alone as the means to provide mobility in America rather than a balanced approach of cars, trains, buses, bikes and feet, is a major reason for our economic crisis. If Barack Obama, Congress, and other policymakers want to get this country back on its feet and to avoid a repeat of the current meltdown, they need to ensure that more of the proposed stimulus goes to mass transit and not to fulfill state DOT highway dreams.
Obama didn't help when he said that the stimulus should fund projects ready to turn dirt within six months - the need for speed is there, but he should have given himself more flexibility to include using the stimulus for transit. Even so, Jim Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee, is working to increase the share of transit funding in the overall stimulus plan.
Some of that stimulus should go to high speed rail, of course, and even if our project gets federal funding in a later appropriation outside the immediate stimulus, even $50 million to pay for planning and engineering work would demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable transportation policy. Plus, planners and engineers need jobs too!
The details of the stimulus are still being worked out, and public pressure can help produce a better, greener, more transit-friendly stimulus. Transportation For America is running a campaign to pressure Congress to do exactly that. Sign the petition and let Congress know that we need to provide a big boost to mass transit - and let them know that HSR should be a part of that stimulus.