It may be “seven years too late,” as tactical urbanist Mike Lydon put it, but President Obama has released a transportation proposal that calls for big shifts in the country’s spending priorities.
Obama’s proposal would generate $30 billion annually from a $10-per-barrel surcharge assessed on oil companies. More importantly, the revenue is linked to a substantial shift in what transportation projects get funded. It’s the kind of thorough proposal, on both the revenue and spending sides of the equation, that Obama shied away from for most of his presidency. (It would only have stood a chance during his first two years in office.) While this Congress would never pass it, the proposal does lay down a marker for what smart federal transportation policy could be.
In a rough sketch laid out by the White House yesterday of the upcoming proposal, Obama calls for major increases in transit funding and investing in a network of efficient high-speed rail. Perhaps even more innovative is a $10 billion program to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. This program, among other things, would fund states to better coordinate housing and job development with transportation. Obama’s proposal also calls for $2 billion to support research and development and the implementation of autonomous vehicles.
Not surprisingly, what has gotten the most press is the oil tax, which even Obama admits would likely be passed on to consumers through higher gas prices. Already, Republican Congressional leaders have called the proposal “DOA.”
Obama’s people have acknowledged the bill faces long odds in Congress, describing it as a conversation starter. An unnamed administration official told Politico the plan would help shift the nation’s transportation policy out of the Eisenhower era.