Your tax dollars not at work

With thanks to the Municipal Arts Society’s New Penn Station site

According to a recent article in Congressional Quarterly, the New York City area spent at least $7 billion more than any other city in the country on public transportation in 2006: $521 per capita. Perhaps that is not so surprising considering how many of the region’s 18 million residents depend on the rail, subway, and bus systems. But just 8% of those funds come from the federal government.

By comparison, Paris ($1,852) and London ($1,242) spend more than double New York’s per capita sum on mass transit.

Nations such as China and India are planning to spend between 8 and 9 percent of their gross domestic product on infrastructure upgrades and mass transit…That commitment makes for a sober contrast with what the United States now spends on its efforts to shore up its transportation infrastructure while also launching more efficient, congestion-relieving mass transit projects: less than 2 percent of the nation’s GDP.

The article cites a few examples of successful local public transportation initiatives, such as DART in Dallas, that are leveraging private investment or local funding, but most agree that the federal government must assume a larger role. In fact, the independent National Surface Transportation Policy Review Commission released a report in January concluding there is no way local governments, even flush with more private funding, can sustain capital-intensive transit networks alone.

It is precisely chronic underinvestment like this that hobbles cities’ growth while making their citizens’ lives more difficult and denying them access to safe and efficient forms of transportation. On the local, state, and Federal levels, communities across the United States need to make a substantial, long-term commitment to shoring up their infrastructure to provide for their safety and economic security. Why such fundamental assets can be left to rot and wither is simply beyond my understanding.

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