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Reason Foundation

American Public Doesn't Want Feds in Charge of Roads

Samuel Staley
August 21, 2011, 1:02pm

A new survey by HNTB, a consulting and engineering firm based out of Kansas City, Missouri, found that more than two-thirds of Americans would prefer to have decisions about road repair, manintenance, and management made by state and local governments. According to American City and County magazine (Aug 15, 2011), the survey of 1,000 Americans polled in May, 2011 found,

Fifty-four percent of Americans have a problem with the poor road conditions, and 50 percent say the nation's byways are too jammed, according to the survey, released Aug. 9. More than seven in 10 (72 percent) feel that interstate highway funding decisions should be made at the local or state level, while 27 percent think that should be a federal responsibility. Most believe transportation departments — including state departments of transportation (28 percent), local and regional transportation authorities (28 percent) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (24 percent) — should be the primary decision makers for addressing the needs of interstate highways, not elected officials. "It's clear Americans want to take the politics out of transportation prioritization and funding," said Pete Rahn, leader of HNTB's national transportation practice, in a statement. "It's time for our elected officials to do the same so our critical interstate highway system remains a valuable, viable asset."


This is an important result since it implies that most American trust their state and local governments more than the federal government in making these decisions. Reason Foundation has consistently argued that they are right; most of the transportation problems and challenges are more local than they are nation. Thus, particularly in an era of scarce resource, federal transportation policy and investments should be focused on truly federal functions.

This criterion implies more than simply determining whether a project rises to the level there is a national interest in seeing it completed. In order to warrant a federal interst, the project must serve a federal purpose--projects that are directly tied to international trade are tangibly related to facilitating interstate commerce.

See Bob Poole and Adrian Moore's study Restoring Trust in the Highway Trust Fund where they introduce the concept of Interstate 2.0 to address this problem. I also testified on the importance of devolution before the U.S. Senate Committee on Evironment and Public Works (June 25, 2008).


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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