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Top Down Transpotation Planning Doesn't Work

Samuel Staley
May 27, 2011, 8:10am

In case you missed it, Randal O'Toole has an excellent article in the Huffington Post (May 25, 2011) on top-down versus bottom-up transportation planning. He writes in part:

The bottom-up paradigm began to break down in 1964, when Congress started funding urban transit. In 1973, Congress allowed cities to use federal gas taxes for transit projects for the first time, and in 1982 Congress dedicated a share of those gas taxes -- initially 11.1 percent, now 15.5 percent -- to transit. By the 1990s, the whole idea of a user-fee-driven system was forgotten as Congress used transportation earmarks, which didn't exist before 1982, to divert billions of dollars of gas taxes to politically favored projects -- which often had nothing to do with transportation -- and dedicated increasing shares of the remainder to non-highway programs.

The current debate is shaped by those who believe in top down transportation planning--let the federal government lead and determine transportation priorities and funding. Randal argues (and we agree) that we need to up-end this approach and move toward a more state-centered, decentralized approach.

For more on this, see Adrian Moore and Bob Poole's report on Restoring Trust in the Highway Trust Fund.


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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