Commentary

American Public Doesn’t Want Feds in Charge of Roads

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 R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.