Obama Transport BudgetBoosts Livability, Infrastructure Fund, High-Speed Rail

The Obama White House released its budget today, and a summary of the transportation portion suggests the big winners are an infrastructure bank (the National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund at $4 billion), air traffic control modernization ($1.1 billion), high-speed rail ($1 billion), and so-called livability programs ($527 million). The budget bill also funds the federalization of transit safety.

The livability component may be the most interesting. The U.S. Department of Transportation funding leverages $10 million from the Environmental Protection Agency and $150 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While this might appear at first glance to put DOT as the lead agency, I suspect this really means the DOT has a bigger pot of money to draw from for livability initiatives. Livability, and its policy cousin sustainability, are about changing the way people live in the built environment. They emphasize higher densities and mixed uses with access to public transit.

U.S. DOT has little expertise in land use planning or urban design. So, the key here is transportation money that will be used for planning and implementing transit-oriented development projects that will likely eminate from HUD with strong EPA influence (to reduce carbon emissions). The goal is to reduce overall non-motorized travel by promoting walkability through higher densities and urban design. So, in a sense, it’s an anti-transportation initiative since the goal is to reduce travel that relies on manufactured technologies, or, as a second best, skew travel to mass transit rather than personalized transportation (and usually lengthen trip times).

I discussed this general trend in federal policy in an earlier blog post, and the proposed budget seems to validate my overall take on this.

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.