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Summary: Over $48 billion in the stimulus is set aside for the Department of Transportation and related agencies to invest in all aspects of the nation’s infrastructure.

>> Spending

$27.5 billion for Highway Infrastructure Investment. The Federal Highway Administration will get this money to modernize, repair, and build new roads and bridges throughout the United States. The section requires that money be prioritized for projects that can be completed within a three-year time frame. The wording of this section includes funding for passenger and freight railroads and port infrastructure, so it is unclear exactly how much of this money will be spent on highways.

$8.4 billion for Mass Transit. The Federal Transit Administration will distribute this money through grants to cities and metropolitan areas to purchase and repair new buses and related equipment for use in mass transit. This money is different from high-speed rail because it is focused on transportation within a city area, while the other money is for developing transportation from city to city.

$8 billion for High Speed Intercity Rail. The Federal Railroad Administration will get this money to help states build high-speed railroad systems that connect cities in regional areas. States will not have to match any of the money they receive for these projects, but the money must be transferred to the states by July 2009.

$1.5 billion for Surface Transportation Infrastructure. The Department of Transportation will distribute this money to state and local governments for highways, mass transit systems, trains, and seaport infrastructure projects. Governments will compete for the money by demonstrating how their projects “significantly” impact the nation or regional area. The section says that all of the money must be awarded by February 2010 and only for projects that will be complete by February 2012.

$1.3 billion for Amtrak. The nationally-owned rail service will get this money for its general budget to build and repair track lines, facilities, and trains.

$1.3 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA will get $1.1 billion to grant through the Airport Improvement Program for whatever aid it feels is required, and $200 million general money for its own facilities and equipment.

$100 million for Maritime Administration. This money will be distributed specifically to “small” shipyards for general assistance, repair, or replacement of facility components.

>> Commentary

The epitome of poorly-thought-out spending is the $8 billion for an undefined high-speed inter-city rail program. The House version of the stimulus put $2 billion in for a high-speed rail program, while the Senate didn’t include it at all. Thus, the compromise version quadrupled the House spending on this “to-be-defined” program. (See below for more details on the problems with high-speed rail.)

The $1.5 billion for investment in surface infrastructure is essentially a grab-bag with no stated goals or objectives for how to improve transportation. The money will probably go to the easiest projects that can provide political cover, as the government will appear to be quickly using the money. But these projects are not always the best or most necessary. The Secretary of Transportation is required to develop criteria for distributing these funds based on geographic significance, which about as far from a performance-based program as could be possible.

The $1.1 billion for airport grants faces the same challenge of being undefined and open to lobbyists directing the majority of the funds to low value projects that have political significance. This kind of discretionary money always gets spent politically, and will fund lots of low-value projects.

More from Reason on Transportation policy.

>> Government Recovery Websites

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Written by: Anthony Randazzo. Please email with any comments or corrections.