It's important to plan ahead: so our communities can grow sustainably.

AuthorFigura, Mike
PositionNew life journal's GREEN HOME RESOURCE: SMART GROWTH

While North Carolina and Georgia are both receiving large sums of discretionary money for transportation related projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, North Carolina is only allocating 12.3 percent of the funds for public transit and Georgia only 16.8 percent. North Carolina and Georgia are not unique--most states are giving the majority of their transportation stimulus money to highways. Only a few states, such as California and New York, are splitting the transportation stimulus money close to 50/50 between highways and public transit (1-3).

When the stimulus bill was adopted on February 17. 2009, many transit and smart growth advocates were angry and discouraged. A typical sentiment amongst transit advocates around the nation was that "the [stimulus] bill did little to correct the longstanding bias against transit and the tendency for states to invest almost exclusively in highway projects" (4). While the Obama administration made sure that a significant amount of money was dedicated towards transit, highway and road projects still received more than 40 percent more funding than did transit and rail projects combined (3).

Economic theory posits that stimulus money should be used for items that will produce a return on investment. For example, education has an excellent return on investment, since an educated public will be more productive. In contrast, bombs have a horrible return on investment, since they destroy themselves the first time they're used. Since Eisenhower embarked on the U.S. Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, America has invested trillions of dollars into highways and roads. However, our highways are as much or more of a liability as they are in investment. The financial costs of constructing, maintaining and utilizing highways per user are staggering. In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration issued a report entitled Growth in Highway and Construction Maintenance Costs, in which they stated that our nation's aging highway system is becoming increasingly more expensive to maintain. The report highlighted that current highway funding levels are significantly less than what is needed to adequately repair and maintain our nation's highways, and the gap is expected to grow as maintenance costs increase and our highway system gets older.

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While many people believe that public transportation is more heavily subsidized than automobile transportation, smart growth...

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