Stimulus – Don’t Give Blank Check to VDOT and MDOT

Coalition for Smarter GrowthPiedmont Environmental Council, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Community Research (MD)

For Immediate Release
January 28, 2009

Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 202-244-4408 ext 121/Cell: 703-599-6437


Stimulus – Don’t Give Blank Check to VDOT and MDOT

Fundamental Reevaluation of State Transportation Programs Needed First

“The transportation portion of the stimulus badly misses the mark.” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, “It fails to mandate that most of the spending go to maintenance and operations of roads and transit and allows the Virginia and Maryland Departments of Transportation and the other state DOT’s too much authority to allocate $30 billion. That means business as usual instead of the fundamental change we need.”

The House stimulus bill up for vote this week allocates 45% of $30 billion in transportation funds to through existing formulas, which favor highway spending.  The other 55% is to be allocated by the state DOT’s as they wish.  While the House bill allocates a separate $9 billion to transit capital and the Nadler amendment proposes $3 billion more, none of this is for essential transit operating costs.  This makes little sense when transit agencies like Metro are laying-off staff and cutting service, despite record and growing ridership.
Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that the nation has $2.2 trillion in national infrastructure needs – mostly for repair and replacement.  This calls for a focus on fixing existing infrastructure first, before building new infrastructure.

In addition, the stimulus is supposed to be about quickly creating jobs, yet the Congressional Budget Office has reported that most of the infrastructure spending proposed in the stimulus would take two years or more to be spent.

Alice Rivlin, former budget director under President Clinton, argued yesterday that “Such a long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away.  [The risk is that] money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted.” (Wash. Post, A-1, Jan 28)

“We agree with Alice Rivlin, that’s why the transportation plans of Virginia, Maryland and DC must be fundamentally reevaluated before we give these agencies a virtual blank check.” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.  Both MDOT and VDOT propose to use the federal funds to replace projects they’ve cut.  VDOT’s long range plans and nearer term 6-year plan are both filled with billions of dollars for sprawl-inducing highways like the Tri-County Parkway, Route 460, and I-81 expansion that we can’t afford and don’t make sense in a world of higher energy prices, climate change and more critical investment needs.

“We need to stop building highways where few people live and which subsidize the speculative sprawl that contributed to the financial crisis, and to focus immediately on the bridges and roads that put people at risk every day,” said Miller.

Likewise, in Maryland, “MDOT is digging a deeper and deeper hole in terms of transportation, the Chesapeake Bay, and global warming by refusing to cancel the ineffective $4 billion Intercounty Connector.,” said Greg Smith of Community Research. In the fall, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley cut transit and road projects by $1.1 billion, and just announced another $2.5 billion in cuts to its 6-year transportation program. “The stimulus would really be a bailout for the ICC, allowing it to survive at the expense of transit, rail, maintenance and energy efficiency the top priorities.”

“We have to get our infrastructure spending right.  Our resources are scarce and we need to build a very different system to fight climate change and prepare for increasingly scarce oil and high energy costs..  That’s not the same-old 1950’s highway system that the DOT’s keep building,” said Roger Diedrich of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth and its partner groups urged that the transportation portion of the stimulus be amended to:

1)      Mandate that the majority of the spending to go to maintenance and operations needs of bridges, roads and transit, with a requirement that states commit to a “maintenance of effort” that continues to provide, and not reduce, state maintenance and operating funds.

2)      Direct that priorities for spending be based upon benefiting the largest number of people with a key role in priority setting for the federally chartered Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

3)      Provide for transit buses and rail cars and system upgrades to meet rising transit demand.

4)      Fund new transit projects provided that they are tied to well-designed transit-oriented development plans with clear implementation measures, and support infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

5)      Require each state to fundamentally reevaluate their long range transportation plans and shorter term improvement programs to account for rising energy prices, climate change, reduced infrastructure funds, and land use – with a goal of more efficiently using existing infrastructure, reducing vehicle miles traveled, emissions, energy use, and personal transportation costs.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington D.C. region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website at