Apr 15, 2008

Rudin Center Director Talks to Philadelphia Daily News about Democratic Presidential Candidates' Transportation Policies

FOR MORE THAN a year, the Democratic presidential candidates have traveled around the country by bus, train and plane to meet voters.

Although transit infrastructure is critical to their politicking, U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rarely speak about it on the stump.

"Transportation, which affects virtually everyone in the country, is barely on the radar of any of the candidates," said Samuel I. Schwartz, of Sam Schwartz PLLC, a transportation-planning firm.

In Philadelphia, the need for greater transportation investment is clear. Just last month, part of Interstate 95 was shut down for days due to a crack in a concrete support pillar. And SEPTA's bus, subway and regional-rail network consistently suffers from a lack of money.

James RePass, president of National Corridors Initiative, a bipartisan transportation-advocacy group, noted that cities often are hit hard by a lack of focus on transportation.

"We have not renewed our infrastructure [in cities] because we built it many, many years ago," he said. "Americans are good at cutting ribbons for new highways. They are not very good at cutting ribbons for maintenance contracts."

Clinton and Obama have infrastructure plans that outline more funding for roads, bridges and Amtrak trains. Schwartz said that he was glad to see pledges for Amtrak but that, overall, the candidates' proposals are very similar.

"There's nothing that separates either of them terrifically," he said. But, he did note, "their advisers are very good."

Allison L. C. de Cerreno, director of the Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, at New York University, said she's been disappointed in the discussion so far.

Although more infrastructure money is badly needed, C. de Cerreno said just throwing money at the existing systems isn't enough.

"What we need from the federal level is not just the same-old, same-old," she said. "Really, the vision of this is what we need."

In January, the Wagner Rudin Center at NYU held a presidential forum on transportation issues, hosted by Schwartz. Both candidates sent surrogates.

Experts said that the candidates should be talking more about the nation's overall transportation system - roads, trains, air and water - and pondering how best to invest in the future. They stressed a need for more high-speed rail, which is the most energy efficient way to move people and goods.

"We need a recognition that America is in a transportation crisis," said RePass. "We are losing our ability to compete in world markets as we allow our infrastructure to deteriorate."

RePass and C. de Cerreno pointed to Asia and Europe as areas investing in infrastructure.

"In Europe, they're actually planning high-speed rail on a scale that's continental," said C. de Cerreno.

Here's how Obama and Clinton plan to address the nation's transportation needs:

Will create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to receive $6 billion annually to finance transportation projects around the country.

LOCAL TRANSIT: Will double the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program, which provides federal money to help low-income people get to work. Will increase resources for local public transportation, but doesn't provide a dollar amount.

AMTRAK AND HIGH-SPEED RAIL: Will continue to fight for more funding. Supported a bill to provide $11 billion over six years. Supports development of high-speed freight and passenger rail, but does not indicate how much money he would provide.

AIR AND SEA: Wants to modernize air-traffic-control system to reduce delays. Will develop an accurate terrorist watch list to improve safety of air travel.

Hillary Clinton



Will establish a $10 billion emergency fund for repairs to roads, bridges and seaports. Another $250 million will fund "Emergency Assessment Grants" to help states inspect infrastructure.

LOCAL TRANSIT: Will provide $1.5 billion in additional funding annually for public transit.

AMTRAK AND HIGH-SPEED RAIL: Will increase funding for "inter-city" rail systems by $1 billion over five years. Also plans to invest more in Amtrak.

AIR AND SEA: Would devise a national policy to expand port capacity. *

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