Despite President Trump’s rhetoric and bold—albeit vague—promises about investing in the nation’s infrastructure, the transportation cuts in the White House’s “skinny budget” suggest a narrow, misguided focus that takes America down the wrong road.
Certainly, this budget proposal cuts where the president said he would cut. But it also cuts where he said he would increase investment—specifically in infrastructure.
Proposed cuts to transportation—including the call for the practical elimination of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program—signal misplaced priorities within the administration and raise real questions about how America’s mobility needs will be met.
The popular White House talking point on infrastructure in this budget is placating. A message not to worry about infrastructure; it will be funded in the yet-to-be-written, poorly defined and less-than-popular-in-Congress $1 trillion infrastructure bill. In fact, it appears we’re sacrificing a successful program with demonstrable results for something that may or may not see the light of day.
In the context of the overall budget proposal, which slashes funding for agencies and programs across the board—many far deeper than the cuts to transportation—some may not worry about the loss of TIGER or attacks on active transportation. Here’s why they should.
Our transportation needs don’t stop at city, county or state lines. TIGER promotes innovative collaboration between jurisdictions and forces conversations about multimodal transportation. The program prioritizes projects that better integrate roads, rails and trails and consider the needs of all who use our transportation system. This type of collaboration is critical in efforts to build a balanced transportation system, and it has been wildly successful. For example, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an innovative regional active transportation project—the Circuit Trails – leveraged a $20 million investment in the first round of TIGER into a bold initiative to connect cities, suburbs and small towns via a 750-mile trail network. The project is already helping to revitalize the region’s economy—surveys project 800,000 users annually who spend $3.6 million in the region—and providing cost-effective access to jobs, schools, transit services and other routine destinations.
Lives depend on it. Traffic fatalities are a tragic problem in our country. For the first time in five years, 2015 marked a sharp increase in traffic fatalities the likes of which haven’t been seen in nearly five decades. More than 35,000 people died in traffic-related incidents, but most notable is the proportion of bicyclists and pedestrians included in that statistic. Deaths among pedestrians and bicyclists, who now account for 18 percent of all traffic fatalities, rose more steeply over the past decade than any other category. TIGER is one example of a federal tool that is effective in building active transportation networks—trails, and biking and walking facilities—that make our transportation system safe for everyone who uses it, particularly those who don’t drive, including the young, the elderly and people with disabilities.
The economy benefits from it. TIGER has repeatedly justified its worth; the program is focused and effective. What sets it apart is that it emphasizes infrastructure projects that work holistically to meet the specific needs of a place and the people who live, work and play there. Because TIGER is designed to challenge regions to think big picture about the multimodal and cross-jurisdictional coordination needs of a balanced transportation system, it is incredibly popular and overtaxed. There is never enough funding to come anywhere close to meeting the demand. Infrastructure programs—especially successful ones like this—can be the catalyst for the revitalization and job creation that the president has promised America since the campaign trail.
Communities from Missoula, Montana, to Miami and Madison, Mississippi, have used TIGER to build trails and other facilities that give everyone safe and equitable transportation options. TIGER’s success stories can be found in rural towns and urban centers. In a budget proposal that promises to meet Americans’ simple demands and keep them safe, it seems ill informed to eliminate a program that meets day-to-day transportation needs and promotes safety, while bolstering local economies.
The White House’s “skinny budget” sends a clear message: out with the old, regardless of whether what’s old is actually tried and true. The good news is that it’s simply that—a message. It will be up to Congress to make sure that programs are evaluated on merit and impact, rather than whimsy.
Kevin Mills is the senior vice president of policy at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the nation’s largest trails and active transportation advocacy organization, and founder of the Partnership for Active Transportation.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.