The U.S. Department of Transportation was the administrative tool with which the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 was implemented, a massive public works program of a scope not seen since in the United States. It resembled the scale and transformative impact of the high-speed rail China built in the 21st century.
Now, the USDOT is rolling out a $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) over the next five years. Among its 539 amendments and 127 related bills is the law of the land for transportation funding for the next five years. Contained within are new requirements for equity in the way IIJA locates minority-owned contractors and conducts public hearings in underserved neighborhoods.
In their blog, Pedestrian Observations, Alon Levy takes issue with USDOT’s equity action plan. Levy’s April 15 essay, called “The Solution to Failed Process isn’t More Process,” says the plan “suffers from the same fundamental problem of American governance, especially at the federal level: everything is about process, nothing is about visible outcomes for the people who use public services.”
In this episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney points out that local knowledge and participation are critical to successful projects in her experience as an urban designer. But transportation budgets are more telling than rhetoric, Kinney argues.
Her co-host Charles Marohn of Strong Towns says in order to get $8 billion of equity funding, Congress had to pass a $1.2 trillion budget. That’s less than 1% for equity. IIJA funding for projects such as $1 billion dedicated to removing freeways built through poor neighborhoods of color in the 1960s (originally $20 billion) pale in comparison to the hundreds of billions which will be spent to expand the highway system in America in the next decade.
Since the Interstate Highway Act, massive DOT budgets and the highway projects they support have served to marginalize and pollute urban neighborhoods where poverty is concentrated. “Maybe we should just abolish the U.S. Department of Transportation?” Marohn asks.