Letter calling on Congress to make fundamental changes to federal transportation program

December 16, 2020

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives H-232, The Capitol Washington DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Minority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives H-204, The Capitol Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell Majority Leader, United State Senate S-230, The Capitol Washington DC 20510

The Honorable Chuck Schumer Minority Leader, United States Senate S-221, The Capitol Washington DC 20510

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Minority Leader Schumer:

Transportation is the bedrock of our nation’s economy and recovery from COVID-19, yet America’s transportation system is in crisis—and more money alone cannot fix it. Despite billions spent every year, our roads, bridges, transit and rail systems are in disrepair; congestion has increased; pedestrian fatalities and emissions are the highest in decades and rising; and too many people lack safe, affordable, and convenient access to jobs and important services. We must reform the federal transportation program to solve these problems by prioritizing maintenance, designing for safety over speed and connecting people to jobs and services.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated and placed a spotlight on the crisis plaguing our transportation system. With over 2.8 million essential workers relying on public transit everyday, it is clear that transit is essential for local economies, our pandemic response, and economic recovery. Yet too many of these workers count on underfunded systems that cannot provide reliable service. At the same time, our road network is often designed without consideration for pedestrians and cyclists, making travel outside of a car increasingly unsafe and inconvenient—explaining why the number of people killed while biking and walking has dramatically increased during the COVID-19 crisis despite fewer cars on the road. Communities across the country have responded to these infrastructure failures by raising local revenue for transit, rail, and safety improvements; providing necessary roadway space for pedestrians and cyclists during this crisis; and fighting to preserve transit and rail service threatened by temporarily reduced ridership.

Yet history tells us that local communities cannot build a safe and connected transportation system alone. Under President Eisenhower, our country came together to build interstate connections between cities. Today we have that incredible legacy that brings with it a significant maintenance backlog. The lack of focus on other parts of our transportation system and its connection to development has increased emissions and congestion while undermining the economic mobility and health of our communities, particularly for low-income people and people of color—two of the hardest-hit demographics in the COVID-19 crisis. A federal transportation program that prioritizes highway construction above all else cannot provide communities with the safe and connected walking, cycling, transit, and rail infrastructure they desire.

Updating our transportation system for the needs of the 21st Century is necessary to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and harm public health.

Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gases (GHG), with the majority of these emissions from driving. While electric vehicles (EVs) and vehicle efficiency standards are essential, they are not sufficient to meet emissions reduction goals. Neither will these technologies improve access to jobs and services for those who cannot afford to own or operate a car, nor will they improve safety or reduce congestion.

To modernize our transportation system, Congress should make the following reforms:

Prioritize maintenance: Cut the road, bridge, transit and rail maintenance backlog in half

The next authorization should cut the maintenance backlog in half by dedicating formula highway funds to maintenance. In addition, when building new road capacity, agencies should be required to create a plan for maintaining both the new road and the rest of their system. This is common sense and is already required when building new transit projects. Roads should not be treated differently. On the highway side, it will be important to organize the program to better support repair. On the transit and rail side, the programs are organized well in terms of addressing maintenance but need more resources. With this approach, the federal government can halve the current backlog in six years under current funding levels. If funding is increased, we can do more.

Design for safety over speed: Save lives with slower, safer road design

Access to safe, convenient transportation is a fundamental right. Today, most Americans are denied this right because their roads—not just highways—are designed to move vehicles at the highest speeds possible, and not for people walking, biking, or taking transit. High speeds make sense on interstates and other highways, but people die when we bring that design to streets that are supposed to connect people and create value.

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on our dangerous street design, with pedestrian deaths sharply increasing as shutdowns reduced the number of cars on our roads. The federal program should require designs and approaches, including complete streets, that put safety first and slow speeds on local and arterial roads.

Roads surrounded by development and open to pedestrians should be designed to speeds that dramatically decrease the likelihood of fatalities in a crash (35mph or below).

Creating safer communities will not only save lives, it makes walking, biking and riding transit a more viable and convenient option, providing people with affordable choices while reducing congestion and emissions.

Focus on improving access for people to jobs and services: Determine current connectivity and prioritize projects that will improve those connections.

The point of transportation is to get people where they need to go. Since the dawn of the

modern highway era, we have used vehicle speed as a poor proxy for access to jobs and important services like healthcare, education, public services, and grocery stores, assuming if people can drive faster then they arrive faster. However, this completely ignores access for those who do not or cannot drive and often places highways through communities in a way that speeds some people’s trips while lengthening or cutting off others’ all together.

New technologies can now help us measure success by the primary thing that matters to real people: the ease of arriving at your destination. Using this technology we can now consider access by driving as well as walking, biking and transit. Studies have shown that communities with better access to jobs and services have greater economic mobility and lower emissions from transportation because people have travel options, and do not need to drive as far, or at all, to get to jobs and other needs. Further, this data can help to address decades of disinvestment which have disconnected communities and worsened economic outcomes.

USDOT could collect the data necessary for a national assessment of access to jobs and services and set national goals for improvement. With these data, state departments of transportation (DOTs) and planning organizations can ensure their investments are effectively connecting people to economic opportunity. State DOTs and planning organizations should be held accountable by evaluating how well their investments help connect people to destinations.

Last year, the House of Representatives included all three of these reforms as part of the INVEST in America Act. This legislation starts the work of connecting transportation funding to the outcomes communities need from their transportation systems.

Thank you for considering fundamental reform in the next authorization. We stand ready to assist in setting a new vision for the federal transportation program.

Sincerely,

Beth Osborne, Director, Transportation for America

And

Alabama 

Gary Gover, President and Chairman Earth Day Mobile Bay, Inc.

Arizona 

Ronald Spark, MD, Director, Southern Arizona Transit Advocates (SATA)

Arkansas

Reese Brewer, Director Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization

Steven Ewart, Chairman, Windover Neighborhood Association

California

Andreas Kadavanich, Co-organizer Bike Fremont

Melissa Cunningham, Executive Director Coalition for Sustainable Transportation

Adina Levin, Executive Director Friends of Caltrain

Tom Radulovich, Executive Director Livable City

Jennifer A. Gill, Vice Chair, Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Board

David Mogavero, Senior Principal Mogavero Architects

Leah Riley, Managing Director Nelson\Nygaard

James Corless, Executive Director Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG)

Ian Griffiths, Policy Director Seamless Bay Area

Danielle Hughes, Board of Directors North Tahoe Public Utility District

Mark Cordes, Executive Director San Francisco Transit Riders

Robert Raburn, Director, District 4 SF Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)

Bart Reed, Executive Director The Transit Coalition

Ron Kilcoyne, Senior Manager TMD Inc.

Colorado

Eulois Cleckley, Executive Director Denver Department of Transportation

John Vukich, Executive Director iZum, LLC

Kelly Brough, President & CEO Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

Paul Bonta, Director, Government Relations, Safe States Alliance

Connecticut 

Karen Fortunati, City Clerk City of Milford

Ellen Russell Beatty, Alder, 5th District Milford Board of Aldermen

Mary Tomolonius, Executive Director CT Association for Community Transportation

Anthony Sutton, Majority Leader Milford Board of Aldermen

Karen Burnaska, Coordinator Transit for Connecticut

District of Columbia

Roxanne Blackwell, Federal Government Affairs Director, American Society of Landscape Architects

Noa Banayan, Federal Affairs Manager PeopleForBikes

Kevin Mills, Vice President of Policy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Sharon Musa, Policy & Recreation Partnerships Fellow, The Wilderness Society

Eli Briggs, Government Affairs Director National Association of County and City Health Officials

Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President Rail Passengers Association

Will Anderson, Associate Director of Advocacy, Sierra Club

Florida

Frederick Jones, Vice Mayor City of Neptune Beach

Kimberly Overman, County Commissioner, District 7 & Vice Chair, Hillsborough County

Nicholas Glover, Vice President, Advocacy Tampa Bay Chamber

Donald Voigt, Licensed Professional Engineer, Engineered Equipment Integration LLC

Beth Alden, AICP, Executive Director Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization

Karen Kress, Director of Transportation and Planning, Tampa Downtown Partnership

Georgia

Micheal Haney, City Manager City of Chickamauga

Dave Williams, Senior Vice President, Public Policy, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Hawaii

Elliott Caldwell, Executive Director Georgia Bikes

Amy Hennessey, Senior Vice President, Communications & External Affairs Ulupono Initiative

Idaho

Elaine Clegg, City Council President City of Boise

Lauren McLean, Mayor City of Boise

Kaz Thea, Council Member City of Hailey

Eric Willadsen, Conservation Program Manager, Sierra Club – Idaho Chapter

Michael David, Council Member City of Ketchum

Elaine Clegg, Interim Executive Director Idaho Smart Growth

Illinois

Kyle Whitehead, Managing Director of Public Affairs, Active Transportation Alliance

Karl Gnadt, Managing Director Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District

Robert Dean, CEO, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Kim Stone, Councilwoman City of Highland Park

Stuart Senescu, President Highlands Bike Club

Matt Steffen, Chief of Staff Illinois Environmental Council

Audrey Wennink, Director Metropolitan Planning Council

Dave Simmons, Executive Director Ride Illinois

Sharon Feigon, Executive Director Shared-Use Mobility Center

Mike Pietrowski, Executive Director Shawnee Mass Transit District

Terry Witt, Director of Advocacy Spin Doctor Cyclewerks

Chris Koos, Mayor Town of Normal

Indiana

Kim Irwin, Executive Director Health by Design

Gary Davis, Community/Gov. Relations Liaison, Indiana Trails Community

Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director Hoosier Environmental Council

Mark Fisher, Chief Policy Officer Indy Chamber

Iowa 

Sam Jarvis, Community Health Manager Johnson County Public Health

Kentucky 

Brent Cooper, President & CEO, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Louisiana 

Alex Posorske, Executive Director Ride New Orleans

Maryland

Donald Fry, President & CEO Greater Baltimore Committee

Patrick Wojahn, Mayor College Park, Maryland

Dannielle Glaros, County Council Member Prince George’s County

Massachusetts

Jim Kolesar, First Vice President Berkshire Interfaith Organizing

Stacy Thompson, Executive Director LivableStreets Alliance

Chris Dempsey, Director Transportation for Massachusetts

Stacey Beuttell, Executive Director WalkBoston

Michigan

Victoria Danberg, City Councilor City of Newton

Marc Draisen, Executive Director Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)

Matt Casale, Environment Campaigns Director, U.S. PIRG

Dessa Cosma, Executive Director Detroit Disability Power

Megan Owens, Executive Director Transportation Riders United (TRU)

Minnesota

Dorian Grilley, Executive Director Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota

Jacob Frey, Mayor City of Minneapolis

William Schroeer, Executive Director East Metro Strong

Sam Rockwell, Executive Director Move Minnesota

Ashwat Narayanan, Executive Director Our Streets Minneapolis

Montana

Saara Snow, Advocacy Manager Adventure Cycling Association

Katie Wallace, Board Member Climate Smart Glacier Country

Corey Aldridge, CEO & General Manager Mountain Line Transit

Nebraska 

Clyde Anderson, Transportation Issues Chair, Sierra Club – Nebraska Chapter

Nevada

Jenny Brekhus, Council Member, Ward 1 City of Reno

Ann Silver, Chief Executive Officer Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce

New Hampshire 

Steven Workman, Director Transport New Hampshire

New Jersey

Peter Kasabach, Executive Director New Jersey Future

Michael Egenton, Executive Vice President New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce

Barbara E. Kauffman, Executive VP & COO Newark Regional Business Partnership

New Mexico

Chris Green, Principal Landscape Architect Consensus Planning, Inc.

Hazel Borys, President PlaceMakers, LLC

New York 

Carol O’Beirne, Board President, Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, Inc.

Gregory Young, Supervisor, Fulton County Board of Supervisors

Boyce Sherwin, Chairman, Malone Complete Streets Advisory Board

Douglas Funke, President Citizens for Regional Transit

Michael Kodransky, U.S. Director Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

Kate Slevin, Senior Vice President Regional Plan Association

Eric McClure, Executive Director StreetsPAC

North Carolina

John Tallmadge, Executive Director Bike Durham

Shannon Binns, Executive Director Sustain Charlotte

Ohio

Crystal Dandridge, Owner Crystals Unions

Alison Goebel, Executive Director Greater Ohio Policy Center

Akshai Singh, Co-Chair MOVE Ohio

Oklahoma 

Mark Nestlen, Chief Executive Officer Oklahoma Transit Association

Oregon 

Rob Zako, Executive Director, Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST)

Dick Dolgonas, Chair Bike Walk Roseburg

RJ Sheperd, Co-Chair Bike Loud PDX

Ashley Henry, Executive Director Business for a Better Portland

Denny Doyle, Mayor City of Beaverton

Lucy Vinis, Mayor City of Eugene

Peter Truax, Mayor City of Forest Grove

Steve Adams, City Engineer City of Milwaukie

Joe Pishioneri, City Council President City of Springfield

Stuart Liebowitz, Facilitator, Douglas County Global Warming Coalition

Craig Dirksen, Councilor OregonMetro

Tim Knapp, Mayor City of Wilsonville

Sara Wright, Transportation Program Director, Oregon Environmental Council

Kris Nelson, Principal Phoenix Finance

Chris Warner, Director, Portland Bureau of Transportation

Greg Sutliff, Co-Executive Director The Street Trust

Pennsylvania

Stacie Reidenbaugh, CEO 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania

William Peduto, Mayor City of Pittsburgh

Lewis Cossaboon, Executive Director PenTrans

John Weidenhammer, Chairman Berks Alliance

Andrea Boykowycz, Community Services Director

Oakland Planning and Development Corporation

Chris Sandvig, Director of Policy Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group

Yasha Zarrinkelk, Coalition Organizer Transit Forward Philadelphia

John Weidenhammer, President Weidenhammer

Rhode Island

John Flaherty, Deputy Director Grow Smart RI

Patricia Raub, Coordinator RI Transit Riders

South Carolina 

Amy Johnson Ely, Executive Director Palmetto Cycling Coalition

Tennessee 

Matt Bailey, Vice President of Regional Policy, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce

Nora Kern, Executive Director Walk Bike Nashville

Texas

Jessica Dauphin, President and CEO Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee

David Cantu, Alderperson Pl 2 City of San Elizario

Jay Crossley, Executive Director Farm&City

Octavio Martinez, Executive Director Hogg Foundation for Mental Health

Adam Greenfield, Board President Walk Austin

Virginia

Eric Peterson, Principal Eric C. Peterson

Trip Pollard, Land & Community Program Leader, Southern Environmental Law Center

Mariia Zimmerman, Principal MZ Strategies, LLC

Lisa Guthrie, Executive Director Virginia Transit Association

Washington

LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director Alliance for a Just Society

Victor Colman, Director, Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition

Breean Beggs, City Council President City of Spokane City Council

Kirk Hovenkotter, Executive Director Greater Redmond Transportation Management Association

Hester Serebrin, Policy Director Transportation Choices Coalition

Wisconsin 

Gregg May, Transportation Policy Analyst 1000 Friends of Wisconsin

Mark Quam, President, Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance, Inc.

Philip Swanhorst, President, Greater West Central Area Labor Council

Rosie Brooks, Vice-President, La Crosse Area Transit Advocates

Laura Svancarek, Advocacy Coordinator Downtown On the Go

Claudia Balducci, Chair King County Council

Florian Skwierczynski, Secretary & Treasurer, Amalgamated Transit Union

Jeremy Gragert, City Council Member City of Eau Claire

Michael Maltezos, Transportation Sales Manager, Kenall Manufacturing Co.

Susan De Vos, President Madison Area Bus Advocates

James Brown, Manager Wheels of Independence, Inc.

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, Executive Director Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice

Marlene Pohl, President Wisconsin Transit Riders Alliance