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Little State Choice With the FHTF Funds

Op-Eds and Articles

T. Peter Ruane’s claim (“It’s a Rough Road in Any Direction,” Letters, Aug. 6) “that all of the decisions about how to invest those [transportation] funds and on which projects are already made by the governors and their state transportation departments, not by bureaucrats in Washington” is technically true, but deeply misleading.

Federal surface-transportation funds are block-granted to the states, which spend them on the projects of their choice. However, Congress decides on the types of projects eligible for specific funds. For instance, under current law, one-fifth of federal surface-transportation funds are dedicated to mass-transit projects. Yet mass transit accounts for just 1% of national passenger miles traveled and 2% of total trips. Would states and localities spend as much on inefficient transit projects without “free” Federal Highway Trust Fund money?

Further, the Obama administration seeks to expand wasteful discretionary grants programs where federal bureaucrats do pick winners and losers. Among the “winners” of the Tiger discretionary grant program are streetcar projects in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Detroit and Providence. These high-cost/low-value transit projects aren’t nationally significant and would almost certainly not have been proposed absent the federal dole.