A single paragraph in the Transportation Department's fiscal 2012 budget could fundamentally alter the funding mechanism for highways and other transit. The administration is calling for replacing the current highway trust fund with a "transportation trust fund" that will have separate accounts for highways, transit, high-speed rail, and a national infrastructure bank. In the near term, this means that highways would see only a slightly smaller share of the overall national transportation funds that also go to intercity transit and passenger rail. But over a longer period of time, the move away from a dedicated highway trust fund signals the administration's desire to wean the country away from the automobile.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the idea is to streamline disparate pots of money into a larger pool that will make the agency more nimble in funding good projects. The department also has proposed consolidating 55 separate highway programs into five to give states and communities the opportunity to build on the projects they identify as priorities.
Is this a good idea? Does it make sense to think of the various components of transportation as a whole entity rather than parcel them into distinct areas? Are there dangers to what the administration is proposing? Would a streamlined government make it easier or harder for states and cities to navigate the funding process?