The U.S. Conference of Mayors will unveil the results of a survey this week showing that the country's mayors are big fans of transit, and perhaps less so of new highways. The survey will show that most mayors want highway expansion to be a low priority when investing in infrastructure. A majority of mayors also oppose a gas tax increase--the preferred revenue-raising option of the transportation and business communities--unless the money from those taxes goes only to support maintenance of existing roads and bridges and expanded transit like rail, buses, and other public transit. They would oppose a gas tax increase if it were directed at highway expansion.
The gas-tax conversation is theoretical right now, with both President Obama and congressional Republicans on record opposing it. But the mayors' perspective speaks to a broader debate that will bubble up when policymakers start crafting a new surface-transportation bill--where should infrastructure investment go? New highway construction is lucrative and sexy, and thus easier to win political support for it. Road maintenance, by contrast, is boring. Public-transit investments can also cause difficulties because they set up disputes between urban and rural areas.
Are the mayors right that the United States doesn't need anymore new highways? If they are wrong, where should new highway construction take place? If they are right, how should infrastructure spending be allotted among public transit projects and road and bridge maintenance? Does it make sense to devote any gas tax funds to public transportation?