Candidates Romney and Obama on transportation issues--what are their positions?

Streetsblog has posted a couple of interesting articles about transportation policies and positions of the two major presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.


If Mitt Romney the President reverts back to the positions of Mitt Romney the Governor, transportation policy in America could see significant steps forward. Better-maintained roads. Smarter growth. Cleaner air.

But if Mitt Romney the President follows through on the rhetoric of Mitt Romney the Campaigner, it will be a different story. 

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

Not that candidate Romney has talked much about transportation. But he’s made it clear he’s casting his lot with the fossil fuel industry. He’s broughtbillionaire oil man Harold Hamm into his inner circle as an energy advisor, pushing for more drilling. Romney has raised $11.4 million directly from the energy sector, and far more than that has been poured into anti-Obama, pro-drilling TV ads by oil companies. . . .

It’s a shame to hear Romney talk like this, because as governor of blue-state Massachusetts, he had a far morenuanced and forward-looking analysis of gas prices. Alec MacGillis, writing in The New Republic this spring with an excellent analysis of Romney’s years as governor, said that Romney refused to cave to pressure for a gas tax holiday when prices were high in 2006. “I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline,” Romney said then. “I’m very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay.” That’s a refreshing dose of realism.

Romney enacted real policy innovations while in office, too. He brought conservationist and bike commuterDoug Foy on to run the Office for Commonwealth Development, embarking on a path of smart growth. All this “really woolly, totally green, new-urbanist stuff” was official state policy under Governor Romney, Boston Globe-writer-turned-Foy-employee Anthony Flint told MacGillis.

Read more in the Streetsblog article.


Perhaps the best thing President Obama did for transportation policy was to nominate Ray LaHood as U.S. DOT secretary. Sure, LaHood reportedly wanted to be Secretary of Agriculture, not transportation. And yes, Obama’s main motive for nominating the moderate Republican congressman was to make friends across the aisle, a goal that for the most part went woefully unmet. Nonetheless, LaHood has proven to be a genuine reformer. 

Obama bicycle
Obama bicycle

We knew LaHood was a keeper when he stood on a tabletop and declared that bicycles were on an “equal footing” with cars, announcing “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

The administration’s creation of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities has created valuable new links between federal transportation, housing, and environmental policies, demonstrating how government can eliminate barriers between agencies. It’s a model that some state transportation agencies have begun to take note of, as they approach local governments to craft land use and transportation decisions that make sense in tandem. . . .

Another signature achievement of this administration has been the TIGER program. TIGER has awarded more than $3 billion to more than 200 transportation projects based on their ability to meet strategic objectives, bucking longstanding policies (which continue in the current transportation bill) that fund transportation based on formulas and a singular focus on making sure every state gets their piece of the pie. . . .

The president did put forward an ambitious transportation bill that looked like a step in the right direction.  . . .

But the administration’s unwillingness to engage with Congress to find a viable revenue stream doomed Obama’s transportation proposal. The White House refused to get behind any funding source for the plan, whether it be an increase in the gas tax or a vehicle-miles-traveled user fee.

Read more in the Streetsblog article.

This Washington Post article gives some context to the reason neither presidential candidate has articulated a solution to the transportation problem--and also why the recent federal transportation bill, MAP-21, was so contentious and finally resulted in only a two-year bill passing rather than the usual six-year bill.  

The reason?  Federal transportation funding is in a crisis, some new source of revenue will be required to fix the problem, and no one wants to talk about taxes during and election year.

As we've discussed many times before, the core of the problem is that fuel taxes are the main source of transportation revenue, and since they are a fixed amount per gallon, their buying power goes down every year because of the combination of inflation, the gradual increase in gas mileage--and recently, a marked decrease in the amount of miles driven by Americans.  

Every year we get a small, automatic cut in fuel taxes but over time that adds up to a huge deficit in transportation funding.

Now it's time to fix that problem--both nationwide and in Missouri--but nobody wants to address the problem head on.