Monday, April 25, 2022

Washington’s Devious Detours for Drivers

By David Ditch

Having Washington get involved with countless local projects needlessly increases costs and bureaucracy. Tetra Images / Getty Images

In November, Congress continued its seemingly endless spending spree by passing a 1,039-page infrastructure package. Its price tag? A staggering $1.2 trillion.

Yes, it increases the federal deficit and debt. And, yes, it will fuel inflation. Still, one would like to think that the spending at least would greatly improve the nation’s highways and bridges.

Unfortunately, flaws in the legislation and the Biden administration’s warped governing approach make it unlikely that taxpayers will get anywhere near their money’s worth.

For starters, left-wing priorities like “green” energy, Amtrak, mass transit and government-run internet services each get an outsized share of the infrastructure loot.

More galling is the dozens of ways that Washington spends money in the “highway” category on things that don’t benefit drivers.

Left-wing activists cling to a far-fetched concept called Vision Zero, which imagines that the government can eliminate traffic deaths. That utopian goal is then used to justify detouring billions of federal dollars into purely local projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes and street lighting.

Some federally funded projects even include “road diets” that reduce the number of lanes for cars. As a result, the infrastructure bill will actually create more gridlock and longer commutes in many places.  

This isn’t by accident. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg oversaw such projects during his time as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Since joining the Biden administration, he has repeatedly praised efforts to slow traffic flows and reduce the number of cars on the road.

While safety is an important consideration for transportation systems, having Washington get involved with countless local projects needlessly increases costs and bureaucracy while diverting focus from improving core nationwide assets like the interstate highway system.

And this is only the start of fake “highway” spending.

Another $20 billion from the infrastructure bill is earmarked for the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. Despite the seemingly harmless names, these programs function as slush funds to steer federal cash toward local pork like recreational trails, streetcars and even more bike lanes.

The new Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program gets $1 billion to tear down highway infrastructure that activists claim to have racially problematic origins. The only silver lining here: President Biden had wanted $25 billion.

Are ferry boats “highway” infrastructure? Congress apparently thinks so, to the tune of $912 million.

Let’s not forget billions apiece for central planning bureaucrats, the Carbon Reduction Program, electric-vehicle charging stations and “green” buses. Those all get slices from the “highway” pie.

After all of this, Mr. Buttigieg still decided to add more federal micromanagement to the highway mix.

Shortly after the infrastructure bill passed, the Transportation Department issued a “guidance memo” pressuring states to avoid projects that would increase road capacity by adding lanes or creating new highway sections. The administration seemingly wants to build everything imaginable except new road space.

The memo borrowed from language in a bill created by Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat and House Transportation Committee chair. This would be fine, except that Mr. DeFazio’s bill didn’t pass, and his anti-highway language was left out of the final infrastructure bill.

Thus, the Biden administration was trying to change the infrastructure bill after the fact with a memo. Senate Republicans and several governors forcefully pushed back against this flagrantly unconstitutional action, and Mr. Buttigieg has sought to downplay the memo’s importance.

There is, however, one way to improve America’s infrastructure that Washington hasn’t tried: getting out of the way. Federal red tape causes projects to take more time and money to build. Other regulations prevent states from paying for highways themselves and make airports dependent on federal handouts.

Some members of Congress and a handful of big lobbying groups have enabled Washington to increasingly tighten its stranglehold over the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Voters must make it clear that this profligate and corrupt arrangement is unacceptable. Otherwise, we can expect more potholes—and more of the same wasteful policy detours in future infrastructure bills.