Thanks to a growing body of research on housing and transportation cost trade-offs, Americans are increasingly looking towards strategies like transit-oriented development to reduce these combined cost burdens. The demand for transit in the U.S. has never been greater, with ridership at its highest levels in 50 years and more than 300 new rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects proposed in large and small cities and suburbs across the country.
Failing to keep pace with this demand and continuing to poorly coordinate transportation investments with housing and land use plans creates burdens on our transportation system, and means a greater share of household budgets going to feed the car in order to get to work, school, or affordable housing located on the urban fringe.
When Congress returns, in addition to deciding the fate of health care and climate change, it must also determine the future of the federal surface transportation program which is set to expire on September 30. At stake is whether our nation will continue providing the majority (over 80%) of transportation funding to highway projects that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, or seek to invest more in transportation choices such as transit, bicycling and complete streets, and require greater coordination between regional transportation plans with long-term metropolitan growth, housing and environmental goals. Congress Oberstar has offered one proposal to help move us in the direction, but the debate has just begun.
A growing coalition of diverse voices, led by Transportation for America (T4 America), are asking Congress for major reform in what and how it invests transportation funds. At stake is whether or not we’ll seize this moment in time to invest in infrastructure to preserve neighborhoods, strengthen our economy and create sustainable communities. Given the integrated challenges we face to housing affordability, climate change, oil security and economic prosperity, we don’t have a moment to lose.
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Mariia Zimmerman is the policy director at Reconnecting America, a national transportation non-profit devoted to improving the connection between transportation systems and the communities they serve. She helps to manage the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, and is a founding member of the T4 America campaign.