Our bureaucratic approach to transportation was designed for the last century. We need a 21st-century transportation policy that’s built to last.
These are the principles that should guide reform of how Washington does transportation policy:
- Decision-making needs to be less centralized. It makes no sense for Washingtonians to send enormous amounts of money to Olympia where a centralized bureaucracy determines which projects around the state get funded. Money should remain where it is raised, and local jurisdictions should be making the decisions currently made in Olympia. Local officials are more accountable to the public and have more local knowledge about the relative merits of different projects. The state can retain a role in mediating between local jurisdictions and establishing the rules under which they operate.
- Decision-making needs to be more transparent. Olympia’s opaque decision-making process is too prone to manipulation by concentrated interests.
- Prefer congestion pricing and technological solutions to ameliorate traffic. The only way to reduce congestion is to move toward price-transparency and technological innovation. Simply building more roads without imposing costs for usage will not provide lasting relief from traffic problems.
- Infrastructure should be paid for by those who use it. We should be moving toward user-pays funding, but the recent Transportation Bill moved us AWAY from it, by shifting funding to the sales tax and other taxes unrelated to transportation.
- Regressive tax increases should not be a part of our transportation policy. The Transportation Bill’s sales-tax hike was a regressive change that burdens the poor, some of whom don’t even own a car.
- Increased funding from usage fees should result in lower taxes. A major reason people dislike congestion pricing and tolls is that the fees are often paid in addition to the tax burden, rather than replacing it. Politicians should not adopt tolls as a sneaky additional source of revenue.
- Geographic subsidies should not be a part of our transportation policy. Geographic subsidies are inequitable and wasteful. They are made possible by our outdated system of central planning.
- Government should be neutral with respect to modes of travel. By placing the cost of infrastructure on those who use it, government can promote more efficient use of resources without having to pick sides in the “Road v. Rail” ideological war.
- Attract private capital without granting special privileges. With user-pays pricing of road/rail usage, government can attract private capital, promoting cost-efficiency and offloading investment risk.