Why Don’t Politicians Care About Transportation Issues?

By Jim Baxter, NMA President

In what has to be history’s longest political campaign, I have yet to hear anything meaningful about public policies that directly affect motorists.

Sure, there have been inane and uneducated comments stimulated by major events, like the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota. But there has been nothing of substance indicating that any of the candidates have spent a whiff of time developing a cogent, rational, and consistent set of transportation policies for the greatest system of personal mobility that the world has ever known.

Yes, the same criticism could be made for many other important subjects and government dominated functions. And, what politicians say during the campaign and what they do in office are often only vaguely connected or consistent.

Still, what bothers and confounds me is that something so important to the economic well-being and social fabric of our country doesn’t even merit a perfunctory or patronizing comment from the “stump?”

Consider that well over 200 million citizens drive, and many millions spend two, three or more hours each day traveling on public roads. Hundreds of billions of dollars in fees and taxes are collected every year from highway users, ostensibly to build and maintain our system of roads streets and highways.

Without this system of vehicles and roadways the United States would have the economy of a third world country. Literally, every single person is reliant, in some fashion, on this system that provides products, services, jobs, recreation, and security to all of us.

For starters I’d like to know where the candidates stand on converting our freeways, expressways and other major highways into toll roads. What is their take on mass transit systems? Should they be run as a public welfare program funded by highway user fees, as is currently the practice, or should they be operated like a transportation system, one that is supported by its users?

Do they have any proposals for replacing user fees from liquid fuels if there is a major shift to electrically powered vehicles? How do they feel about camera and surveillance based enforcement systems? And, do they see the funding of court systems with traffic ticket revenue as a conflict of interest?

There have been obtuse references to highway infrastructure and the need for more money (what else is new, government needs more money!) but little recognition that major chunks of state and federal highway user fees are regularly siphoned off to balance budgets, fund non-highway projects, or fund projects that diminish travel system capacity.

It’s probably too much to hope that subjects like speed traps, speed limits, breathalyzers, red light ticket cameras, and “professional courtesy” might at least rank up there with knocking down shots in small town taverns or bowling prowess.

But, one should be careful about what one wishes for, the campaign staff would probably go to AAA and MADD for advice on position papers. Wouldn’t that be a disaster!

Image Credit: fabrisalvetti

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