Do congressional Republicans disagree about feds’ role in transportation?

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., makes a point as his colleague Tom Graves, R-Ga., looks on. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (center) makes a point during Tuesday’s transportation roundtable at Georgia Tech as his colleague Tom Graves looks on. (AJC Photo / Brant Sanderlin)

Congress came to town today, as House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., headlined a roundtable discussion at Georgia Tech about transportation infrastructure in and beyond our region. Shuster offered a preview of his thinking in an op-ed in Tuesday’s AJC, which pushed back on the idea, popular among some Republicans, that the federal government should devolve funding and authority for transportation back to the states:

“(S)tates don’t want the federal responsibility of providing for a national infrastructure system to be eliminated and thrust solely upon them. In fact, they have made clear that severing this partnership with the federal government would be fundamentally unworkable.”

Shuster’s op-ed, which you can read in full here, might seem a little awkward, given that a member of Georgia’s congressional delegation, Republican Tom Graves of Ranger, previously introduced a bill that would have enacted such a devolution of federal power. And yet, Graves was one of three congressmen on today’s panel. What gives?

Well, there might not be as much daylight between Shuster and Graves — and between their respective lines of thinking — as it first appears. The main thrust of Graves’ argument, which I mentioned in a column back in December 2013, is that federal regulations and cost-sharing were depriving Georgia of some $185 million annually in gas taxes paid here but not used for roads here.

In an interview yesterday shortly after he arrived in Atlanta, Shuster said he wants to tackle some of the same problems, albeit without a formal devolution of taxing and planning power:

“That’s something we’re looking at: Let’s get (federal transportation funding) out there faster, let’s get it out there with less red tape, less strings attached, so that states can go about the business of building roads. … And refocusing those dollars on these freight corridors that run through virtually every single state, and make sure those dollars are going to that effort instead of all kinds of different things. One of the things we did in the last (transportation funding and authorization bill) MAP-21 was allowing the states to opt in to a program that allows them to do the … federal environmental study. They have to use the same federal study, but they can do it themselves. California has had it for several months, Texas for a couple of months, and Florida is just on the verge of getting it. And all three of those states, DOTs that I spoke to, all believe that that’s going to save them a significant amount of time, because they have a real interest in getting things done. And if it saves them time, it’s going to save them money. … Those are the kinds of things we want to build on. We want to make sure that the agencies are doing those things, are moving their processes out into the states to get them to move faster.”

Within this account of today’s meeting by Peach Pundit’s Jon Richards, there’s a very relevant point made by Georgia DOT’s chief engineer, Meg Pirkle: A federally funded road project takes five and a half years from start to finish, much longer than it has to be, simply because of federal regulations. One of the selling points for this year’s state transportation bill was having more state money to spend on transportation, because state-funded projects can be completed faster and cheaper.

Ultimately, that was the point of Graves’ Transportation Empowerment Act. If Congress can give the states more flexibility and cost-effectiveness without devolving the federal gas tax, fine. But it bears watching to make sure those goals are actually met.

 

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
Juanx
Juanx

Take for example Gwinnett County and DeKalb County...at the county lines one type of paving begins and another ends. One county repairs pot holes, a few feet away the next county does not. Imagine railroad transport ending at one county line, then you must disembark, board a bus to be dropped off at the next county's depot. And the beat goes on. And this example does not even include the states Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, or Tennessee that border Georgia. This States Rights proposals crap need to be buried with Jim/Jane Crow Laws. The 21st century holds much promise if the GOP will just look forward.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Juanx And as we all know, every road in the United States ended at a county or state line until Eisenhower.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Let's hope when the infallible federal government sends Georgia its share of the gas tax revenue, it doesn't get its packages mixed up with the live anthrax cultures that the geniuses sent out all over North America.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

There is almost zero justification for laundering our gas tax revenues through Washington bureaucrats and Congress.  I suppose if Washington wasn't involved, I-20 in western Georgia wouldn't meet up with I-20 in eastern Alabama?

No, what's really going on is that Big Government in D.C. wants to keep its power.

And states like that the feds can print money if they need to, to fund roads or anything else.

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

Speak with your local County or City transportation department personnel and ask them if federal funding is worth the trouble. Some are willing to deal with the hassle, but all will tell you it is a burdensome hassle. Ultimately, it's a balancing act to give the public their needed oversight vs. the ability to effectively get roads built 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Let's get those pesky federal rules out of the way, so the money can get to the local political contributors faster! Grease the graft!

MHSmith
MHSmith

Heads the FED wins, Tails we the States lose? 


Normally it is good to keep the money closer to home, as more seems to get done with it that we can see the results from as to the rest of this proposal is  kind of "ify" teetering on how the yet to be seen details pan out. 

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

Problem is, how big is the Transportation Department now and what else would they do with their time other than be a drag on the states?


Oh yeah, they could go work on global "warming" like nasa did.


I guess this could work.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

As usual republicans think they know what is better for people because they know it all. Nothing wrong with the Fed regulations because the states are known to be in it for corruption...

straker
straker

If the state takes over, I just hope they do a better job with our roads than the City of Atlanta does with its streets.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

In other words we want to keep getting the money but we don't want them to have any say in how it is spent. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar The two ideas at play are: Keep things more or less the same but reduce some of the bureaucratic burden on the states (Shuster), or shift most of the taxing and planning responsibility to the states (Graves).

Neither of those things is what you've described.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar  Keep things more or less the same ( Same revenue coming in from Feds ) but reduce some of the bureaucratic burden on the states ( Have them have less say in how money is used ). (Shuster)



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar The bureaucratic burden has more to do with redundant paperwork (see my answer to Logical below).

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Great column Kyle, except one thing is missing. 


Why would those federal regulations make project take so much longer?  What is the hold up there? 

a) Feds are more thorough and go through more detail

b) Feds are overwhelmed with requests and can't do things in a timely manner.

c) Feds have more paperwork to fill out, so the red tape takes longer for states to fill out to get things done. 

d) combination of all of the above

e) other


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude It's kind of a combination of A, C and E. One complaint I've heard is that the federal enviro review is largely (but not totally) redundant with the state review, but you have to do it completely separately. That takes time and money. There are also some problems with how you scope the project: Federal regs require it to be done in a certain order, whereas a purely state-funded project can be done differently if that makes more sense.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude If Federal funds are funding it, then there should be no reason a separate state-funded environmental review is needed if the feds are already doing the same thing. 


Except in states like California where they like to overly inspect any potential environmental damage (you know, unless the company/project will bring in separate revenues, then it will "streamline" that process.)