NLC at 90: Advocating For Our Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure

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NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, and the first blog in this 90th anniversary series.

Transportation_BlogAs NLC continues to celebrate its 90th anniversary, this week we focus our attention on transportation. From the ISTEA in ’91, to TEA-21 in ’98 to SAFETEA-LU in 2005, to our current transportation legislation, MAP-21, NLC has been a staunch advocate for local interests on transportation legislation.

How cities plan for transportation has greatly evolved over the past several decades. NLC has seen several cities move from an approach that focuses on road construction to one that favors more dense development. Transit, bike lanes and better sidewalks are being incorporated into a more alternative approach to community development – and local governments are realizing environmental, economic and social benefits to this.

Recognizing the central importance of transit to communities across the country, NLC has been a consistent champion for policies that reflect local needs and  include local voices in planning and project selection. For example:

  • Cities saw a victory in ISTEA as it preserved an intergovernmental partnership between all levels of government, maintained local government authority on federal dollars being used for local transportation decisions and upheld an intermodal approach to transportation development.
  • TEA-21 sustained many key features from ISTEA that protected cities but also came with increased funding – the largest federal commitment to transportation since the Interstate system was built.
  • NLC continued its aggressive lobbying approach with SAFETEA-LU which contained several important provisions for local governments by defeating a program that would have carved out a portion of core transportation program funding for congestion-relief activities. This would ultimately have given state departments of transportation the authority to control these funds by allowing them to define what would constitute a “congestion-relief activity.”

The Time Has Come For a New Plan

The current federal surface transportation program authorization, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), signed in 2012, funds highway, transit and other surface transportation programs through the end of fiscal year 2014 (FY2014.)

However, the law did not address long-term funding challenges facing federal surface transportation funding. The Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund is expected to encounter a shortfall before the end of FY2014, coinciding with the expiration of the current transportation spending program.

Any delay in solving the funding shortfall will be harmful to local economies. The time has come for Congress and the Administration to authorize a new, lasting transportation plan that includes local decision making authority, invests in long term equitable transportation solutions, supports sustainable multimodal choices and maintains a strong federal role.

NLC advocates for the federal government to continue its role in shaping the nation’s transportation goals and priorities. A national program needs to focus on sustainable solutions to mobility and safety, maintain the national role as leader in data, adapt successful technological approaches and promote innovative transportation solutions.

Investment in local infrastructure creates jobs and boosts local economies. With adequate funding and innovative financing solutions, local leaders can train and hire thousands of workers to carry out both immediate fixes and long-term road, bridge, transit and rail projects. A comprehensive funding solution will allow local leaders to make the long-term investments and planning decisions their communities need.

To learn more about NLC’s current efforts on transportation, access the Transportation Funding Advocacy Toolkit and register for NLC’s next transportation webinar “What’s Walking Got to Do With It? A Look at the Social and Economic Impact of Walkability.”


About the author: Julia Pulidindi is a Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the National League of Cities (NLC). Her work focuses on identifying local challenges and solutions to transportation and telecommunications infrastructure issues.  Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaPulidindi.