With almost one in ten American workers currently unemployed, smart investment in infrastructure is an efficient way to create jobs right now. The job creation potential of infrastructure has been well-documented. Economists Mark Zandi and Alan Blinder, for example, explain in a report they coauthored that every dollar spent on infrastructure yields $1.57 in economic growth.
To generate the most jobs, every study has shown that it is important to prioritize investments in public transportation. Academic analysis concludes that public transit generates 31 percent more jobs per billion dollars invested than similar spending on highways. Models developed with the Federal Highway Administration likewise show transit investments generate 19 percent more jobs. Similarly, an analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that 2008 stimulus dollars spent on public transportation projects created up to twice as many jobs as highway spending for the same amount of money. The consistent finding is clear: to create jobs, invest in public transportation.
For spending on highways, it is important that money be directed to repair and maintenance rather than the construction of new highways. Too many roads and bridges across America remain in a state of disrepair that pose dangers and cause costly delays. Although investment in highway repair does not create as many jobs as public transit, it creates 9 percent more jobs per billion dollars than building new highway miles, according to the same studies.
Additionally, the long-term development of a national high-speed rail network could be critical to rebuilding America's declining manufacturing sector. Auto factories that were shut down during the last decade could be reopened and repurposed to manufacture the new railcars and bullet trains of the future.
Better Transportation Investment Reduces our Dependence on Oil
Our transportation system consumes more oil than the entire economy of any other country in the world, other than China, according to Department of Energy data. The disastrous consequences of our oil addiction were on full display last spring when billions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. Our over-reliance on oil is also a national security concern, as it forces our nation to rely on foreign regimes which are often hostile or unstable.
Investing in more and better public transportation is critical to reducing America's oil dependence because it provides more energy-efficient ways to travel. Existing public transit reduced the amount of gasoline America used in 2006 by 3.4 billion gallons, according to an analysis of EPA data. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund calculated that this saved us over $9 billion in gas costs. Not surprisingly, metropolitan areas with better public transit systems accounted for most of these oil savings.
To partially pay for the proposed investment, President Obama rightly calls for cutting government subsidies for oil companies. There is no reason why corporations, like Exxon-Mobil and BP, that make billions in profits should receive public handouts and tax subsidies. These unnecessary tax breaks and subsidies should be eliminated, and the savings should be used to pay for cleaner, more efficient transportation projects.
Better Transportation Investment Reduces Congestion and Pollution
In addition to creating jobs and reducing our oil dependence, investment in public transportation and high-speed rail would reduce traffic congestion and global-warming pollution.
For instance, the Texas Transportation Institute's 2007 Annual Urban Mobility Report calculated that public transit prevented over 500 million hours of delays in 2005, saving the country more than $10 billion.
Also, our transportation system accounts for a full third of the country's global warming pollution. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund calculated that public transit reduced emissions of harmful global warming pollution by 26 million metric tons in 2006. That is equivalent to taking almost 5 million cars off the road.
Better Transportation Investment Means Less Earmarks, and More Results
In addition to providing much needed funding for more public transportation, President Obama's plan seeks to spend our transportation dollars more efficiently. Over 100 federal programs would be consolidated under the proposal, similar to a 2009 proposal by U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar. President Obama also proposes to allocate money based on performance, rather than earmark-driven politics. Such reforms are essential to ensuring that we get the biggest bang for our buck.
With the economic recovery slow to pick up steam, President Obama's call for a new transportation bill is a timely opportunity to spur job growth now while making crucial investments in America's future. We strongly encourage you to write an editorial urging Congress to move forward with President Obama's proposal for comprehensive reform and the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill.