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Transportation 101: An Introduction to Federal Transportation Policy

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, March 1st, 2011


Executive Summary

This is a pivotal moment for our nation and its commitment to America’s transportation infrastructure. The Interstate Highway System has been built, but it no longer meets all our needs and is showing its age. The next transportation bill must address the many challenges our nation is facing: crippling commutes, rising costs, wasteful spending, lack of options and economic development in our urban, suburban and rural communities.

As Congress prepares to debate the next bill, Transportation for America offers this guidebook as a reference to existing policies and programs, their historical background and the issues that numerous stakeholders believe must be addressed this time around. The guidebook is divided into six sections: 1) The history of federal transportation policy; 2) Funding and revenue collection and distribution; 3) How our current federal program works; 4) How the federal policies are implemented at various levels of government; 5) The reauthorization process; and 6) The future of federal transportation policy.


“Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear — United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower (February 22, 1955)

Since the 1950s, the federal government has been the principal driver of transportation policies and programs at the national, state and local levels. Federal funding over the last several decades has contributed 80 percent or more to construction of the highways that carry the lion’s share of traffic, and has paid about half the cost of public transportation systems. Congress and multiple administrations repeatedly have affirmed a federal interest in ensuring that a robust, extensive and efficient transportation network exists to move people towork, to get goods to market and to allow for travel, trade and tourism among the states. As Congress prepares its latest update of a multi-year transportation bill, it is important to understand the evolution and basic structure of our existing program. Transportation for America conceived of this guide to federal transportation policy as an accessible reference for policymakers, practitioners, and citizens.

Transportation 101 Figure 2.3

Download full version (PDF): Transportation 101

About Transportation For America:
“Transportation for America (T4 America) is the largest, most diverse coalition of transportation reform today. Our nation’s transportation network is based on a policy that has not been significantly updated since the 1950’s. We believe it is time for a bold new vision — transportation that guarantees our freedom to move however we choose and leads to a stronger economy, greater energy security, cleaner environment and healthier America for all of us. We’re calling for more responsible investment of our federal tax dollars to create a safer, cleaner, smarter transportation system that works for everyone.”

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