The House of Representatives passed a robust “Jobs Bill” which contains a solid amount of funding for both highways and transit projects. However, highway and transit projects are not created equal when it comes to job creation and co-benefits. “Fix it First” (FIF) projects, including operations, maintenance, upgrades, etc. can spur economic development, revitalize urban areas, improve quality of life and provide cost savings to states. In addition, maintenance and operations projects create more jobs per dollar than highway capacity projects. And incentivizing transit projects can increase the number of jobs created, as Stimulus I-funded transit projects produced more jobs per dollar than highway capacity projects. Furthermore, transit funding was shown to be allocated just as quickly as highway funding under Stimulus I.
In addition, both Fix it First projects and transit investments have multiple co-benefits. Fix it First projects can save households money on maintenance by improving road quality, prevent death and injury stemming from dilapidated roads, and improve driving conditions for existing communities. Also, when repaving, restriping or making other surface changes to roadways, agencies have a great opportunity to create bus lanes, bike lanes, safer pedestrian crossings, parallel parking spaces, and other projects that enhance mode choice. Transit projects can also reduce household spending on transportation, improve job access for residents (especially low-income workers), and reduce congestion.
There is already a significant demand for these kinds of projects, demonstrated by state commitments to use Stimulus I money for Fix it First projects (including the state of Maryland) and by the overwhelming number and scope of applications to the TIGER grant program.
In the “Jobs Bill” or “Stimulus II” there is a unique opportunity to utilize federal funds as a simple – yet highly visible and effective – strategy for increasing job creation and stimulating co-benefits. There are a few different ways the Senate can stimulate this additive growth:
- Require that highway funding be used only for Fix it First projects, to ensure the greatest impact of highway investments.
- Stipulate that states who commit to spend all Jobs Bill highway funding on Fix it First projects will automatically receive a “bonus,” e.g., an additional 3 or 5% funding. There are a few ways this “bonus” could be used, depending on the preferred outcome:
- At the state’s discretion which could maximize uptake; or,
- On Fix it First or transit projects only, which could improve job creation; or
- On projects that promote the principles of livability (whether from current TIPs or new projects), which could promote the Administrations’ initiatives.
- Explicitly allow states that make a Fix it First commitment to use up to 50% of their highway funding for transit (any non-transit projects must still be Fix it First), which could stimulate transit project growth (note that this is already technically allowed, but an underused provision).
- Provide some other kind of flexibility, perhaps in other areas of funding or review, if a FIF commitment is made by the State.
This bill will go through the appropriations process, which does not have an easy method for incentivization. However, Congress has found creative ways to fund other projects, so they surely can find a way – or alternate source of funding – to incentivize this important program. The purpose of the Jobs Bill is to create the maximum number of jobs, quickly and with lasting results. In the transportation sector, there is an significant opportunity to reduce household costs, save lives, and create more resilient communities. These options should be explored, so that our scarce fiscal resources can be most efficiently, effectively and equitable spent.