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February 15, 2011

How Transportation Fared in the President's Budget

Light-rail Yesterday, President Obama released not only a 2012 budget proposal for the Department of Transportation but also a vision of where our transportation system should head over the next six years. 

But before we get to the vision, let's take a minute to look at gas prices. Stories and editorials over the past couple of days in California focused on climbing gas prices. California's gas prices are higher on average than the rest of the country, but prices are climbing everywhere.When a gallon of gas last hit $4 per gallon in 2008, we were sending as much as one billion dollars overseas every day to pay for oil. 

How is $4/gallon gas tied to the President's 2012 budget and vision for transportation? Americans guzzle 13 million barrels of oil every day for transportation - moving ourselves and the stuff we need.  For too long our nation's transportation policy has lacked performance measure and accountability. 

The Obama Administration set a new high bar for fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and has the opportunity to aim for at least a 60 mile per gallon standard by 2025, but we need to match these standards with a transportation policy that will help end our dependence on oil.

Transportation choices that enable us and goods to move efficiently, have safe oil free choices and livable communities will all help end our dependence on oil and keep dollars at home and create jobs.

The President's 2012 budget and vision for a six year transportation program mark an effort to change direction by investing more in public transportation and helping some systems with operating expenses that will help keep buses and trains running.

The plan continues the livability effort the Administration has championed over the past two years so that investments in housing, transportation and commercial development are coordinated to give "people access to affordable and environmentally sustainable transportation."

The President's vision includes following through on a commitment to rail and creates competitive "Transportation Leadership Awards" that will help bring reform to state and local governments to improve our transportation system. 

The President's plan also calls for a "Fix-it-First" approach to highways and transit dollars – much needed since our country's infrastructure earned a "D." Every state has roads in poor condition that compromise safety, cause traffic, and waste dollars and gas.  In an updated Fix it First map, Sierra Club shows state-by-state the need to invest in existing roads before adding new capacity.

We will continue to dig into the President's budget for 2012 and plans for the next six years - but there is much to applaud in this first look at where President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood want to go.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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