Transportation Reform in the South

SELC's transportation reform work envisions more efficient, less polluting ways to move goods and people across the South.


Photo © SELC/Heather Dodge

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Congress rebuffs president, fully funds 2017 transportation grants More »

President Trump signed the budget deal reached by Congress for fiscal 2017 last Friday. The omnibus spending bill maintains crucial funding levels for transportation, rejecting proposals the president had made to slash funding in several key areas—including transit and rail investments. Such cuts would have jeopardized a number of projects and services in the South, and put the future of many others in doubt.

The programs targeted by Trump are essential to providing cleaner transportation options and building strong local communities. Among other things, the President proposed to stop the pipeline of federal funding for transit construction projects and to eliminate the TIGER grant program that supports transit, rail, and other projects focused on economic redevelopment. The spending bill signed late last week does not contain these cuts.

The concern now is that the budget deal only addresses the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. We will be working to counter even deeper cuts in transportation funding President Trump has proposed for the 2018 fiscal year—including eliminating Amtrak service in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The question of future federal funding was a hot topic in North Carolina’s Triangle region last week and highlights the stakes in transportation budget negotiations. As various municipalities consider their commitments to a regional light rail system, many worried whether the federal government will keep its funding commitment. SELC and various constituencies advocating for this cleaner transportation alternative have been out in force highlighting the local support for the $1.8 billion investment. The completed light rail will link 18 stations along a 17.7-mile rail line, connecting the University of North Carolina, Duke University and North Carolina Central University. Federal funding is expected to cover half the final cost; if this funding is lost the project will stop in its tracks.

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The South's asphalt-centered transportation approach contributes to nearly every serious environmental problem we face today--from air and water pollution, to loss of rural lands and natural areas, to climate change. SELC is pursuing an alternative approach through a region-wide effort to promote cleaner transportation options and to advance policies to curb sprawl and protect the special places in the South that we cherish.

Halting the Most Destructive Highway Projects

State transportation departments in the South have too often built massive, destructive highways and bypasses that do little to improve our long-term mobility, safety, economy, or quality of life. Instead of reducing congestion, these costly new projects often subsidize development farther out into the countryside, causing "planned sprawl" and quickly filling up with traffic by essentially forcing people to drive everywhere for everything.  Sprawling development, coupled with a failure to invest in alternatives to auto and truck travel, has made the South's per capita driving distances and tailpipe pollution levels some of the worst in the nation.

SELC is challenging the most ill-conceived and expensive highway proposals in the South. These projects would increase air and water pollution, destroy valuable natural areas and farmland, worsen the region's carbon footprint, and pave the way for yet more far-flung development.  Instead, we are advocating for low impact, more effective solutions to transportation problems, such as targeted improvements to existing highways.

SELC's Vision for Transportation

In addition to advancing alternatives to damaging projects, SELC is promoting fundamental policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels, including

• More transportation choices: We are spurring investment in cleaner and more efficient alternatives to driving, such as transit, intercity passenger rail, and freight rail.
• Fix-it-first: We are urging our states and metro areas to repair thousands of roads and bridges and to improve the efficiency of existing roads, rather than to pour money into new highways and bypasses.
• Linking transportation and land use: We are promoting development patterns that curb sprawl, reduce the cost for public services, and promote public health by providing choices for getting to work, shopping centers, school and other destinations.

If we change our approach to transportation, as the South continues to grow we can foster vibrant economic growth and communities with a range of mobility and living options while protecting our health and our environment.