Transportation Equity Caucus Brings Crucial Perspective to Congressional Hearings

Last month, Congress narrowly averted a disastrous default of the Highway Trust Fund when it passed a two-month extension of the program, postponing—for the 33rd time in six years—a discussion on how to sustain the fund. Failing to pass any long-term financing legislation, Congress has had to transfer about $65 billion from the general fund since 2008 to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

With a July 31 deadline quickly approaching, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee held hearings this week on long-term transportation funding solutions. The Transportation Equity Caucus (TEC) submitted written testimony to both Congressional hearings, stressing the need for transportation legislation driven by social and economic equity.

In its testimony, TEC emphasized the consequences of Congress’s continuing pattern of short-term fixes for transportation funding. By failing to provide long-term, sustained investment in transportation infrastructure, Congress has kept workers out of jobs and undercut long-term planning. “Sustained transportation investment is crucial to developing equitable communities, expanding employment opportunities, and boosting our nation’s economic recovery,” TEC said.

When most people think about transportation, they often think of it in terms of convenience. What many don’t consider is that transportation is a critical link to opportunity. Transportation connects us to jobs, schools, housing, health care, and grocery stores—all of which are crucial for low-income people trying to access jobs and build better lives for themselves and their children. As part of a national, long-term study, researchers at Harvard found that commute times were a crucial predictor of upward social mobility: families living in areas with shorter average commute times had a better chance of moving up the economic ladder than those living in areas with longer average commute times.

And yet, many of our most vulnerable Americans—people of color, low-income communities, and people with disabilities—face significant barriers to accessing reliable transportation. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, low- and moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their total annual income on transportation, while middle-income households spend less than 22 percent. Additionally, more than 22 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Latino households have no personal vehicle.

To ensure that any long-term funding bill supports a transportation system that works for everyone, regardless of income, race or zip code, TEC concluded its testimony with a list of recommendations for the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees:

1. Utilize new revenue to expand or improve mobility and access for underserved communities.

2. Ensure that any mechanisms used to finance our nation’s transportation system (whether that be repatriation, increasing the gas tax, user fees, or other potential financing mechanisms) do not disproportionately burden low-income people.

3. Establish criteria and align federal funding to national transportation outcomes such as improved mobility for people and goods, access, transit ridership, health and safety, as well as reduced household costs, carbon emissions, and vehicle miles traveled.

Click here to read TEC’s full testimony for the House Ways and Means hearing and the Senate Finance hearing.