Transportation is Top of Mind for Many Newly-Elected Officials

November 8, 2018

By Tamara Warren

Americans seem to agree on at least one thing: no one likes a traffic jam — and congestion is at its all-time worst.

Transportation was a prominent subject of this year's midterm elections. Election Day hosted over 300 transportation and infrastructure initiatives on the ballot, and on both the state and local levels, a number of newly-elected officials are now faced with the task of shaping that legislation and policy.

In Washington, D.C., the new Democratic House majority will likely lead to more oversight of the Department of Transportation and a call for more regulation on safety, the environment, and how public dollars will be spent privately. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is positioned to become the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. A longtime committee member, DeFazio is an advocate for a multimodal transportation system and has bemoaned the crumbling infrastructure.

President Trump has long touted his commitment to infrastructure repairs, a rare common priority he shares with Democratic legislators. But if Trump's infrastructure proposal ends up back on the table, there are still likely to be clashes on how it will be funded and what is prioritized.

“A lot of leaders [are] coming in that made transportation a priority” Alissa Walker, an editor for Curbed, told Cheddar.

Meanwhile, significant boosts to new infrastructure projects are likely to unfold at the state level, where at least six Democratic governors have replaced Republicans ー opening a path for increased support for public transportation.

Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program told Cheddar that both sides are sending mixed signals. “It’s not always the most popular topic but in many states like Michigan, Florida, California ー it was top of mind for voters because they are seeing infrastructure challenges in their community," Tomer said. "So now, that these elections are done the hard work begins and these governors have a real opportunity to set a new infrastructure-centric agenda.”

Newly-elected Democratic governors may follow re-elected New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who introduced a $125 billion infrastructure investment in May. Michigan is a state to watch ー where incoming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on an environmental platform and the catchy-but-relatable slogan, “Fix the damn roads.”

“I think the governorship in Michigan ーnow Governor-Elect Whitmer ーshe is facing a really tough hand from an infrastructure perspective,” Tomer said, adding that her hardest task will be finding the money for improvements.

How these big pictures will develop is anyone’s guess once newly-elected officials take office. Infrastructure changes are complex and often hard-fought. And in some places, where election results are unresolved, the outcome may sway transportation policies. In Georgia, a possible runoff for governor could impact transportation policy as soon next week. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the runoff might make Gov. Nathan Deal rethink a special legislative session scheduled for next week that includes a controversial jet fuel tax break.

But the efforts to fix certain problems has proven daunting. The complex set of issues that shape America’s transportation and infrastructure are a function of federal, state, and city policies that are indelibly interwoven — and were reshuffled by the results of the midterm election. Following rousing voter turnout, much of the country’s political landscape was re-shaped, which will determine which new initiatives are pushed forward ー and who, exactly, is paying.

What remains clear is that the course has been altered, and there is incentive to build and change. But like America’s highways, what’s certain is that there will be gridlock and bumps along the way.

For full interview click here.