Transportation bill tackles big issues, gets details right

Posted by: Gordon on 5/5/2014

CTA Blue Line workers

Photo of Blue Line repairs from Chicago Transit Authority via Flickr

On the evidence of the new Transportation bill, the administration hasn't given up on tackling the big issues that plague our country. 

Secretary Foxx's $302-billion-dollar transportation proposal is creative and ambitious. It includes a 70 percent increase for transit, $72 billion over 4 years. While 10.5 billion people ride transit every day, 45 percent of Americans have no transit access. 

This proposal would get transit to some communities that have been waiting for years. It will also help the environment (buses produce 80 percent less pollution than cars) and get seniors and young people to healthcare and jobs.

Sec. Foxx bolsters his argument for transit investment by using some sound economic reasoning: in Phoenix and Dallas, transit investments have added more than $7 billion to each local economy.

The big picture is great, but the details get even better.

With this proposal the administration finally responds to pleas from groups like the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), the Council of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) to suggest investing in a big way on workforce development.

Fifty percent of the transportation workforce will retire in the next ten years - double our total national workforce. Taken with the fact that racism and sexism have kept the numbers of women and African Americans in the field shockingly low (3 percent and 6 percent respectively); investment in creating a well-trained, diverse transportation workforce only makes sense.

We are particularly interested in the job training component. Here's how it works.

State departments of transportation do a scan to determine their needs and then retool their already existing on-the-job training programs in conjunction with $245 million in new grant funds. It's a winning formula and one that TEN used when developing the Missouri model to increase both the demand and supply side. Pending retirements tweak the demand side and federal funds will help to increase the supply.

Other innovations in the proposal include the expansion of workforce development across modes, the addition of  local hire provisions in limited circumstances, and study of the use of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) in the rail program.

The bill just came out last week and so we will be diving in deeper in the days and weeks to come--stay tuned for more details. But we can join groups like ATU and Policylink that have found much to praise in this proposal. Hopefully Congress will do its job and take a serious look at the bill's well-crafted recommendations.

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