TrafficWonder why so many of our transportation dollars go toward highways? Follow the lobbying money. Close to 1,800 different interests are lobbying to shape a piece of the new $500 billion transportation bill, according to the The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit that has put together a series on The Transportation Lobby.

Check out the handy map to locate the lobbyists near you and you'll get a sense of why our transportation system’s broken, pumping “massive sums of money into disjointed, low-priority, and often ill-defined projects,” according to Matthew Lewis, who’s writing this series. After the lobbying’s done, the transportation money ends up flowing to the same types of projects: “The traditional breakdown in recent bills gives about 80 percent to highways and 20 percent to mass transit.”

Not only is our federal transportation system dysfunctional, it’s also expiring — and going broke Oct. 1. That’s because the money for the system comes from the Highway Trust Fund, which gets about 90 percent of its money from the federal gas tax — which hasn’t been adjusted since 1993.

But Matthew’s series isn’t all bad news. House Transportation Committee Chair James Oberstar’s “six-year, $500 billion Surface Transportation Authorization Act,” for example, could bring in some much-needed sweeping changes:

[Oberstar's bill] was marked up by the Highways and Transit Subcommittee but has yet to come to a full committee vote. That bill — considered drastic reform by many — promises to consolidate or terminate more than 75 programs, create a national strategic plan, and make state and local governments plan for “specific goals.” The bill also moves toward a national freight plan, and creates a $50 billion funding stream for high speed rail, while promising policy beyond just more roads. It is clear that a host of disparate lobbying groups have had input, although no one has yet decided how to pay for it all. That call is up to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has yet to commit to any specific solution.
Read The Transportation Lobby for a primer on the issue. Want the new transportation bill to support fewer freeways and more mass transit, bike lanes, and walkable communities? Then get involved with Transportation for America which has a petition you can sign — and a blog to keep you updated on the latest transportation issues.

And you too, can do some investigative journalism of your own to find who the lobbyists are in your neighborhood, as the current map’s far from complete. The Center for Public Integrity encourages you to investigate and report more lobbying — via a simple form on the nonprofit’s site:

Is a firm getting paid a hefty sum to lobby on a project that doesn’t seem worth it? Why was a group in your area unable to get federal funding doled through the state government, the route for most federal transportation spending? What are the priority transportation projects in your area? We encourage you to explore the data in our map, dig deeper, and let us know what you find.
Photo: andropolis

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