Lobbyists Target Hundreds of Billions in Transportation Spending

September 30, 2009

There may be a highway bypass, subway extension, or light-rail project near you just waiting for Congress to authorize funding for it. There may be a Congress member itching to take credit. There may be a company in your bailiwick poised to create jobs, and already lobbying for federal dollars.

Congress must once again approve a 6-year plan for transportation funding, since the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 (SAFETEA) expires Oct. 1, 2009.

The reauthorization effort is drawing flocks of lobbyists on all sides of the issues, with about 1,800 of them having already spent about $45 million in just the first half of 2009, according to the Center for Public Integrity. That's roughly as much as is being spent on lobbying for climate change.

To see who has spent what so far on lobbying for the reauthorization, check out the findings released by CPI on Sept. 17, 2009.

The data is searchable in many ways. Among the lobbyists are representatives of cities, counties, states, planning and transit agencies, universities, real estate firms, labor organizations, and engineering and construction companies.

Much more money will undoubtedly flow toward members of the House and Senate in the months to come, since SAFETEA is likely to be extended for at least several months (and possibly more than a year under one scenario) before Congress can fully focus on this issue, after tackling health care and climate change. The latter likely will have many influences on transportation funding reauthorization, since transportation accounts for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

Funding priorities established in a new bill, expected to allocate about $400-500 billion dollars, will strongly influence the types of projects that are built and maintained. There are many implications for the environment as winners and losers -- such as roads, railroads, mass transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians -- are chosen.

An additional issue this year is that Recovery Act funding of about $50 billion for transportation projects that is already being spent may or may not prove to be compatible with the direction given with the funding reauthorization (although some advocates critical of the status quo have been generally pleased that the Recovery Act allocations reflect a reduced emphasis on road projects and an increased emphasis on transit and rail projects, compared to SAFETEA).

The new transportation bill could get final approval in 2010, but it took two years and 12 extensions before Congress approved SAFETEA in August 2005 as the sequel to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

For one perspective on the politics behind the renewal, see a June 11, 2009, Greenwire article by Josh Voorhees that the New York Times carried:

For information and resources from the last transportation bill reauthorization, see the TipSheet of May 11, 2005.