Over the past two weeks, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association has sent letters to the Republican National Committee [PDF] and the Democratic National Committee [PDF], asking them to consider inserting a plank in their platforms about transportation. And they were clear in their letter that, despite being major cheerleaders for road-building, the future they see is multi-modal.
They also made a strong argument for transportation as a federal responsibility. To many, this is a no-brainer. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) likes to remind people of the example of the Kansas Turnpike, built in 1954, when transportation was left to the states. Oklahoma ran out of funding for the project — “So for the next 18 months, the turnpike ended in Amos Switzer’s field at the Kansas/Oklahoma border,” DeFazio said. “For months on end, Amos was left to fish drivers out of his field until the start of the interstate system that finished this badly needed roadway.”
Conservatives in Congress have been arguing the unthinkable: taking the country back to a state-based system where there’s no federal role in transportation. “We settled that debate with Dwight David Eisenhower,” DeFazio said.
ARTBA wants to settle this argument once and for all with a little founding-father-speak — always popular with the right. Here they bring out the big guns — George Washington himself — who in 1785 said, “The credit, the saving, and convenience of this country all require that our great roads [and by this I'm sure he also meant light rail, bullet trains, and the national bike network] leading fromone public place to another should be straightened and established by law… To me these things seem indispensably necessary.” Not to mention that the federal responsibility for “post roads” is written into the constitution.
Writing to the Democrats, ARTBA celebrates Thomas Jefferson, who authorized funding for the National Road from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois; Woodrow Wilson, who signed the Federal-Aid Roads Act; Franklin D. Roosevelt, from whom infrastructure building was a key strategy out of the Great Depression; and other Democrats right up to 2008. Take note, straphangers and complete streets advocates: Tailoring your message to butter up your audience is a lobbying strategy well worth stealing from these guys.