Given the nation's current economic problems, federal transportation priorities should be targeted to metropolitan areas, home to two-thirds of U.S. residents, according to a survey of mayors of 176 cities conducted by the Washington-based United States Conference of Mayors (USCM). And, a large majority of the mayors surveyed said they would only favor an increase in the federal gas tax if it meant more money would be spent in and around cities.

USCM released the results of its Metropolitan Transportation Infrastructure survey May 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, in a presentation by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, chairman of USCM's Transportation Committee. "As the federal government sets priorities for long-term spending and deficit reduction, future transportation infrastructure investments should focus spending on pressing metropolitan transportation infrastructure needs as opposed to low-priority highway expansion projects, such as the infamous Bridge to Nowhere," Reed said. "The long-term productivity of transportation infrastructure spending is greater when it is invested where economic growth will occur, which is in the metropolitan areas."

The survey's major findings include:

• Ninety-eight percent of the mayors consider investment in affordable, reliable transportation an important part of their cities' economic recovery and growth.
• Ninety-three percent of the mayors urge reforms in federal transportation programs to allow cities and their metropolitan areas to receive a greater share of federal funds directly.
• Only 7 percent of the mayors support increasing the federal gas tax without a greater share of funding directly to cities and metropolitan areas.
• Eighty-nine percent support an increase of the federal gas tax to improve transportation infrastructure if a greater share of the funding were invested in metro area road and bridge infrastructure, and 65 percent would support an increase if a greater share went to local public transit.
• Eighty percent of the mayors indicate that highway expansion should be a low priority.
• Seventy-five percent of the mayors say a national infrastructure bank or expanded availability of federal financing tools, such as Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act or Build America Bonds, would accelerate or increase the number of transportation projects that could be implemented.

Metropolitan areas are receiving significantly less in federal transportation investments than would reflect their role and importance to the nation's economy, and they also suffer the most from the nation's declining transportation infrastructure, says Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and executive director. "The largest metropolitan areas account for 87 percent of the nation's traffic. The three most congested areas — Los Angeles, New York and Chicago — account for 27 percent of that traffic," Cochran said in a statement. "Our metropolitan areas rank high among world economies, but they are saddled with bus and rail systems at capacity and aging roads and bridges that will undermine their ability to meet the nation's future economic output. Given these factors, metropolitan areas should be at the center of federal transportation infrastructure investment. They are the drivers of the 21st century United States economy."

Download USCM's Metropolitan Transportation Infrastructure.

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