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Barack Obama

Ask the Candidates to Talk Transportation at Tomorrow’s Debate

12:56 PM EDT on October 14, 2008

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Insert new question here.

We've noted throughout this election season that transportation policy is something of a third rail in presidential politics. Gas prices and auto industry jobs are irresistible fodder for campaign promises, but even the candidate who has decent ideas about rail travel and bike infrastructure doesn't mention transit on the stump. (The other one doesn't have much to say in the first place.)

If you want topics like intercity rail and federal support for transit projects to get more attention on the national stage, the place to go is the Transportation for America website. T4A is currently collecting signatures calling on Obama and -- suspend your disbelief -- McCain to address the future of the U.S. transportation system at the final presidential debate Wednesday night. Sign on by 1:00 p.m. tomorrow and your petition will be delivered to campaign representatives before the debate.

Wondering how to make the case for transit to a national audience? T4A policy director Mariia Zimmerman puts it in compelling dollars-and-cents terms in this piece, "Reinventing American Transportation," which accompanies the Blueprint for America series on PBS. (Excerpt after the jump.)

Today, transportation is the second highest household expense afterhousing. America has invested in a stunning national highway system,but lags far behind other nations in building transit and high speedrail corridors that could complete our national transportation system.

For some families, long commutes and a lack of affordable or convenienttransit mean that they are actually spending more on transportationthan housing, particularly in exurban areas where people have reliedupon the "drive until you qualify" approach to homeownership. And yetfor those who do have transit available, they are saving almost $9,500per year. Public transportation already saves the U.S. 4.2 billiongallons of gasoline each year.

Providing the transit, walking and biking infrastructure so that morepeople in our growing nation can live in closer proximity to dailyneeds and use their cars less could save billions more gallons of oil.It can also restore value to many of our urban neighborhoods: In mostregions, homes near jobs and/or transit stations are holding theirvalue, while those with the longest commutes are seeing steep declinesand little buyer interest.

America has a long history of visionary transportation investment thathas left a sizable imprint on our landscape and world standing. Ourcanals, railroads, bridges, and highways have shaped settlementpatterns and served as the backbone of our economy. While theseinvestments shaped the past, it is time now to ask what kind ofinvestments America needs today when gasoline prices are high, oildependence is a national threat, climate change is threatening theglobe, and families are looking for more affordable and reliableoptions.

The next president and Congress should endorse a bold program to buildmodern, world-class train and bus systems in our cities and towns,high-speed rail that connects urban and rural areas, complete streetssafe for biking and walking, and to get our highways, bridges andexisting transit in tip-top shape.

Photo: ddkim/Flickr

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