Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trotsky, the anarchists, and transportation planning and funding

There is a letter to the editor in today's Post in response to a kind of dumb op-ed by US Senator Jeff Bingaman ("Indiana's road racket"), which made the point that US highway transportation fund monies are allocated to states by the number of lane miles in the state, but that if states lease out their roads to public-private partnerships, they reduce their financial responsibilities and still reap the same financial benefits, putting states that don't do public-private partnerships (really semi-sell offs) at a disadvantage.

The reason I say the op-ed is kinda dumb is because this is just an itty bitty side issue of a real problem, that we have a broken system of transportation funding at the national level.

Bingaman is complaining about Indiana gaming the system, but doesn't address (1) what drove Indiana to this point--the fact that it is very difficult to raise state and federal gasoline excise taxes, especially in the context of highways and bridges constructed in the 1950s-1970s running into the end of their useful life and needing repair and reconstruction; (2) that federal gasoline excise taxes haven't been raised in almost 20 years; (3) that the number of miles constructed in the road system keeps increasing, but revenues don't; (4) that improvements in motor vehicle efficiency mean that cars use fewer gallons of gas per miles traveled and therefore reduce revenues generated by the gasoline excise tax

Note that New Mexico's gasoline excise tax is 18.9 cents/gallon, the 43rd highest in the U.S.  The federal gasoline excise tax has been 18.4 cents/gallon since 1993.

Anyway, this kind of picayune focus "on the little picture" is typical of elected officials and op-eds.

Trotsky and the anarchists

Trotsky traveled with some anarchists during the Bolshevik revolution and they started discussing political theory.  The anarchists explained how anarchism worked, basically as a set of small disconnected self-reliant communities.  Trotsky asked who, under anarchism, would be responsible for the development and coordination of the railroad system, which allowed people to travel across and through the country much more quickly than by horse or on foot.  The response was "who needs railroads under anarchism?"

I think that the letter writer, Philip Harvey, is a kind of modern anarchist, as he suggests that the federal gasoline excise tax be dissolved, and states in turn can increase the tax they levy commensurately.

But the whole point of having a national transportation network is being able to connect the country and provide mobility within regions, states, and across the country.  (I am referring to all modes of transportation, not just roads.)

The federal highway transportation fund is supposed to fund investment in the national transportation system.  It's not just giving states money for roads (even if that is the practical effect in many instances).

Although this letter might be evidence of the declining significance of the sense of "nationhood" and irredentist sentiment in our own nation.

Past blog entry on national transportation planning:
-- "Second iteration, idealized national network for high speed rail passenger service," 2009

Pre-Interstate US Highway System, 1955
Pre-Interstate US Highway System, 1955.  Source: Hammond Atlas 


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