carousel | January 26, 2017

Put Americans to work. Get them to work: Transit infrastructure’s double dividend

The team at


Not all infrastructure is created equal. The Trump administration is floating ambitious plans for bridges, roads, airports, to be financed through tax credits and expedited through environmental approvals. Democrats have their own $1 trillion proposal.

Both claim to help put Americans to work. But what about the infrastructure Americans need to get to work? Investments in public transit help families, reduce pollution, support local businesses and create jobs.

It also attracts private investment that supports local economic development and community revitalization. Lower-cost forms of mass transit, like Bus Rapid Transit systems, have been particularly successful.

So it seems out of line that mass transit systems, which millions of Americans rely on everyday, may be at risk of major federal spending cuts. The conservative Heritage Foundation has proposed to eliminate the Federal Transit Administration and likely repurpose its $4 billion annual budget. That would strike $2.2 billion in annual capital investment in mass transit and strain already stressed transit budgets, which rely on the federal government for nearly 50 percent of their capital funding.

Low-income urban Americans — particularly, women — would be worst affected by the federal government’s deprioritization of mass transit.

Conversely, increased investment in public transportation can yield as many new jobs as investment in other forms of infrastructure, with the construction and manufacturing sectors being the biggest job beneficiaries. A report by the American Public Transportation Association notes: “Major manufacturers exist in states that are not widely known for having prolific public transportation systems and represent significant employment in those communities.”

A real estate guy like President Trump should understand the value created by public transit. In Cleveland, a city still struggling to recover from the recession, a $50 million investment in a rapid bus system attracted $5.8 billion in private real estate investment nearby — that’s $114 of private investment per $1 of public spending. Kansas City, Mo.’s rapid bus system drew $102 of private investment per $1 of public spending. These are exceptional cases, but most city bus rapid transit investments have more than broke even. The Democrats’ plan includes $180 million for rail and bus systems.

The gridlock is not only in Washington. Take suburban Chicago, where an urban-to-suburban shift in manufacturing and freight jobs means that more workers depend on cars to get to work, affecting both traffic congestion and worker productivity. Investing in public transit infrastructure could be an opportunity to really get America moving.