Let's Connect to Opportunity

16 May 2014 | Angela Glover Blackwell
Let's Connect to Opportunity

Cross-posted on Huffington Post

Transportation is an essential ingredient for building healthier communities. That's why an equitable and well-functioning transportation system that works for everyone is so important.

Transportation is one of a few basic elements we all need in our communities to live full, healthy lives. These include access to good jobs that can sustain our families; decent, affordable housing; safe streets and parks for children to walk and play; and full-service supermarkets that offer fresh and nutritious foods.

Transportation connects people to jobs, schools, affordable housing, health care, grocery stores, and more.

But many Americans--many of them living in low-income communities and communities of color--lack accessible transportation options that can make all the difference in their ability to meet basic needs, participate fully in community life, and connect and contribute to our national economy.

By 2043, the majority of U.S. residents will be people of color. As our nation changes, we cannot afford to leave millions of our fellow Americans behind, literally and figuratively. America's tomorrow depends on creating an equitable economy that allows all people to participate and prosper. Equity means just and fair inclusion for all.

Federal transportation policy choices--what we build, where we put it, who builds it, how we operate it, what energy powers it--have an enormous impact on our economy, our climate, and our health. We must invest in a manner that builds an all-in nation where every community can benefit.

We have already seen what happens to neglected communities when we don't make these investments. As an example, our current inequitable transportation policy has created a situation where transportation expenses for households in the bottom-90-percent income bracket are twice that of those in the top-10-percent income bracket, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Recently, we did receive some good news. The Obama administration sent its proposal to Congress for a four-year, $302-billion surface transportation reauthorization, called the GROW AMERICA Act. We were pleased to see many of the elements of an equitable transportation agenda in the bill, which PolicyLink and its allies have been advocating for.

We are hopeful about several aspects of what the administration proposes:

  • Increase public transportation funding by 70 percent over the existing transportation law (MAP-21). Nearly one in five African-American households, one in seven Latino households, and one in eight Asian households lives without a car. This unprecedented boost in transit investment could provide affordable travel options for so many.
     
  • Set new performance goal for the U.S. Department of Transportation--connecting disadvantaged communities to jobs, schools, and other daily needs. Setting this national goal can have a ripple effect at the community level, such that local transportation officials would begin prioritizing the needs of many families for whom transportation has been a barrier to opportunity rather than a bridge to it.
     
  • Make funds available for transportation workforce development and training, and allow communities to target transportation job openings toward women, people of color, and other groups that are underrepresented in the transportation sector. These provisions would potentially bring new jobs to those who have yet to reap the benefits of transportation investment.

 

The Transportation Equity Caucus, co-led by PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, calls for transportation investments that will improve outcomes for low-income people, communities of color, people with disabilities, and other underserved individuals.

As co-chair of the Caucus, PolicyLink would like to see Congress work with the administration to adopt smart, targeted policies, such as those included in the GROW AMERICA Act, to ensure that transportation connects all people to opportunity. Unfortunately, there are some congressional leaders who propose to maintain the status quo when it comes to transportation. It is critical that congressional leaders not shrink from their responsibility to put forward a bold, forward-thinking proposal that benefits all Americans.

This week, a number of national organizations came together to observe Infrastructure Week 2014, in recognition of how reconnecting America through infrastructure and transportation is crucial to the nation's progress. If Congress follows the administration's lead with regard to the policy recommendations in the bill, advocates for equity will have reason to be optimistic about the course of transportation investment in America.

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