From 1956 to 1991, the objective was to build the interstate highway system. Then, the focus shifted to highway maintenance and transit. At this point, local interests became more important and the national mission faded. Absent a grand policy, earmarks kept every congressman invested in a big transportation bill; but these are no more.
As a result, “getting back our share” has become the key objective, so that every state now gets as much (or more) money in transportation grants as it pays in federal gas taxes. Along with the money, the federal government issues various rules for spending it, many of which require the states to put in some of their own money, too. It’s common to hear state transportation officials say that the feds provide 25 percent of the money and 75 percent of the hassle.
Eliminating the federal role would enhance state autonomy and streamline decision making. What’s more exciting is that it would also lead to more and better spending on transportation.By making governors and state legislators respond to the wishes of their constituents where they live. What an idea!