Threats to Infrastructure Funding Could Undermine Successful Local Development Efforts

Well-designed, transit-rich neighborhoods provide many benefits to residents of all ages, as I document in, “Independence Found in Downsizing to a Transit Rich Neighborhood.” These neighborhoods also provide dividends to the larger community, generating higher property values, rents, and revenue than real estate located further away from high quality public transportation services. Cities as diverse as Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Detroit, and Washington, DC have all strengthened their regional economies through investment in transit-oriented development (TOD).  And because their residents walk and bike more, TOD residents reap some health benefits as well.

More than 80 real estate development projects have been completed or are in progress within 1/2 mile of Atlanta’s Beltline corridor. Photo by Jana Lynott

Transit-oriented development pays for itself and then some. One study  discovered that TOD development in the Washington, DC and Baltimore regions generated between $1.13 in tax and $2.20 in non-tax revenues for every dollar spent on public services, such as schools, parks, and general government administration. Another study of five cities found that during the Great Recession, residential property values performed 42 percent better on average if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service. Neighborhoods with high-frequency public transportation provide access to up to five times as many jobs per square mile as compared to other areas in a given region. Residents also enjoy lower household transportation costs as many are able to give up one or more cars due to the abundant ways to get around the community.

Given the myriad benefits, this type of development should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, however, future development of transit-oriented neighborhoods to meet high consumer demand is in question, as the very infrastructure programs that enable cities to build the underlying transit and other infrastructure that knits these neighborhoods together is under threat.

Two key federal infrastructure programs have been instrumental in getting TOD built. They are the:

  • Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts and Small Starts Capital Investment grants; and,
  • USDOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.


Both of these programs have been targeted in the President’s FY2018 Budget for elimination.

The popular TIGER and New Starts/Small Starts grant programs respect local communities’ ability to set their own transportation priorities. They are two of the few ways that local communities can secure funds directly from the federal government for priority transportation projects. These federal dollars, in combination with an even greater share of public investment from states and localities, leverage billions of dollars in private sector investment in our communities.

The 2017 federal budget ends September 30. As Congress decides the fate of infrastructure funding in 2018, it will be essential that local officials, real estate developers, employers, and city planners have a seat at the table to inform this discussion. We have learned a tremendous amount from their collective experience over the past 20 years and can now quantify the extensive benefits of investing in a closely linked land use and transportation infrastructure strategy. Road investment is important but just one piece of the puzzle. The economic strength of our urban areas requires strong investment in public transportation.

Most communities cannot raise enough revenue to build the supporting infrastructure on their own. They need the federal government as a partner in revitalizing local and regional economies, of which the future of the nation depends. The payback will come in many ways.

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Ablynott 50x50out the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

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