Revisiting the Stimulus and Transit

The word on the street is that after some small victories in the House ($3B added to capital funding for transit) there will be another fight in the Senate where various amendments are being proposed to strip transit funds and move them to highways, or to simply add $50B to highways.

Meanwhile the New York Times is underscoring the lack of operating dollars for transit, so that at a time when ridership is up nationwide, transit systems in many cities are cutting service.

Into this mix, the indefatigable Todd Litman has produced a report contrasting the stimulus effects of spending on highways and transit (PDF 372K).

My favorite part of the report is a chart tracking the return on investment for highways over time:


This seems to paint a clear story to me – we have achieved the economic benefit of a fully-built out highway system and every dollar of new capital (not maintenance) faces diminishing returns.

11 responses to “Revisiting the Stimulus and Transit”

  1. Return on investment?


    For crying out loud, do we have to listen to this s*** forever!


    The ship is sinking and these bozo’s who run our government are talking about return on investment.

    This after they hand a 700 BILLION DOLLAR BONUS TO BANK EXECUTIVES

  2. Of course highway money provides a good return – everyone uses highways and the expense is spread over a huge number of users.

    Unlike light rail, where the right of way is only used once every few minutes by a small number of people.

    Just one of the many reasons that light rail costs too much and does too little.

    Buses serve many more people for the same money.

    Private cars serve even more for the same money.


  3. JK,
    There’s some math to suggest that the people-capacity of rail is greater than a congested freeway during rush hour.

    Also, if you’ll notice, the graph shows a decisive downward trend in expected profit and a sub-normal profit starting at some point in the 80’s, that is, using generally acceptable accounting principles, freeway investment is at a loss. Given we’re now 20 years from that point and good evidence that the trend has only gotten worse, the highway no longer appears to be good investment.

  4. Wait. And here I thought we should build a hundred billion dollars of new freeways in Portland. But now… are you telling me that it would actually lose money?!

    I thought freeways MADE money! Silly me.

  5. Al, when posting links please at least provide a one-sentence description of what you want people to go and look at. Thanks.

  6. 10:38pm post:

    Albany’s Transit Sins Come Back to Bite America

    10:45pm post:

    the transit paradox


    How’s that Mr Moderator?

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