Three-cornered politics

MLewyn's picture

In metro Atlanta, the Sierra Club is allying with Tea Party activists to fight a one-cent sales tax increase designed to raise additional funds for both roads and transit, primarily because of concerns about increased funding for sprawl-creating expressways.  

This illustrates a broader point: transportation politics are no longer a struggle between roads advocates and transit advocates, but a three-cornered fight between the road lobby, transit supporters (including new urbanists and environmentalists) and fiscal conservatives.  Although transit supporters have almost never had a consistent majority in either federal or state legislatures, they can form a winning coalition with either of these two stronger groups. 

The sales tax referendum pits the road lobby against conservatives; transit supporters have to decide whether to ally with the road lobby to get a few crumbs from the table, or to fight the road lobby on the theory that more roads means more sprawl means less effective transit. 

Similarly, at the federal level, some conservatives (such as the WSJ editorial board) want to form an alliance with the road lobby, in the hope that the road lobby will settle for a huge slice of a shrinking transportation pie.  On the other hand, President Obama, like the pro-tax coalition in Atlanta, seeks to bring road and transit supporters together for a pro-spending alliance. 


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