The biggest problem, I would contend, is that this huge program, which provides one of the most critical and influential functions of federal government, is almost invisible to the people upon whom it depends — its customers, the taxpayers. This came home to me in unexpected ways over the last five years, when I served as one of the leaders at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The good news, though, is that Congress can begin to fix this issue with some key changes in the upcoming revision of the program.
One key shift: Stop treating the program as only an entitlement for state departments of transportation to allocate for their own priorities, and put more resources in the hands of local communities that are closest to taxpayers. Over the last 50 years, the old federal transportation program helped us build an incredible national highway system, connecting cities and towns to one another beautifully. We did not, however, focus on making transportation networks work once you got into those cities and towns, where most Americans spend their time.