In March, House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced that members of the House of Representatives would be able to submit funding requests for transportation projects in their districts. Also traditionally known as earmarks, these member designated projects are eligible for inclusion in the House surface transportation bill, which authorizes funding for America’s roads, public transit, and other transportation infrastructure. DeFazio introduced an initial version of the $547 billion surface transportation bill on June 4.
The decision to allow specific member designated projects, which have not been included in the last two surface transportation reauthorizations, reflects BPC’s recommendation that such projects be restored, subject to appropriate safeguards around transparency and project selection. BPC’s work on earmarks suggests that they are helpful in engaging members of Congress in negotiating and advancing bipartisan legislation, as well as demonstrating tangible benefits to constituents in their districts who may be asked to pay more for transportation.
In an important gain for transparency, the T&I Committee posted all the member designated requests it received on its website, including the project name, amount requested, and requesting member. Between early March and the deadline of April 23, House members collectively sought 2,380 projects totaling nearly $15 billion. According to BPC’s analysis, those requests broke down as follows:
- Roads and bridges: The majority of requests, more than 1,300 (57%), were for roads and bridges. These projects included repaving and maintaining highways and roads, expanding and widening roads, safety improvements, and repairing and constructing bridges and overpasses.
- Public transit and rail: About 400 requests (17%) were for public transit and railroad projects, including maintenance, expansion, and modernization projects, as well zero-emissions bus initiatives.
- Pedestrian and biking: About 400 requests (17%) were for pedestrian and biking projects like sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, greenways, and wheelchair accessibility ramps.
- Multiple or other: About 200 requests (9%) were for projects that included multiple types of transportation modes or for other types of projects, such as those related to technology or planning.
Road and bridge projects were more expensive on average, with an average cost of $7.4 million compared to averages of $5.8 million for public transit and rail projects, and $3.6 million for pedestrian and biking projects.
DeFazio stated that each district would be allowed an estimated maximum of $20 million in individual member requests, and that members did not need to vote in favor of the bill to receive that funding. However, many representatives submitted requests for much more than $20 million. In fact, the ten most expensive requests, mostly highway projects, totaled over $3 billion, more than 20% of the total cost of all member requests.
About three-quarters of representatives submitted requests, including about half of Republicans and nearly all Democrats. Requests came from every state except Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. While some districts requested much more than others, if the final legislation caps earmarks at an equal amount per district, there will be greater distributional parity among those that submitted requests.
Members varied widely in the types of projects they requested. For example, in California and Connecticut, public transit and rail projects made up over 30% of requested funding. In Louisiana, which had the fourth highest total requested funding, 100% of requests were for roads and bridges.
Click on the map to see what projects were requested in each state:
- View the state's earmarks request
Total Alabama Requested Funding: $44.4 MillionRead More
Total Alaska Requested Funding: $105.5 MillionRead More
Total Arizona Requested Funding: $180.9 MillionRead More
Total Arkansas Requested Funding: $20 MillionRead More
Total California Requested Funding: $2.3 BillionRead More
Total Colorado Requested Funding: $152.3 MillionRead More
Total Connecticut Requested Funding: $254.9 MillionRead More
Total Delaware Requested Funding: $109.5 MillionRead More
Total D.C. Requested Funding: $77.9 MillionRead More
Total Florida Requested Funding: $430.3 MillionRead More
Total Georgia Requested Funding: $234.9 MillionRead More
Total Hawaii Requested Funding: $43.8 MillionRead More
Total Idaho Requested Funding: $20.1 MillionRead More
Total Illinois Requested Funding: $530.0 MillionRead More
Total Indiana Requested Funding: $39.2 MillionRead More
Total Iowa Requested Funding: $107.6 MillionRead More
Total Kansas Requested Funding: $685.7 MillionRead More
Total Kentucky Requested Funding: $146.4 MillionRead More
Total Louisiana Requested Funding: $975.7 MillionRead More
Total Maine Requested Funding: $51.6 MillionRead More
Total Maryland Requested Funding: $668.1 MillionRead More
Total Massachusetts Requested Funding: $381.1 MillionRead More
Total Michigan Requested Funding: $344.7 MillionRead More
Total Minnesota Requested Funding: $268.0 MillionRead More
Total Mississippi Requested Funding: $12.4 MillionRead More
Total Missouri Requested Funding: $129.2 MillionRead More
Total Nebraska Requested Funding: $130.6 MillionRead More
Total Nevada Requested Funding: $54.6 MillionRead More
Total New Hampshire Requested Funding: $135.3 MillionRead More
Total New Jersey Requested Funding: $260.5 MillionRead More
Total New Mexico Requested Funding: $88.6 MillionRead More
Total New York Requested Funding: $1.2 BillionRead More
Total North Carolina Requested Funding: $278.0 MillionRead More
Total Ohio Requested Funding: $232.0 MillionRead More
Total Oklahoma Requested Funding: $188.4 MillionRead More
Total Oregon Requested Funding: $183.5 MillionRead More
Total Pennsylvania Requested Funding: $387.8 MillionRead More
Total Rhode Island Requested Funding: $84.2 MillionRead More
Total South Carolina Requested Funding: $117.1 MillionRead More
Total Tennessee Requested Funding: $77.6 MillionRead More
Total Texas Requested Funding: $647.6 MillionRead More
Total Utah Requested Funding: $76.9 MillionRead More
Total Vermont Requested Funding: $40.8 MillionRead More
Total Virginia Requested Funding: $440.8 MillionRead More
Total Washington Requested Funding: $1.7 BillionRead More
Total West Virginia Requested Funding: $50.7 MillionRead More
Total Wisconsin Requested Funding: $37.1 MillionRead More
Total Alabama Requested Funding: $44.4 Million
Total Alaska Requested Funding: $105.5 Million
Total Arizona Requested Funding: $180.9 Million
Total Arkansas Requested Funding: $20 Million
Total California Requested Funding: $2.3 Billion
Total Colorado Requested Funding: $152.3 Million
Total Connecticut Requested Funding: $254.9 Million
Total Delaware Requested Funding: $109.5 Million
|District Of Columbia||
Total D.C. Requested Funding: $77.9 Million
Total Florida Requested Funding: $430.3 Million
Total Georgia Requested Funding: $234.9 Million
Total Hawaii Requested Funding: $43.8 Million
Total Idaho Requested Funding: $20.1 Million
Total Illinois Requested Funding: $530.0 Million
Total Indiana Requested Funding: $39.2 Million
Total Iowa Requested Funding: $107.6 Million
Total Kansas Requested Funding: $685.7 Million
Total Kentucky Requested Funding: $146.4 Million
Total Louisiana Requested Funding: $975.7 Million
Total Maine Requested Funding: $51.6 Million
Total Maryland Requested Funding: $668.1 Million
Total Massachusetts Requested Funding: $381.1 Million
Total Michigan Requested Funding: $344.7 Million
Total Minnesota Requested Funding: $268.0 Million
Total Mississippi Requested Funding: $12.4 Million
Total Missouri Requested Funding: $129.2 Million
Total Nebraska Requested Funding: $130.6 Million
Total Nevada Requested Funding: $54.6 Million
Total New Hampshire Requested Funding: $135.3 Million
Total New Jersey Requested Funding: $260.5 Million
Total New Mexico Requested Funding: $88.6 Million
Total New York Requested Funding: $1.2 Billion
Total North Carolina Requested Funding: $278.0 Million
Total Ohio Requested Funding: $232.0 Million
Total Oklahoma Requested Funding: $188.4 Million
Total Oregon Requested Funding: $183.5 Million
Total Pennsylvania Requested Funding: $387.8 Million
Total Rhode Island Requested Funding: $84.2 Million
Total South Carolina Requested Funding: $117.1 Million
Total Tennessee Requested Funding: $77.6 Million
Total Texas Requested Funding: $647.6 Million
Total Utah Requested Funding: $76.9 Million
Total Vermont Requested Funding: $40.8 Million
Total Virginia Requested Funding: $440.8 Million
Total Washington Requested Funding: $1.7 Billion
Total West Virginia Requested Funding: $50.7 Million
Total Wisconsin Requested Funding: $37.1 Million
BPC commends the T&I Committee for reopening the modernized earmark process, with safeguards, and offers the following considerations for further improvements going forward.
The T&I Committee’s new member-designated project guidelines generally favored projects that are part of a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). These plans are prepared by states or regional entities to guide the use of federal transportation dollars over a four-year period. In other words, projects that are part of a TIP or STIP are already approved and would be funded without additional federal support. Therefore, the member designated requests for this year’s surface transportation bill are likely to be projects that are already on track for completion. Projects not on a STIP or TIP could be submitted by members, but required additional documentation, particularly to verify project eligibility. This documentation was likely a challenge to collect within the short timeframe to submit requests this year.
Limiting specific member designated funding to TIP and STIP projects has tradeoffs. Arguably, programs called out for direct federal funding in legislation should address unmet needs. With more flexibility, members would be able to secure funding for projects in their district that may not fit neatly into existing funding programs. Members could fund projects that are important to their constituents but have not been adopted by state plans, such as projects in rural areas that may have difficulty drawing the attention of state leaders. Members could also more plausibly take credit for green-lighting projects if they were not already part of a TIP or STIP. Finally, with more general flexibility, members could also fund more creative or innovative projects.
On the other hand, focusing on projects that are part of the TIP or STIP ensures that earmarks support state or regional priorities. The current guidelines maintain the authority of state and local entities to select the most important projects to advance regional goals. Relying on TIP and STIP documentation also eliminates the need for legislative staff to evaluate whether thousands of proposed projects are of sufficient priority and quality to receive federal funding.
If member designated requests remain a part of surface transportation legislation in the coming years, the rules for eligible projects warrant further discussion. The T&I Committee should seek to strike a balance, funding unmet needs while furthering state, local, and regional priorities.
House members had less than two months after the committee announcement that members would be able to accept proposals, evaluate potential projects, and submit member directed requests. This is especially challenging since the BPC determined that seventy percent of the House members have been elected since the moratorium was put in place a decade ago.
That short window may favor projects that are shovel-ready with organized supporters and complete documentation, as opposed to projects that may ultimately be more complex and beneficial but are not yet shovel-ready. With more time, busy legislative staff would be able to complete a more comprehensive outreach effort to solicit proposals, consult with state and local transportation entities, and complete a detailed analysis of proposals.
The constraints of a short timeframe may be alleviated in future years if earmarks become a routine part of the process and members anticipate them ahead of time, working to select projects before the official announcement. Still, the T&I Committee should consider a longer period between announcing that earmarks are available and the deadline for requests to ensure legislative staff submit projects that are the best use of taxpayer dollars.
A common argument in favor of earmarks is that they build a bipartisan coalition to help legislation pass by allowing legislators to take credit for projects in their district, offsetting the potential backlash from supporting politically controversial bills. Unlike previous committee chairs, who rewarded votes in favor of their legislation by granting these modernized earmarks, Chairman DeFazio has made clear that this member designated funding is not contingent on voting for the bill. This could potentially weaken earmarks as a targeted incentive, as members can benefit from project funding for their districts without a commitment to support the bill. Still, DeFazio’s version of member designated funding could increase bipartisan engagement with surface transportation funding and increase legislators’ investment in finding a compromise that passes. It remains to be seen whether this latest round of member directed projects has increased bipartisan support for surface transportation legislation.
The detailed information about member designated project requests is a major step forward for transparency. Still, there are ways to increase the utility of the information available to the public even further. The T&I Committee’s guidelines for submitting project requests outlined a host of project information required with submissions, including “type of project – by program.” To the extent possible, all of this information should be made publicly available. This is in line with general BPC recommendations on modernized earmarks. Currently, the project names released to the public do not make abundantly clear what the projects entail. Categorizing projects by type (planning, construction, other) and mode (road, bridge, bus, rail, trail, multiple, etc.) would make it easier for policymakers, journalists, analysts, and the public to understand broadly what type of investments earmark requests would fund.
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