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Two years ago, President Obama asked us to form a Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency effort led by the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. He challenged us to find ways to help build stronger, more economically resilient and competitive communities – and to provide affordable housing that offered residents access to economic opportunity without the need or expense of owning a car.
Today, as gas prices hover around four dollars per gallon, that challenge is even more important.
And we have been working tirelessly to meet it. In Honolulu, San Jose, Tucson, New York, Washington, and Salt Lake City, federal transit grants are starting to make it possible for workers to get to their jobs without feeling the pinch of high gas prices.
It’s no accident that those cities rank near the top of today’s report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.”
As Robert Puentes, co-author of the report, said, “Job number one is getting Americans to their jobs.” And we couldn’t agree more.
In the past 13 months, we have seen signs of economic recovery as we created 1.8 million private sector jobs. But today, the average household spends 52 cents out of every dollar they earn on housing and transportation combined — and rising gas prices are not helping.
That’s why last year, for the first time ever, DOT and HUD joined together to award grants for localized planning and projects that integrate transportation services with affordable housing and access to economic opportunities. Almost 700 applicants sought $35 million in DOT TIGER II planning grants and $40 million in HUD Sustainable Community Challenge Grants, and with our partners at EPA, we jointly evaluated the planning grant applications.
Today’s report also highlights how important these investments are to low-income families – more than half of whom use transit to get to work. Part of this challenge needs to be addressed through better transportation – but also where housing and jobs are located.
In Augusta, Georgia and Greenville, SC, our grants are bringing affordable housing and transit together, giving underserved residents who depend on public transportation the access they need to get to work.
In Richmond, VA, a HUD planning grant is not only improving low-income residents’ access to transit – it’s also ensuring that the housing surrounding that transit remains affordable to the families who need it most.
Just last month, Wilmington, North Carolina’s WaveTransit opened a new transfer station expected to help 1.5 million bus riders each year get to jobs, schools, services and other economic opportunities across the city.
Also in April, DOT pledged $474 million to help build Minnesota’s Central Corridor light rail line, an 11-mile route connecting the job centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Unlike the process that occurred 40 years ago, when an interstate was built to run directly through the Central Corridor—tearing apart neighborhoods and cutting them off from opportunity—local partners have been at the table from the beginning, working to ensure that this plan opens up access to jobs and creates opportunity for the neighborhoods it serves. And with a HUD planning grant focusing on five major corridors to coordinate land use and development with DOT’s transit investment, we’re making sure that the Central Corridor is connected to the Twin Cities’ regional economy.
Minnesota reminds us that these grants aren’t about one-size-fits-all rules that tell communities what to do – but saving the taxpayer money by coordinating investments more effectively and efficiently. They also remind us that the debate going on in communities across the country isn’t about government that’s big or small.
It’s about government that’s smart.
Whether it’s living in communities that offer employment opportunities or having access to good public transit, today’s Brookings report concludes that one of the smartest things we can do to help families burdened by high prices at the gas pump is to help them get from where they live to where they work.
You’re reading the words of two members of President Obama’s Cabinet who are working everyday to do exactly that.