Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation subsidizes and regulates highways, airports, air traffic control, urban transit, passenger rail, and other activities. However, taxpayers and consumers would be better off if many activities were privatized, which has been a worldwide trend. Opening up the financing and operation of transportation infrastructure to the private sector would save money, spur innovation, and reduce congestion.

The department will spend about $78 billion in 2016, or about $620 for every U.S. household. After adjusting for inflation, spending has increased 32 percent since 2000. The department employs 56,000 workers.

Department of Transportation Spending in Billions of Constant 2016 Dollars
Downsize This!
  • Federal Highway Funding. Highway aid gets misallocated and related regulations stifle local innovation. Highway aid and federal fuel taxes should be ended, and the states should pursue toll highway projects with the private sector.
  • Urban Transit. The federal government spends billions of dollars a year on urban rail systems even though buses are often more efficient. Without federal subsidies, cities would make better choices for their local transit needs.
  • Air Traffic Control. The bureaucratic Federal Aviation Administration has struggled to modernize our air traffic control system. The system should be privatized as a self-funded nonprofit organization, along the lines of Canada’s successful reforms.
  • Privatizing Amtrak. Government-run railroads don’t work due to political meddling, high labor costs, and a lack of management flexibility. Amtrak should be privatized to provide efficient service on those routes that make economic sense.
  • High-Speed Rail. Policymakers are dumping billions of dollars into high-speed rail, even though foreign systems are money losers and carry only a small share of intercity passengers.
Timeline of Government Growth
Cato Experts
"Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled 'An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,' and which sets apart and pledges funds 'for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses' . . . I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers."

James Madison, March 3, 1817. Veto of federal transportation spending.

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