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New report highlights need for mass transit investments � but Romney and the GOP would rather score political points


 Mitt Romney hasn’t been shy lately about criticizing President Obama over high gas prices. Last month, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee even accused Obama of deliberately trying to “drive up the cost of energy” in order to encourage the use of renewable sources.

And yet, with the summer driving season nearly upon us, Romney and his party are showing no interest whatsoever in one surefire way to ease the burden of high gas prices: mass transit.

According to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and a coalition of elected officials that supports more infrastructure spending, increases or volatility in gas prices cause mass transit ridership – already on the rise in recent years -- to spike, as people look for cheaper ways to get around. But the report also notes that most transit systems are already stretched thin, after cash-strapped state and local governments cut funding in recent years .

Congress is currently considering reauthorizing a major transportation funding bill. But instead of boosting spending on mass transit to deal with the coming crunch – as well as to help fix our infrastructure deficit and perhaps even stimulate the economy -- House Republicans want to move in the other direction. They’ve proposed cutting funding for mass transit and for other alternatives to driving, like sidewalks and bike lanes. For good measure, they also want to eliminate environmental safeguards, and tack on an irrelevant approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Transportation policy was once a fairly bipartisan process. But in recent years, it’s been politicized by congressional Republicans, and has become another area of partisan gridlock. The result is that the transportation bill – whose renewal used to be fairly routine -- has been temporarily extended, rather than passed outright, eight times since it expired in 2009.

As for Romney, his only substantive comments on transportation have been to pledge that he’d eliminate funding for Amtrak, in order to help balance the budget. (Doing so would save about $2.2 billion year – a drop in the bucket compared to the total federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2012, which is $1.1 trillion).

It wasn’t always this way. Back when Romney was a moderate, during his first two years as governor of Massachusetts, he was an advocate of smart growth and support for public transportation. But as on so many issues, Romney has moved rightward to placate the GOP base, to whom investments in infrastructure projects are tantamount to socialism.

If Romney and his party meant what they said about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, they’d be eager to invest in alternatives to driving. Instead, they seem more interested in scoring political points.

Ben Adler is a contributing writer for The Nation and federal policy correspondent for Next American City