Comparing the Transportation Plans of the 5 Leading Democratic Candidates
January 17, 2020|Jeff Davis
With one month to go until the February 19 infrastructure debate in Las Vegas for presidential candidates, where do the leading presidential candidates stand on transportation issues?
In trying to define “leading candidates,” we have attempted to be scientific. The top five candidates in both the Iowa and New Hampshire polling averages (per RCP) are, in alphabetical order, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigeig, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. (In Iowa, the order is Biden-Sanders-Buttigeig-Warren-Klobuchar; in New Hampshire, it’s Sanders-Biden-Warren-Buttigeig-Klobuchar.) Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard are a few points behind Klobuchar, and Mike Bloomberg is not competing in those early primaries. (
Als0, Bloomberg has not yet released an infrastructure plan. Of course, 30 minutes after this article went to press, Bloomberg released his infrastructure plan.)
Candidates have framed the issue differently. Biden, Buttigeig, and Klobuchar have released specific infrastructure plans, while Sanders and Warren put infrastructure in the context of a broader Green New Deal.
The plans are here:
- Biden – The Biden Plan to Invest in Middle Class Competitiveness.
- Buttigeig – Details are spread across two documents: Building for the 21st Century: An infrastructure plan to create jobs, increase resilience, and usher in a new era of opportunity and the earlier Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge.
- Klobuchar – Amy’s Plan to Build America’s Infrastructure.
- Sanders – In addition to the new document, The Green New Deal, we also note that Sanders was ahead of the game in introducing $1 trillion infrastructure bills, back in January 2015 (S. 268, 114th Congress), so we also draw from that.
- Warren – My Plan to Create 10.6 Million Green Jobs.
The following compares the text of the above transportation plans of the five candidates in three broad areas (financing, mode-specific issues, and cross-modal issues). Within each broad area, individual topics are shown in alphabetical order, and then within each individual topic, the plans of each candidate are listed (again, using the impartial tyranny of alphabetical order).
Highway Trust Fund.
- Biden: “The Highway Trust Fund has for far too long been grossly underfunded. Biden will ensure new revenues are secured to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund in order to build roads, bridges, and public transportation projects.”
- Buttigeig: “Reliable federal transportation funding is important to connect farming communities, cities, and towns. Yet the Highway Trust Fund has been insolvent since 2008, causing uncertainty about whether states can complete critical projects. Pete will inject $165 billion into the Fund to ensure that it remains solvent through 2029. He will require his DOT to propose a new and sustainable user fee-based system, such as a vehicle-miles-traveled fee with appropriate privacy protections that is already being piloted by states and can potentially replace the gas tax. Within such a system, discounted rates can be offered on a sliding scale based on income.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy will…stabilize the Highway Trust Fund.”
- Sanders: Sanders’ January 2015 infrastructure bill (S. 268, 114th Congress) would have transferred $600 billion over eight years from the general fund to the HTF, which we estimated at the time would have allowed $425 billion in above-baseline spending in addition to ensuring baseline solvency.
- Warren: No specific mention of the Trust Fund.
- Biden: No specific mention.
- Buttigeig: “He will preserve low-cost, tax-exempt municipal bond financing and offer Climate Action Bonds, described in his climate plan, to incentivize the use of best-available climate science for long-term water infrastructure financing.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy would bring back the Obama Administration’s ‘Build America Bonds,’ which provided states and local governments a direct 35 percent subsidy in lieu of the traditional tax-exempt bond and generated more than $180 billion to finance public infrastructure projects. Amy also supports the ‘Move America Bonds’ which build off of the ‘Build America Bonds’ but also allocate tax credits to private-sector purchases to attract capital investment to public infrastructure. Here, an $8 billion investment from the Treasury would support over $200 billion in investments in infrastructure projects over 10 years.”
- Sanders: No specific mention.
- Warren: “I’ll propose a ‘Green Victory Bond,’ backed by the full-faith and credit of the United States by the Treasury Department, to finance the transition to a green economy. These Green Victory Bonds will be sold at levels that allow Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum the opportunity to own a piece of the climate solution, and to benefit from the new green economy that we build together.”
Federal Loan Programs
- Biden: To accelerate financing of rail projects, “Biden will tap existing federal grant and loan programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and improve and streamline the loan process.”
- Buttigeig: “He will provide an additional $2 billion to expand financing programs for these types of [regional] projects, such as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program. His administration will simplify the grant application process to reduce processing times by 50 percent.”
- Klobuchar: Loans for transportation would be made through her I-Bank (below).
- Sanders: No specific mention of loans other than his I-Bank (below).
- Warren: No specific mention of loans other than her I-Bank (below).
- Biden: No specific mention.
- Buttigeig: “Building on the success of green banks in states, the American Clean Energy Bank will have $250 billion of initial capitalization. It will provide loans, grants, credit enhancements, and loan guarantees to finance clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, waste and water, and resilient infrastructure projects that create good local jobs, through which the bank can leverage up to six times more private-sector capital.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy will establish an independent, nonpartisan Infrastructure Financing Authority to complement existing infrastructure funding. The Infrastructure Financing Authority will help states and localities better leverage private funds to build and maintain the nation’s outdated infrastructure. Amy would allocate an additional $25 billion in seed money to support an additional $250 to $300 billion in direct loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit enhancement.”
- Sanders: Title II of Sen. Sanders’ January 2015 infrastructure bill ( 268, 114th Congress) would have created a National Infrastructure Bank to make loans, capitalized with $25 billion in budget authority.
- Warren: “I’ll work with Congress to establish a bank modeled after and expanded upon the National Climate Bank Act, introduced earlier this year by my friend and colleague Senator Markey. We’ll put in place strong bipartisan oversight and governance to ensure that investments are equitable and benefit working Americans. And ultimately, this new Green Bank will mobilize $1 trillion in climate and green infrastructure investments across the country over 30 years.”
Mode-Specific Transportation Issues
Amtrak/Intercity Passenger Rail
- Biden: “As president, he will invest in high-speed rail. He’ll start by putting the Northeast Corridor on higher speeds and shrinking the travel time from D.C. to New York by half – and build in conjunction with it a new, safer Hudson River Tunnel. He will make progress toward the completion of the California High Speed Rail project. He will expand the Northeast Corridor to the fast-growing South. Across the Midwest and the Great West, he will begin the construction of an end-to-end high speed rail system that will connect the coasts, unlocking new, affordable access for every American.”
- Buttigeig: “To improve existing service and pursue innovative systems like high-speed rail that can transform communities, Pete will encourage cities and regions to adopt a building block approach by expanding service for city pairs, as well as rural towns between these cities. He will double funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program and Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program…Pete will also improve collaboration between Amtrak and the freight railroads, so that passenger trains do not interfere with freight operations, and freight railroads deliver the priority treatment to passenger trains that our existing laws require.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy will…overhaul our rail infrastructure when it comes to freight and passenger rail, and bring high-speed rail to more communities.”
- Sanders: “Many other developed nations have advanced high speed rail systems. A $607 billion investment in a regional high-speed rail system would complete the vision of the Obama administration to develop high-speed intercity rail in the United States. This new system will give travelers a meaningful affordable alternative to plane or car travel between major cities. The reason high-speed rail has not worked in the United States is because we have not built the political mobilization needed to demand the funding needed to complete this vision. Together, we will create the movement needed to develop high-speed rail.”
- Warren: no specific mention.
- Biden: “Aviation and airports are major drivers for the U.S. economy, but our airports are in desperate need of improvement. As president, Biden will double funding for airports through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Program, and launch a new competitive grant program for major airport renovation projects. At the same time, he’ll also make sure that the U.S. maintains the world’s safest aviation system, working with the FAA to fully implement its NextGen technology system, to improve safety, modernize our airspace, and reduce delays and cancellations. Biden will also ensure that U.S. airlines’ operating, repair, and maintenance facilities overseas adhere to our nation’s highest safety standards”
- Buttigeig: “To make flying safer and easier for everyone, Pete will ensure that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prioritizes the rulemaking and approvals necessary to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System. He will push for the passage of the Safe Aircraft Maintenance Standards Act so that the FAA holds both domestic and foreign aircraft repair and maintenance stations to the same safety standards. In addition, he will work with Congress to extend funding for the Essential Air Service program from 2023 to 2030 and enable small and rural communities to access worldwide opportunities. Pete’s administration will also evaluate all proposed airline consolidations for their impact on small- and medium-sized communities.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy will increase public investment in our airports and modernize our aviation system so air travel is safe and efficient.”
- Sanders: Sanders’ January 2015 infrastructure bill (S. 268, 114th Congress) would have appropriated $12.5 billion over five years for Airport Improvement Program grants and $17.5 billion over five years for NextGen air traffic control development.
- Warren: Warren’s plan makes no specific mention of aviation.
- Biden: “He’ll also help [cities and towns] to invest in infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles.”
- Buttigeig: “Pedestrian fatalities in traffic crashes have soared this past decade, reaching 6,200 in 2018. Native American and Black pedestrians are particularly likely to die in traffic crashes. Pete will provide incentives for states, cities, and counties to build safe, accessible roads and retrofit existing unsafe roads. He will double funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program to install more accessible sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes and will update design standards to maximize safety across transportation types. Pete’s DOT will work directly with tribal communities to ensure that roads in Indian Country are safe for children and families.”
- Klobuchar: No specific mention.
- Sanders: No specific mention.
- Warren: No specific mention.
- Biden: “A Biden Administration will also support freight projects, including a truck and rail-transit bridge linking Oregon to Washington State, and Chicago’s CREATE project, which has the potential to halve transit times for goods moving across the country. “
- Buttigeig: No specific mention of freight rail other than those under Amtrak/IPR, above.
- Klobuchar: “Amy will… overhaul our rail infrastructure when it comes to freight and passenger rail…”
- Sanders: No specific mention of freight rail.
- Warren: No specific mention of freight rail.
- Biden: “Biden will propose to immediately spend $50 billion over the first year of his Administration to kickstart the process of repairing our existing roads, highways, and bridges. In addition to sending these funds to states, some of the dollars will go directly to cities and towns that own and run most of our roads. Biden will also expedite permitting, so that projects can break ground faster.”
- Buttigeig: “Pete will ensure that 50 percent of roads in poor condition get fixed within 10 years by incentivizing states to use federal formula funds to repair existing roads and bridges. Currently, states can spend formula funds on building new roads rather than fixing roads. This particularly affects low-income communities and those with large minority populations, who wait the longest for badly needed repairs–if they receive them at all. Pete’s DOT will strengthen State of Good Repair Performance Management requirements and require states to develop achievable plans for maintaining their roads before they use federal funds for new roads or expansions.”
- Klobuchar: “Amy will make smart investments to repair and replace our roads and highways, reduce congestion, upgrade America’s over 50,000 structurally deficient bridges, fix the roads and bridges washed out by the recent floods in the Midwest…”
- Sanders: See the Highway Trust Fund section, above – at the time (2015), our analysis was that Sanders’ $600 billion transfer would have allowed $425 billion in combined highway and transit spending above baseline over 10 years, but did not state how that funding would be allocated between highways and transit.
- Warren: Sen. Warren’s plan states that ASCE “gave our roads a ‘D’ grade on their most recent infrastructure report card, with one out of every five miles of highway pavement in poor condition,” but that is the only mention of the words “highway” or “road” in the document.
- Biden: “he will also increase funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by $2.5 billion per year, supporting infrastructure projects to keep goods moving quickly through our ports and waterways. This will include increased federal funding for lock modernization projects on inland waterways…Biden will ensure that all fees collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used to improve and rebuild American ports of entry. And he’ll work with U.S. ports and labor unions to ensure that cargo bound for the U.S. is offloaded in the U.S., and not in Canadian ports to avoid harbor taxes.”
- Buttigeig: “America’s inland waterways transport $194 billion worth of cargo each year, including 70 percent of our agricultural exports, making them especially critical for Midwestern farmers to get their goods to market. Yet many aging locks and dams frequently need to be shut down for repairs, resulting in costly shipping delays. Pete will invest $5 billion in repairing and replacing locks and dams for inland waterways and ensure that such repairs and replacements protect natural resources and reserved tribal treaty rights. He will simplify project requirements to ensure timely completion and encourage design and financial sustainability, which will include renovating key assets to increase climate resilience…Ports are critical national economic assets that support 23 million jobs. Pete will make funding available through BUILD and his American Clean Energy Bank to provide ports with additional resources for maintenance and modernization, streamline freight transportation to and from ports, and establish Clean Air Programs for ports. Such programs will improve the health of children in low-income communities, who are five times more likely to sustain lung damage if they live near ports and other transportation centers. He will also support legislation that prevents diverting funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for purposes other than port and harbor investment.”
- Klobuchar: “She also understands that the economies of many communities depend on America’s inland waterways and ports and that allowing these assets to fall into disrepair hurts our economy. That’s why Amy is committed to updating our ports, locks, and dams, as well as investing in our inland waterways to accommodate anticipated growth in waterborne traffic.”
- Sanders: Sen. Sanders’ January 2015 infrastructure bill (S. 268, 114th Congress) would have appropriated $7.5 billion over five years for inland waterways projects and another $7.5 billion over five years for harbor maintenance projects.
- Warren: “My Blue New Deal also calls for electrifying and shoring up our ports, creating additional jobs throughout our coastal communities.”
- Biden: “As president, Biden will aim to provide all Americans in municipalities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. To that end, he’ll increase flexible federal investments, helping cities and towns to install light rail networks and to improve existing transit and bus lines… And, Biden will work to make sure that new, fast-growing areas are designed and built with public transit in mind. Specifically, he will create a new program that gives rapidly expanding communities the resources to build in public transit options from the start… As president, Biden will dedicate an additional $10 billion over 10 years specifically for transit projects that serve high-poverty areas with limited transportation options, so that workers seeking a better life won’t have to spend as much getting to their jobs.”
- Buttigeig: “Pete’s climate plan provides $100 billion in grants and loans for cities and towns to bring existing transit systems to a State of Good Repair and expand subway, light rail, intercity rail, and bus rapid transit service. Pete will also double Capital Investment Grant funding so that more communities can get support from this oversubscribed and extremely popular program. He will encourage municipalities to develop comprehensive mobility plans that improve services like bike-sharing and low-cost ride-sharing, which will make travel easier for low- income residents. Pete’s DOT will also map communities where residents have limited transportation access to basic services like grocery stores and health facilities and provide dedicated funds for transportation in these communities. New transportation systems will use zero or low-emissions technologies and, as outlined in Pete’s plan for a new era of inclusion for people with disabilities, be fully accessible…Rural counties have more limited public transportation options than urban ones, which creates barriers for many residents, including aging Americans. Pete will dramatically increase funding by $12 billion to expand rural public transportation. As outlined in his rural health plan, he will improve access to existing options, create new rural transit hubs, and leverage new technologies like ride-sharing services. His DOT will also help states to make commuting to school free or more affordable through initiatives like buying free transit passes for rural, low-income students.”
- Klobuchar: “Our country’s investments in public transit have not kept pace with the demand for reliable public transportation, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color. Amy will increase investments in public transit with a focus on decreasing barriers to opportunity and reducing our energy consumption…”
- Sanders: “With a $300 billion investment, we will increase public transit ridership by 65 percent by 2030. We will ensure that reliable, affordable public transit is accessible for seniors, people with disabilities, and rural communities. In addition to expanding transit service to communities, we will promote transit-oriented development to link this service to popular destinations and vital community services. For too long, government policy has encouraged long car commutes, congestion, and dangerous emissions. The Green New Deal will reverse these trends and create more livable, connected, and vibrant communities.”
- Warren: Warren’s only mention of mass transit specifically is a reference to “our transit workers who are increasingly subject to assault…”
Cross-Modal Transportation Issues
- Biden: “we have to make it much easier for them to own and use electric vehicles. Biden will work to remove today’s biggest barriers to their use, easing concerns about price, range, and access to charging stations. As president, he will restore the full electric-vehicle tax credit, to encourage American families to buy electric cars for their personal use – and to incentivize American businesses to build or shift their existing fleets to electric vehicles. He will also ensure that the U.S. Department of Energy invests $5 billion over five years in battery and energy storage technology, to spur breakthroughs that can boost the range and slash the price of electric cars. And, he will enact policies to promote domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles. Biden will also work with Congress, the private sector, labor unions, mayors, and governors to build a national electric charging system of 500,000 public charging outlets, so that by 2030, Americans will be able to drive anywhere in the United States in an electric car. Under his Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation will also provide an additional $1 billion per year in new grants to ensure that those charging stations are installed by certified technicians, promoting high-paying jobs and benefits. Finally, Biden will convene the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation to coordinate on special demonstration projects, for example testing new highways that can charge electric cars while in transit. The Departments will provide grants to cities, towns, and counties that are open to piloting new kinds of charging infrastructure, building on programs like the Department of Energy’s Transportation Electrification Project and Clean Cities Initiative, which Biden oversaw as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”
- Buttigeig: “We will immediately enact more stringent vehicle emission standards, requiring that all new passenger vehicles sold be zero-emissions by 2035, and all heavy-duty vehicles sold be net-zero emissions by 2040. We will work to increase and enhance the electric vehicle (EV) tax credit to a maximum of $10,000 per vehicle, which will begin to phase out only when a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the U.S. each year are EVs. This will allow lower- and middle- income families to be able to afford cleaner vehicles. These consumer incentives will go hand in hand with incentives for building EVs and EV technology in America. Lastly, we will extend the EV infrastructure tax credit to build out charging infrastructure for interstate travel, multi-family housing, commercial and public buildings, and public spaces, to move beyond charging only in personal garages…To secure American jobs and help manufacturers transitioning from conventional engine manufacturing to zero-emission vehicle manufacturing in America, we will offer technology transition loan guarantees for retooling existing automobile and powertrain assembly lines and boosting domestic manufacturing of innovative materials, batteries, and electric propulsion technologies. The future of transportation must be built in the U.S. by American workers with high-paying, high-quality careers.”
- Klobuchar: No specific mention of EVs.
- Sanders: “Provide $2.09 trillion in grants to low- and moderate-income families and small businesses to trade in their fossil fuel-dependent vehicles for new electric vehicles. Currently, purchasers of electric vehicles are wealthier than buyers of conventional cars. As president, Bernie will make sure working families share the benefits of this transition and nobody is left behind… Provide $681 billion for low- and moderate- income families and small businesses for a trade-in program to get old cars off the road. Families with a conventional car will be able to access an additional incentive for trading in for an American-made electric vehicle. The Obama administration conducted a successful trade-in program that helped accelerate the transition to more efficient cars. We will expand on the program and make it stronger by requiring even higher efficiency and make it available only to cars manufactured in the U.S… n order to ensure that no one is ever stranded without the ability to charge their vehicle, we will spend $85.6 billion building a national electric vehicle charging infrastructure network similar to the gas stations and rest stops we have today. We will also ensure that new EV stations are open access and interoperable between all payment systems. Under our plan, drivers will no longer need to worry about where to charge their car or if they can pay for it.”
- Warren: “I have put forward a bold and ambitious goal to require all new light -and medium-duty vehicles sold by 2030 to be zero emission vehicles. We’ll achieve this goal by investing in a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. By the end of the first term of a Warren administration, there will be a charging station at every rest stop in America. And this nation-wide network of charging infrastructure will begin to lay the groundwork for electrifying long-haul trucking, too. But charging station infrastructure is only half the battle. Right now, consumers don’t have enough access to vehicles. In 2011, there were only two mass market electric vehicles available to consumers — and even now, the auto industry offers only fifteen models. While car manufacturers are already trying to meet growing demand, my investment in clean energy technology, including products designed for use in the electric vehicle supply chain, will further increase adoption of electric vehicles by making it easier for auto manufacturers to build the vehicles that consumers want.”
Electrification of Transportation Networks
- Biden: “As president, Biden will work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system, reducing diesel fuel emissions.”
- Buttigeig: “Pete will ensure that America can lead the world in the electric bus market. He will triple funding for the Low or No Emission grant program to increase the use of environmentally friendly buses, such as electric buses. These buses significantly benefit disadvantaged communities with poor air quality that suffer from high rates of asthma and other respiratory and pulmonary diseases.”
- Klobuchar: No specific mention.
- Sanders: “Provide $407 billion in grants for states to help school districts and transit agencies replace all school and transit buses with electric buses. The EPA classifies diesel exhaust as a probable human carcinogen, and this exhaust contains over 40 different chemicals and air pollutants that are classified as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Children on school buses are exposed to concentrations of these substances that can be 5-15 times higher than background levels negatively impacting their health and performance in school. Once older buses are replaced with clean electric buses, school districts will save in fuel and maintenance costs over the life cycle of the bus.’
- Warren: “I’m proposing a new Build Green program, which would establish a new grant program to electrify public buses, school buses, rail, cars, and fleet vehicles that is modeled after the Department of Transportation’s BUILD grant program. This program will be paid for by closing corporate loopholes, and will open up new funding opportunities for states, cities, counties and tribal governments to expand and electrify public transportation options. A study conducted in the Twin Cities found Black, Asian-American, and Latinx commuters have longer commutes than white commuters. And people with disabilities face particular barriers in using and accessing public transportation. These investments will be crucial to ensuring equitable and accessible transportation for all.”
- Biden: “From early-19th century canals, to late-19th century railroads, to 20th-century highways, innovations in transportation infrastructure have powered our economy, carrying the freight that drives our nation forward. Today, though, our freight system is especially outdated. Freight railroads run through 100-year-old tunnelstoo small for the shipping containers they should be carrying. Highways and bridges buckle under trucks’ weight, and many ports are too shallow for modern shipping vessels. As president, Biden will change that. He will roughly double funding for key competitive grant programs – like the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program (formerly known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER) and Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) – from $1.8 billion to $3.5 billion a year. These programs leverage local, state, and private investment, and create innovative transportation models that can be replicated nationwide. Biden will also work closely with American manufacturers to prioritize investments that will improve supply chains and distribution, reduce shipping costs, and boost U.S. exports.”
- Buttigeig: “He will also immediately finalize the National Multimodal Freight Network, which will make it easier to direct federal funding to initiatives that make freight transportation more efficient and improve connectivity between different modes of transportation.”
- Klobuchar: No specific mention.
- Sanders: No specific mention.
- Warren: No specific mention.
- Biden: “Not only will he make unprecedented investments in rebuilding and connecting historically underserved areas to better transportation options, he will make sure that our highway, road, transit, and air systems never again divide us. As president, Biden will emphasize a robust public engagement process in planning all new transportation projects. He will create a new Community Restoration Fund, specifically for neighborhoods where historic transportation investments cut people off from jobs, schools, and businesses. And, he will work to make sure towns and cities directly receive a portion of existing federal transportation investments… Biden will empower city, county, regional, and state leaders to explore new, smarter, climate-friendly strategies to help reduce average commute times and build more vibrant main streets. Specifically, Biden will create a competitive grant program to help leaders rethink and redesign regional transportation systems, to get commuters where they are going safer, faster, and more efficiently.”
- Buttigeig: “Pete will establish a $3 billion per year grant program to help states and metropolitan planning organizations pursue projects of both regional and national significance that serve increasingly interconnected networks of cities and towns.”
- Klobuchar: “she is committed to ensuring that there is public engagement and transparency in the infrastructure planning process.”
- Sanders: No specific mention.
- Warren: No specific mention.