Angela Blackwell
Angela Blackwell - 
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Angela Glover Blackwell: There was a time when massive transportation projects swept the nation. We built the New York City Subway. The Erie Canal. The interstate highway system.

Kai Ryssdal: Commentator Angela Glover Blackwell.

Angela Glover Blackwell: But over time, that bold spirit seemed to leak away. Soon, politics took over the way we spend money on transportation. We entered an age that pleased car-loving, middle-class, suburban voters -- and created a nationwide system of haves and have-nots. Elevated highways left gashes through poor, black urban neighborhoods. Super highways kept sprawling into the exurbs.

We forgot that smart, effective, affordable transportation options are what make America run. We need to be fairer and smarter about the way we think about transportation. Instead, many in Congress are labeling crucial transportation projects as "pork," and are eagerly threatening deep cuts that can hurt transit systems that are just barely getting by. And that's on top of the drastic cuts already happening at the city and state level.

More than 90 percent of all transit systems had to cut service or raise fares last year. That's a double whammy for poor people who rely on public transit. Millions of working people have to walk farther to the bus stop and pay more when they get on. And the people being laid off by the public transit systems -- the bus drivers, the ticket booth operators, the mechanics -- are disproportionately people of color. Black unemployment is nearly double the rate of whites.

But the good news is that transportation investments pay off -- now and in the future. They create jobs. They get people to their jobs. And investments in public transit pay off even more -- creating more construction and operating jobs per dollar spent than comparable highway projects. Transportation is the engine that powers our economy. Let's make sure it connects and serves all Americans.

Ryssdal: Angela Glover Blackwell is the president of the research group Policy Link.