President Carter's 1982 budget earmarks $1.4 billion for the historic preservation of something that is not even completed yet -- the Interstate highway system.
The allocation shows how hard it is to brake runaway government spending.It also points out the growing problem of maintaining the efficiency of America's transportation system, a problem the revised Republican budget will be forced to face.
The Department of Transportation's budget for fiscal year 1982 proposes spending $24.1 billion, $2.5 billion more than estimated expenditures for 1981.
"Overall, this budget has a very thin margin of real growth," says Assistant Secretary of Transportation Mortimer L. Downey.
A proposed $3.5 billion would go to stretch the Interstate highway system further across America. But $1.4 billion would help restore sections of Interstate pounded by 20 years of ever-increasing traffic.
It marks the first time a president has sought substantial sums for repair highways.* In government budget language, it is an example of "the long-term capital investment needed to preserve our national transportation system."
In coming years repair costs can only increase as more Interstate crumbles. Saddled with roads other administration will have to pay the cost or watch grass grow between the exits.
The Carter farewell budget assumes the highway work would be paid for by a proposed 10 cent-a-gallon gasoline tax. Two cents of the increase would go to roads; the rest would be added to general revenues.
Congress has quickly stalled all gasoline tax increases proposed in the past.
The 1982 DOT budget would also spend more money to get the Coast Guard "back on its feet," according to Assistant Secretary Downey. Salaries would be raised , three aging cutters replaced, and 32 new helicopters bought to replace capital equipment strained by the flood of Cuban refugees.
Aging capital equipment also figures in the mass transit section of the farewell Carter budget. There is a request for $940 million to maintain the nation's existing subway and light-rail systems -- an increase of 19 percent over the 1981 level.
Busing is the big winner in the race for new mass transit funds. Funding is requested to purchase 6,000 new buses, and the budget states that "increased bus service is the quickest, most flexible, and most effective way to save energy."
Under the Carter budget, Amtrak service would be the same, but with a difference. An operating subsidy of $743 million is designed to allow Amtrak to operate essentially the same schedule in 1982 that it will in 1981, says the budget, "with the possible exception that either some routes with poor ridership may have to be discontinued or other cost saving measures may be necessary."
Other DOT budget highlights include funds for 372 new air traffic controllers , $11 million for fuel economy research, and $17 million for a research program that would help the auto industry with research necessary for the developm ent of future cars.