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Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Federal Assistance for Urban Transportation Planning.

June 19, 1961

Dear Mr. Speaker:

As stated in my message to the Congress on Housing and Community Development, "nothing is more dramatically apparent than the inadequacy of transportation in our larger urban areas." We are pledged to assist in the sound development of our cities, and believe Federal financial assistance should be provided to help plan and develop the comprehensive and balanced transportation systems which they so desperately need. Such assistance will not only directly benefit our cities, but will also make more effective use of Federal funds spent for other urban development programs.

As a first step, I am submitting with this letter a proposed bill to provide increased authority for Federal assistance to urban transportation planning. The assistance to be provided would include grants for surveys, studies, planning, and experimental demonstrations.

Because mass transportation is a distinctly urban problem and one of the key factors in shaping community development, the proposed bill assigns the administration of the program to the Housing and Home Finance Agency. This responsibility, together with the other functions of the Agency, will be transferred to the new Department of Urban Affairs and Housing upon enactment of legislation which I have previously proposed.

Following the directive in my message on Housing and Community Development, the Secretary of Commerce and the Housing and Home Finance Administrator are undertaking an extensive study--due to be completed this fall-on methods and the extent of Federal financial assistance for the actual development and improvement of mass transportation systems. The proposed bill would require the Housing Administrator to submit to the Congress, early in the next session, a report and recommendation based on the findings of the study group. Non-Federal government financing will have to provide the preponderant share of the new capital funds needed for mass transportation, and Federal assistance should therefore encourage and supplement rather than supplant such investment.

But the time required to complete the study and translate its recommendations into a legislative proposal should not be wasted. Enactment this session of the proposed bill will permit the planning and demonstration programs to be set up and will also stimulate urban areas to establish area-wide agencies empowered to plan, develop and operate transportation systems. These steps are essential to an effective transit program since two absolute requisites to Federal aid are (1) an approved comprehensive transit plan and, (2) the existence of a suitable organization representing all, or substantially all, of the local governmental units in the metropolitan area.

Although final decision on the exact nature of a Federal program of loans, loan guarantees, or grants for the purchase or modernization of transit facilities and equipment must await the results of this Executive Branch study, immediate emergency assistance to finance transportation equipment and facilities in a few metropolitan areas with especially urgent problems may be warranted to assure continuation of essential services. While Federal funds should not be used solely to salvage obsolete systems, emergency loans may be essential for projects found by the Administrator to be consistent with the probable comprehensive transit plan for the area, if financing is not available on reasonable terms from private sources or elsewhere in the Federal Government. Consistent with these strictly limited conditions, the Congress may wish to enact, as a part of the bill, a temporary one-year authority for emergency loans.

Since the Senate has already concluded its consideration of the Omnibus Housing Bill and has adopted an amendment containing a mass transportation program, I hope it will be possible for the House to hold hearings on the subject in order that a satisfactory program can be enacted during the current session.



Note: On June 30 the President approved the Housing Act of 1961 (Public Law 87-70, 75 Stat. 149), which provided for Federal assistance for urban transportation planning.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Federal Assistance for Urban Transportation Planning. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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