GOP Victory Could Imperil Bike-Ped Funding and Transportation Reforms

Daniel de Zeeuw is the Campaign Coordinator for America Bikes, which advocates for bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the federal transportation bill. Streetsblog asked him to tell our readers about the conversations he’s been hearing about the outlook for the transportation bill after the election.

With Election Day expected to bring the GOP big gains in Congress, what’s the outlook for a reauthorization of the transportation bill? Earlier this week, a panel discussion on transportation and climate policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies moved, inevitably, toward the current political showdown and its likely consequences.

Funding for bike and pedestrian enhancements could be cut if the GOP wins back control of the House. Image courtesy of ##http://waba.org/##WABA##
Funding for bike and pedestrian enhancements could be cut if the GOP wins back control of the House. Image courtesy of ##http://waba.org/##WABA##

The panel, which featured high-level movers and shakers on transportation policy, agreed that regardless of the number of Republicans and Democrats in the House next year, the new Congress will be a more conservative body that would make any movement on the transportation bill much more difficult. Some say popular programs, like TIGER grants and Transportation Enhancements, which funds bike and ped safety measures, could be at risk.

All of the panelists spoke of the great need for investment in our transportation system and reform in how we spend our transportation dollars. They also seemed to lack confidence that their vision of a robust and reformed transportation system would be any more realistic after next week’s election.

So, when can we expect a new transportation authorization? And what might it look like? Jim Tymon, Republican Staff Director of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, reminded listeners of the political hurdles in the way of reform.

Tymon said he expects to see yet another extension of the transportation bill in December. He predicted another six to eight months without a new bill, but acknowledged that if there isn’t one before September of next year, “presidential politics will take hold” and it is possible to envision another two or three years without a transportation bill.

The biggest constraint is the lack of revenue available for a bill that has been estimated to cost around $500 billion. The incoming 112th Congress is expected to oppose any tax increase needed to pay for this high cost.

“January will bring nothing brighter for a gas tax increase,” remarked Jim Tymon, whose boss, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), is positioned to become Chair of the Transportation Committee if the Republicans win the House. In a recent interview with the Transportation Weekly newsletter, Mica said, “I want to try to get [the reauthorization] as close to the level that we’re talking about [$500 billion]. But there’s different ways to do that without increasing the gas tax.”

Other options for paying for the bill could include looking at other funding sources, leveraging existing funds, and acknowledging that we might see a smaller and less ambitious bill. Tymon added that they are going to have to examine which programs fall squarely under the federal government’s responsibility, indicating that the cost of some existing programs could be foisted onto the states and localities.

The Transportation Weekly article quotes transportation industry lobbyists saying that programs like Transportation Enhancements would likely end up on the chopping block, as well as discretionary grant programs like TIGER.

The idea of cutting spending and shrinking core programs is a common theme as we ponder the possibility of a Republican-controlled House. But fiscal constraint should not mean making indiscriminate cuts. Rather, we should be having a thoughtful conversation on how our transportation system can best serve all Americans with limited dollars.

I work for America Bikes, and we’ve seen enormous strides in the past twenty years in establishing transit, biking and walking as core to our transportation system. The political and financial realities require a national conversation on what our national goals should be, and how to best make every dollar count.

  • SteveS

    If done properly, devolution of transit, bike and pedestrian funding would be a fantastic thing. Federal funding is simply taking revenue from taxpayers who live in counties, funneling it through bad grantmaking programs that prioritize capital spending over maintenance and operations, and giving it back to the counties, who then end up making irrational decisions and wasting even their local money to get federal matching funds, contributing to the ineffective systems in so many American cities.

    Having significant amounts of funding come from the state and federal level has also been a major cause of the countrywide transit service cuts as state legislatures chop funding; this will simply be the same thing at the federal level. Locally funded infrastructure would be the ideal, as it is much more politically difficult to cut transit funding at the city and county level when a lot of constituents are transit riders, whereas state and federal legislatures don’t give it a second thought.

    Of course, the GOP is not going to do proper devolution and give the money back to the counties, they are simply going to stop spending federal dollars on these programs and devote them to higher military spending, corporate welfare and their other pet protectionist projects. But if this can encourage more funding at the local level, it could still have a silver lining.

  • Al

    As I understand it, the centralization of funds is generally a drain from cities, and a benefit to sparse regions (which build more infrastructure per person). If devolution allows cities to spend their own funds on their own projects, instead of paying for another highway bringing traffic in, it could make a huge difference.

  • Gregory McKnight

    The real issues is the lack of political courage to ask the taxpayers for more money for transportation. The other reality is that no one wants to talk about the consequences. The cost of everything will rise as the time to go to market and return increase. The rebuilding of the transportation infrastructure will balloon as we move out of the repair phase and move into the rebuild and replace phase. Our international economice status which already falling with fall further.
    The implications will range from leisure to national defense.
    In the end it will mean higher taxes or higher prices or both

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