What the Feds Giveth, the States Taketh Away — From Bike/Ped Programs

It’s rescission time again, folks. That Washington lingo for “gimme gimme.” We had a name for people who “rescinded” gifts back in elementary school but it’s ethnically insensitive so I won’t say it. Suffice it to say, if little kids call you a name for doing something, it’s probably not a super popular thing to be doing.

The Hammonton, NJ train station pedestrian link was funded by transportation enhancements, which could be cut as part of the latest round of rescissions. Photo courtesy of the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse

The FY2011 budget deal that Democrats and Republican finally agreed to recently requires states to send back to Washington $2.5 billion in unspent transportation funds. Who decides what programs to target for rescissions? Your state DOT.

Darren Flusche of League of American Bicyclists wrote this on the League’s blog:

Historically, some of the strongest programs for bicycle and pedestrian projects – Transportation Enhancements (TE), Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) – suffer dramatically higher rescission rates than other programs.

For example, TE and CMAQ made up just 7.3 percent of state DOTs’ 2010 transportation apportionments, but they made up a much larger share of what a state sends back. In August 2010, out of the $2.2 billion rescinded, $968 million (44 percent) came from CMAQ and TE. Not all these funds would have gone to bicycling and walking, of course, but based on historic spending rates, some $330 million would have.

Flusche said that one reason that states often disproportionately target bike and ped projects for rescission is that they often spend those dollars slower than highway dollars – so come rescission time, when DOTs are looking around for unspent funds, they pull from bike projects they hadn’t started yet.

I asked RIDOT Director Michael Lewis what his state was going to rescind this time around. He said (as of this morning) they hadn’t decided yet, but “it shouldn’t have a real negative effect on our program.” He said they try to take rescission money from areas where it would have “the least impact on our needs,” so they won’t be taking from high-priority areas like “bridge rehabilitation and roadway reconstruction.” Lewis didn’t mention where transit and non-motorized modes fit into that.