Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) briefed reporters on the points of consensus reached by the four leaders of the Environment and Public Works Committee with regard to the transportation bill. In answer to a question by Streetsblog, she said that guaranteed federal funding for bike and pedestrian programs would be in the bill. She made it clear that bicycling and walking were important modes of transportation that deserve “good attention” in the bill.
Some advocates doubted she was speaking for all members of the committee, especially ranking Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has repeatedly attacked bicycle funding and other transportation enhancement projects as wasteful and inappropriate recipients of federal money.
Those skeptics appear to be right. A Tulsa newspaper reported earlier this week:
Differences also cropped up between [Boxer and Inhofe] on projects such as bike paths and walkways.
Boxer said all modes of transportation should be covered, while Inhofe made it clear the committee should keep its focus on projects such as bridges and highways.
“She was not speaking for me,” he said.
Committee staff had followed up Boxer’s comments with a disclaimer that the bike/ped section was still being written, though they didn’t overtly dispute her assertion that active transportation funding would be preserved in the bill. They won’t give any further comment since the issues are still under negotiation.
“We hope the federal government will continue strongly investing in safer and more livable streets,” said Michael Murphy of Transportation Alternatives. “We don’t think that street safety is a partisan issue and we hope it won’t become one.”
Boxer likes to say that although she’s one of the most liberal members of the Senate and Inhofe is one of the most conservative, on issues of infrastructure investment, they see “eye to eye.” However, in the course of EPW hearings on the issue, serious differences have cropped up, especially over active transportation funding.
Advocates have worried at times that Boxer was so enamored of the idea that transportation is one issue she and her ranking member agreed on that perhaps she wouldn’t fight hard over their differences.
It appears that finding bipartisan consensus, even on the issues the committee has now managed to find agreement on, has been difficult and frustrating, implying that there are still many issues that divide them. Boxer will have to continue to fight for healthy transportation alternatives for her constituents in California and around the country.