Last month, the Senate’s notorious vote-blocker, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, tried to obstruct Senate process until they voted on his measure to take bike/ped funding out of the transportation bill. He failed.
Then last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested keeping bike/ped money but stripping out lots of other budget items that serve cyclists and pedestrians (as well as everybody else), like streetscaping. He failed too.
And now here comes Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the kookiest of Congress’s Tea Party-affiliated newcomers, with a brilliant idea to shift all bike/ped funding — and everything else that gets funded through the embattled Transportation Enhancement program — over to bridge repair. Paul characterizes TE as a fund for “turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries and all this craziness.”
Now, we’re all in favor of bridge repair. We agree that the crumbling of our nation’s infrastructure is shameful and dangerous. But really, you’re going to restore bridge safety by cutting bike safety? Get real, Senator.
Paul’s spooky amendment is scheduled for a vote the day after Halloween. It’ll be attached to the Senate transportation appropriations bill, which comes up for a vote that day by the full chamber.
Darren Flusche of the League of American Bicyclists noted in his blog post that Sen. Paul should let the Senate EPW Committee, which has jurisdiction over writing the next transportation bill, do its job. Flusche argues that the committee’s November 9 bill markup “would be the appropriate time to discuss changes to the overall transportation program, not during the appropriations process.”
Transportation for America recently criticized Sen. Paul for his misguided attack on active transportation:
Kentucky doesn’t have more than 1,300 deficient bridges today because they spent a few million dollars making their streets safer for people walking or biking. If Senator Paul’s proposal became law and the 1.5 percent [of transportation funding for bike/ped programs] was directed into bridge repair, it would take Paul’s home state of Kentucky nearly 66 years with those funds to repair of all its bridges that are currently rated as deficient. And that doesn’t even account for the bridges that would be added to the “deficient” list in the years to come. (Kentucky has more than 4,500 bridges over 50 years old. That number could double by 2030.)
Clearly, we need far more money to repair our bridges, but we lack policies that hold states accountable for fixing their bridges. The current federal program has money dedicated for bridge repair, but allows states to divert up to half of that funding to build other more politically-driven projects.
There are ways to address this problem. States like Florida have put in place fiscally responsible policies to take care of what they’ve already built, balancing the need to fix bridges and build new roads. And Florida’s bridges are among the best in the country. Florida has both spent their “enhancement” funds and ensured their bridges are in good shape. Why can’t Kentucky and other states say the same?