Senate’s Draft Transpo Bill Ends Earmarks But Weakens Bike-Ped Programs

Last Friday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released its draft transportation reauthorization bill. With the GOP-controlled House contemplating a national transportation policy designed for maximum fossil fuel consumption, the best opportunities for reform reside in the Senate.

Senate EPW Chair Barbara Boxer said this summer that bike-ped programs would be preserved in the transportation bill, but they have been severely weakened.

While the 600-page draft that came out of Senator Barbara Boxer’s committee includes some key reforms and increases funding for the TIFIA loan program, it also eviscerates successful and popular programs to make biking and walking safer.

Called “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21), the bill would streamline the existing eco-system of federal transportation programs. In addition, earmarks — set-asides for Congress members’ pet projects that have included famously wasteful items like the Bridge to Nowhere — would be eliminated once and for all.

But among the casualties are three key bike-ped programs: Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails. Those programs would be consolidated and listed as “eligible uses” under an $833 million subset of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ). That would represent a sharp drop from the $1.15 billion devoted to those programs in 2010. That year, Transportation Enhancements was funded at $878 million, Safe Routes to School at $183 million, and Recreational Trails at $85 million.

States could also divert their share of the $833 million to projects that add traffic lanes or don’t involve bike and pedestrian infrastructure at all. The bike-ped sub-category of CMAQ spending would be broadened to allow new road construction as an eligible use if the project “enhances connectivity and includes public transportation, pedestrian walkways or bicycle infrastructure.” Advocates are also concerned about a provision of the bill that allows states to opt out of using federal bike-ped funds altogether. The bill enables states that don’t use their bike-ped funding to spend it on other CMAQ projects instead.

The weakening of bike-ped programs is especially incongruous given the way Transportation Enhancements have withstood repeated GOP attacks this session. But EPW Chair Boxer has always made it a point to garner GOP support for this bill, and her counterpart on the committee, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, has been equally steadfast in opposing dedicated bike and pedestrian funding. Boxer had reassured advocates this summer that bike-ped programs would remain in the bill, but it seems they have been neutered in negotiations with Inhofe.

Meanwhile, MAP-21 does include some strong reform language in other areas. Earmarks would be eliminated by law — a tougher ban than the anti-earmark rule that currently exists. The bill also includes some measures intended to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and speed project delivery.

The bill would increase accountability for state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations — the agencies that actually decide how to spend most federal surface transportation funding — by establishing performance measures that would track progress toward specific targets, instead of handing the states a blank check. In theory, such reforms could serve as a check on sprawl. Streetsblog is looking into how the performance-based funding system would function and will have more in a future post.

The bill would also boost support for the financing techniques that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has pushed for under the banner of “America Fast Forward,” a concept that has enjoyed strong bi-partisan support. The new “Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program” would expand the existing TIFIA loan program and allow states and cities to leverage revenue from local tax measures with federal financing to move projects forward faster. The bill would raise the maximum share of project costs funded through TIFIA from 33 to 49 percent and would reserve $1 billion in financing for the program annually, up from $300 million.

Noticeably absent is any provision for a national infrastructure bank. Instead the bill seeks to encourage state infrastructure banks, a position favored by House Republicans.

The EPW bill will be marked up in Boxer’s committee this Wednesday. Whatever emerges from the Senate will be drastically different than the House transportation bill, starting with the fact that GOP leadership in the House have pledged to pass a six-year bill, as opposed to the two-year bill put together by Boxer.

  • Rob

    It may be bad news for bike/ped advocates, but the option is still there in some form.  As a result, it people, communities and states believe in having a high quality of life, then they will over time see the light and “move forward” on a path of multi-modalism. 

  • Brian Planner

    Angie….Recreational Trails and Transportation Enhancements are also listed as eligible projects in the Transportation Mobility Program. 

  • Brian

    Even if the GOP liked the infrastructure bank (which they don’t, largely for political reasons, but that’s another story) EPW never would have included language on that program because they don’t have jurisdiction.  The infrastructure bank falls under the Finance Committee.

  • Shemp

    Dump categorically on earmarks if you want, but if you have jackass public agencies and some decent Congresspeople, they can be a nice work-around to get good initiatives started.  Witness funding for the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, secured by Nydia Velazquez when Weinshall-NYCDOT was standing pat….

  • David Levinger

    TE projects used to also be eligible for funding from the overall STP (Surface Transportation) Program. What is the status of the STP and what are the rules for eligibility in this proposed bill?

  • Is there anything about Complete Streets in the draft bill?

  • Stephen Lee Davis

    @f730b5d1874944680f9356185ac7f304:disqus  We’re still parsing out the bit that covers complete streets, but I can tell you that STP has been merged into a new program called the Transportation Mobility Program (along with a handful of others) but keeps the same flexibility as before and can be used on a number of different uses, as I think Brian also points out below.

  • Scott

    The mandatory sidepath rule for bicyclists on page 226 of the bill is a terrible precedent and must be removed from the bill!

  • Bicycle Advocate

    There is a horrible bicycle-related provision on page 226 of the bill (http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=20f89548-8b2e-4498-89f7-c9f4ff22484f) that isn’t menioned in this posting.  Here it is:  “‘‘(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.”
     
    So basically, no matter how crappy the design or maintenance of the pathway, and no matter how safe it is to ride on the road, the Federal government would be REQUIRED to prohibit bicycles from the roadway. 

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