The House of Representatives is back in town, and its members still don’t have a transportation bill. In fact, they probably won’t have one for weeks. But two groups holding conferences in Washington this week would be more than happy to help them out in the meantime.
First, the League of American Bicyclists kicks off its annual National Bike Summit tomorrow. Wednesday’s program will feature a welcome speech delivered by secretary of transportation and noted bicycle commuter Ray LaHood. (Streetsblog will be covering the Bike Summit all week long.)
In a twist that probably can’t be considered purely coincidental, tomorrow will also see the highway construction industry hold its second annual Rally for Roads on the National Mall.
The Hill reports that the Rally for Roads will be attended by a litany of House transportation committee members, including Chairman John Mica, ranking member Nick Rahall, and highway subcommittee chair John Duncan. A few congressmen will make appearances at both events, including Reps. Peter DeFazio and Tom Petri, both of whom have voiced their support for bike-ped and transit programs in the House.
With the fate of the House transportation bill still undecided, both groups are hoping to win key battles over federal funding. Bike advocates will be looking to protect the programs that keep streets safe for cyclists and pedestrians, which would be eliminated under the most recent House propsal. The road builders will be looking for looser regulations on labor and environmental review, but they will also be seeking more money — money they stand to gain if bike-ped and transit programs are de-funded.
Highway builders have long been an imposing lobbying force in Washington. But rather than using their influence to promote sustainable development or multimodalism, their chief objective is usually to get the government to spend as much money as possible on highway ingredients — steel, asphalt, cement, and so on. Though they certainly don’t reflect all of America’s transportation needs, especially for cities, highway builders’ voices are often the loudest to be heard — and just as often the only ones to whom Congress listens.
However, as we saw when the House threatened to cut off dedicated funding for transit, the highway builders are not the only voice in the debate anymore.