Updated 4:15 p.m.:
Barbara Boxer has issued a statement showing the early rumors were off-target — some form of the Cardin-Cochran amendment preserving local government access to a portion of bike/ped funding is in the final bill. While this is something of a relief for everyone working to make their local streets safer for walking and biking, the conference committee has weakened the original Cardin-Cochran provision passed by the Senate. In the final deal, local governments will get half the bike/ped funding set aside in the bill, while state DOTs can either spend the rest or opt out of it. In the Senate version, states would have distributed the other 50 percent of funding through a competitive bidding process.
Updated 3:30 p.m.:
We’re hearing that the Cardin-Cochran amendment has, indeed, been gutted and that states will be able to “opt out” of spending on bicycle and pedestrian safety projects. This has been a Republican objective for a long time, and it looks like they’ve triumphed over the thousands of people who demanded that Congress let local governments preserve access to the tiny sliver of funding set aside for active transportation. Without the Cardin-Cochran provision, highway-focused state DOTs can effectively bloc cities and towns from investing in safer streets for biking and walking.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have succeeded in getting ideological GOP provisions on the Keystone XL pipeline and coal ash deregulation axed from the bill. The bill expires in September 2013, despite some calls for a longer-term bill, and we’re expecting the funding levels to be what the Senate has always offered ($109 billion). We’re waiting for the news on environmental protections, transit operations, and everything else they’ve been fighting over, as well as the final details of the bike/ped deal. When these details come to light, it will be more clear whether, in the end, this bill will be better than no bill at all.
The House has three days to read the bill before the vote, which at this point would have to be Saturday. We hear the Senate will be staying in session also, to vote on the conference report after the House does. The president technically has until Monday morning to sign it before the transportation program lapses.
Meanwhile, somewhat bizarrely, the House is set to vote in the next hour on FY2013 transportation appropriations, a bill that could be quickly rendered moot by this reauthorization bill. After that vote, they’re going to the White House picnic. That should be a good time.