Transpo Bill Cuts Bike/Ped Funding, Lets States Spend It on Left-Turn Lanes

NOTE: The facts are even worse than they seemed when I wrote this article. States can flex TA money, not just to CMAQ, but to anything they want. See “The Awful Truth About the Transpo Bill’s Bike/Ped Loophole,” for more.

In the transportation bill agreed to yesterday by Barbara Boxer, John Mica, and other Congressional leaders, the program that allocates federal transportation dollars to local street safety projects like bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks has morphed into a much more general fund for anything that can be considered an air quality improvement strategy at all. States have great leeway to shift funds around, and bike/ped projects will have to compete with road projects and much more.

Who needs sidewalks and bike lanes when you have these? Photo: ##http://bychancelansdale.blogspot.com/2011/05/new-traffic-rules-again.html##By Chance Lansdale##

The “Transportation Alternatives” section of the bill says it reduces total funding to 2009 levels for the Transportation Enhancements program for each state. But Caron Whitaker at America Bikes tells Streetsblog that’s actually an error in the bill. In reality, she said in an email, “The funding goes from 1.2 billion [total for Enhancements, Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School] in FY 2011 to 700 – 750 million under TA.” That’s a drop of up to 42 percent. [UPDATE: The final number is $808 million for 2013 and $820 million — a 33 percent cut.]

“Transportation Alternatives” has also absorbed the Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails programs, which used to have their own dedicated funding. And, inexplicably, it can be used to fund “planning, designing, or constructing boulevards and other roadways largely in the right-of-way of former Interstate System routes or other divided highways.”

The bill sets the total funding for the Transportation Alternatives program at two percent of total highway funding out of the Highway Trust Fund (not including the Mass Transit account). Then it splits that amount in half, with one part going to local agencies (which are likely to put it to good use) and the other part going to states for them to allocate through a competitive process.

Unless the state doesn’t feel like it.

This opt-out provision is especially damaging to street safety in states where the DOT doesn’t prioritize walking and biking. Starting in the next fiscal year, states that haven’t spent their “Transportation Alternatives” dollars on TA projects can use them for anything else that can be interpreted as improving air quality.

That’s right: The “opt-out” provision for states isn’t use-it-or-lose-it. States that sit on their TA money long enough can use it for things like truck stop electrification systems, HOV lanes, turning lanes, and diesel retrofits [or anything else they like].

Yes, the tiny sliver of federal transportation funding reserved for healthy and environmentally sound transportation choices can be squandered on left turn lanes.

  • Yet our tax dollars go to overblown defense budget, fighting pathetic wars. Which clearly indicates elected officials’ priorities – more bombs, more oil, etc. Forget safe streets, who needs that?

  • Clutch J

    Long-term, this is a very positive development. The feds are now in the business of removing and repurposing the awful urban freeways they built. Under a future Dem Congress, this element can be moved to a different part of the federal program and expanded.

    > “planning, designing, or constructing boulevards and other roadways largely in the right-of-way of former Interstate System routes or other divided highways.”

  • Clutch J

    The bike-ped movement will now have to re-orient itself towards states, MPOs and local jurisdictions. That’s not such a  bad thing. May a thousand flowers bloom.

  • pothole

    I have never been a fan of the Enhancement Program.  In my state, too much money goes to museums, lighthouse rehabilitation, and streetscape improvements.  It’s my opinion that these are not federal responsibilities and do not relate to any “national vision” for America’s transportation system.  I would have liked to have seen bicycle and pedestrian advocates push for a non-motorized transportation program instead of trying to save the flawed Enhancement Program.  

  • RawsonJ

    Now that power has been devolved to the individual states as the founders intended, the one-size-fits-all Federal mandate in favor of generally not needed bike/ped programs can be done away with. What people need in for NYC or LA isn’t necessarily what we need in Oklahoma or Wyoming!!! Let the STATES spend the money on roads if they want to, and if it’s what will benefits the majority of their residents (hint: the majority drives). State legislatures are generally more level-headed and responsive to needs of their people than the distant, bureaucratic FedGov.

  • Tanya, is the text of this compromise bill available online yet? I can’t find it at Thomas. I’ve heard the national parks bike ban text in the current version is actually worse than the initial proposed ban we saw.

    Also, are they still calling this MAP-21, or does it have a new name?

    Finally, I’ve seen news reports suggestion this isn’t merely a six month extension, but I haven’t seen whent the spending authorization expires on this bill.

  • Shemp

    Obsessive coverage of enhancements generally neglects the bike/ped eligibility for much bigger federal programs like CMAQ, STP, NHS.  Places doing worthwhile bike/ped work with federal money like NYC do not rely on the small-dollar/procedurally cumbersome enhancements program.

  • Anonymous

    The federal government is a joke.

  • Paul Oestreich8

    I’ve noticed in the mainstream media, a lot of attention being spent on the Healthcare Bill, yet not a peep on the Transportation Bill.
    But consider this, trillions of dollars are wasted on fueling autos. And where does that money go ?
    … No doubt, straight to Saudi Arabia who -not so coincidentally- have free Healthcare and free Education.

  • Nationally over the past two decades, only a tiny fraction of Transportation Enhancement money was spent on “local street safety projects like bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks”.  Roughly half of this money went to projects that had *nothing* to do with bicycling or walking, while the bulk of the “bike/ped” funding went to largely recreational paths in parks and rural communities.

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