UPDATE: Here We Go Again: Sen. Rand Paul Pits Bikes Against Bridges

Rand Paul is at it again.

Last year, Sen. Paul (R-KY) made a laughingstock of himself by alleging that the Transportation Enhancements program — which largely funds bicycle and pedestrian improvements — was used for things like “turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries and all this craziness.”

We love squirrel sanctuaries as much as the next person, but they have nothing to do with the Transportation Alternatives program. Photo: BBC

His statements had no basis in fact, but that didn’t matter. He and other Republicans were so hell-bent on killing the TE program that they nearly brought the negotiations over a new authorization bill to a grinding halt. What emerged, after a hard-fought compromise, was an under-funded, watered-down Transportation Alternatives program. And now Paul wants to kill that too.

His amendment [PDF] to the Transportation and HUD appropriations bill, before the Senate today, would put all TA funding toward bridge repair.

Bridge repair certainly could use some help, seeing as MAP-21 dramatically shrunk the amount of money earmarked for keeping the nation’s bridges in safe operating condition. But Sen. Paul’s idea of a solution is beyond misguided. Half of TA funds go directly to the hands of local communities to use as they wish, a process any devolutionist fiscal conservative should appreciate. The other half can be frittered away on anything a state wants, if the state chooses to transfer the money out of TA and into other programs.

Notably, Kentucky has chosen not to transfer its Transportation Alternatives funds to other purposes — meaning Paul’s amendment would reverse a decision the state has made.

Indeed, TA’s intended use for active transportation projects should be the pet issue of every conservative in Congress — more people biking and walking means less expenditures on roads, health care, or environmental mitigation. And it gives people the freedom to move about freely without the burden of enormous gas and automobile expenses. What could be more American than that?

“Taking that small amount of funding away would dangerously undermine efforts in our cities, towns and counties to provide safe and efficient transportation options for everyone,” said the League of American Bicyclists in a statement. “With rates of bicycling and walking fatalities on the rise, that is a trade we can’t afford to make.”

Plus, by proposing to get rid of Transportation Alternatives funding and put it into the bridge repair grant program, he’s taking guaranteed money away from Kentucky and putting it into a competitive grant process where Kentucky will have to compete with every other state.

Kentucky has $952 million in bridge-related needs, according to FHWA. The state gets less than $13 million in Transportation Alternatives money. That means it would take Kentucky 74 years of TA funding to repair its bridges.

Update 2:07 p.m.: As the initial version of this article reported, the amendment has been ”ordered to lie on the table,” which apparently, contrary to what the Internet told me, is not the same as “tabled.”