The day after President Obama’s State of the Union plea to improve economic opportunity for struggling Americans, New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires introduced a bill that he says will help meet that goal.
His bill [PDF] would build on the TIFIA loan program, which is so beloved by Congress its funding was expanded by a factor of ten in the MAP-21 transportation bill, up to $1 billion this year. Since the beefed-up TIFIA program will fund any proposal deemed creditworthy and only selects projects that cost at least $50 million, advocates for transit and active transportation have been concerned it will become merely a slush fund for toll roads.
Sires’ bill, the New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act — NOBPIFA for short (if you call that short) — would set aside 1 percent of TIFIA’s $1 billion and earmark that money for biking and walking. For these projects, TIFIA’s minimum project cost would be lowered to $2 million, making low-interest, long-term loans available to communities for improvements to their biking and walking networks.
Three co-sponsors have signed on to the bill. Two of them, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are Republicans from the Miami area. Florida is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in the country for walking and biking.
In a statement, Sires tied the bill introduction to Obama’s State of the Union address:
Last night, President Obama called on Congress to help rebuild our middle class, and this bill would do just that. When we make our roads and sidewalks safer, we help connect workers to new jobs. We create communities where families want to live and businesses want to invest. And we give mothers and fathers peace of mind, knowing they aren’t sending their children to school on the unsafe sidewalks and roadways that exist in so many of our rural and urban communities.
The bill reserves 25 percent of project funding for low-income communities, “with the goal of creating a more equitable, safe roadway environment for all Americans.”
In his press release, Sires spotlighted a report on equity issues put out by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club, which showed that Latinos and African-Americans are disproportionately killed on bicycles. Despite the misperception in many circles that cycling is for rich white people, the League also reports that people earning less than $30,000 a year accounted for 28 percent of bike trips in 2009.
“This bi-partisan bill creates an incentive for local governments to target smart transportation investment in areas that need it most, where transportation costs are typically 30 percent or more of household budgets, and where good transportation options are limited,” said League President Andy Clarke. He added that Rep. Sires’ initiative “enables communities to turn back the clock on decades of under-investment in the most basic of transportation solutions.”