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EPW Big Four Announce Plan to Maintain Status Quo for the Next Transpo Bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer, together with Sens. Carper, Vitter and Barrasso, announced their agreement to maintain the status quo with the next bill. Screenshot from press conference. [1]

Sen. Barbara Boxer, together with Sens. Carper, Vitter and Barrasso, announced their agreement to maintain the status quo with the next bill. Screenshot from press conference.

Last year, while the House flailed in partisan misery [2], the Senate passed a transportation bill 74 to 22 [3]. When the bill was signed into law, it was considered one of the few real achievements of a deeply divided Congress. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer got tremendous credit for enacting legislation three years in the making. And yet, it left a lot of good provisions on the cutting-room floor. While MAP-21 included some modest reforms, lawmakers missed an opportunity to prioritize transit, biking, and walking — modes that are gaining popularity and help achieve national goals like congestion mitigation and air quality improvement.

History appears to be repeating itself. This morning, Sen. Boxer (D-CA) joined with the rest of the “Big Four” of the EPW Committee — Ranking Republican David Vitter (R-LA), Transportation Subcommittee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) and Subcommittee Ranking Republican John Barrasso (R-WY) — to announce that they had reached agreement on a set of principles to guide the next bill.

While it’s good news to hear the senators are working together and making progress, they’re not proposing any solutions to the nation’s dysfunctional transportation policy, which funnels billions of dollars to wasteful road expansions ever year. Below is a look at the guiding principles (verbatim, in bold) and what they mean:

What’s missing? Any commitment to organizing the federal transportation program more deliberately around national goals like emissions reduction and safety. Any agreement to strengthen performance [10] measures [11], which had a baby-step debut with MAP-21.  And while we wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear it in a statement of principles like this, reformers would always be keen to hear some reassurance that transit, biking and walking will get a fair shake and that road maintenance will be prioritized over expansion.

If this is what the Democrat-controlled Senate has come up with, what will the House say?

Meanwhile, as Sen. Vitter acknowledged, “Compared to the Finance Committee, which has to lead all of us in figuring out how to pay for this, hopefully, six-year bill, we have the easier role.” Without the political will to do the hard work of raising revenues, even maintaining current levels will be a stretch [12].