Skip to content

Posts from the "John McCain" Category

1 Comment

Transportation Enhancements Program Beats Back Another Assault

A Republican lawmaker purporting to be acting out of budgetary concern has, once again, taken aim at a popular active transportation program — and, again, the Senate has rejected the effort.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today offered an amendment that would have greatly restricted, but not reduced, funding for the national Transportation Enhancements program, which consumes just one-and-a-half cents for every federal transportation dollar. The Senate voted to table the measure, which, according to Caron Whitaker of America Bikes, “will pretty much kill it.” She doesn’t expect this particular amendment to come up again.

A $140,000 federal TE grant funded the development of the Pack Square park and streetscaping in Asheville, NC in 2002. Photo: National TE Clearinghouse

McCain’s amendment would have kept TE funds from being used for landscaping, historic preservation, museums and welcome centers and other currently eligible uses he characterized as “low-priority.” The Transportation Enhancements program is also a major source of funding for trails, bike lanes and pedestrian projects to local communities.

If the overall funding level stayed the same and the number of uses competing for that funding was reduced, McCain’s amendment could potentially mean more money for bike/ped projects — already the primary destination for TE funds. But according to Kevin Mills of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, landscaping and historic preservation serve important transportation and economic development functions in communities across the country — especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Landscaping is often used to promote pedestrian activity. Mills offers the example of a small town using landscaping improvements as part of a struggle to attract walking shoppers from a commercial strip on an outerbelt.

Historic preservation activities are surprisingly germane as well, he said. RTC’s local partners often use TE funds to rehabilitate historic train depots that serve as trailheads for rail-trails, becoming “valuable economic development centers” for local communities, he said.

The Senate voted to table McCain’s amendment at the request of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). But even conservatives like James Inhofe (R-OK), who has long sought to eliminate TE from the federal transportation program, indicated during the floor debate that they were not supportive of this amendment. Inhofe even urged his Republican colleagues to vote against it, since it limits local control over spending, especially since the restriction wouldn’t save any money.

Read more…

2 Comments

McCain & Coburn: Inadvertent Transportation Reformers?

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) are no fans of dedicated federal spending on cleaner transportation. From bike and pedestrian safety to local transit funds, the duo has made a habit of attacking non-road projects as wasteful "pork."

John_Mccain_bike.jpgSen. John McCain (R-AZ) (Composite Photo: City-Data.com)

And yesterday was no exception, as McCain and Coburn released a report [PDF] criticizing 100 projects being funded by the Obama administration's stimulus law. On the senators' hit list were three bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects, in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

The report may have backfired on critics of federal bike-ped investment by prompting a sharp rebuke from none other than Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who wrote on his blog:

We've worked hard this year to get our Recovery Act dollars out to the states quickly and effectively. Yes, some of those projects include bike paths, a key ingredient in our livability initiative to allow people to live, work, and get around without a car.

We don't call that waste; we call it progress.

But the most surprising aspect of the report is how weakly the senators argue against the bike-ped projects while strongly -- and quite inadvertently -- making the case for progressive transportation reform.

For example, the McCain-Coburn report goes after Minnesota's Cedar Lane trail expansion based on a single local article that notes the project received high marks after in-depth vetting from the local metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The story's strongest critic of the bike lane, meanwhile, is a local legislator conservative enough to consider GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) "too green."

But the senators also went after a Georgia DOT project that duplicated an estimated $88,000 of work to repave a road that was already smoothed in 2007. The article they source for that criticism quotes a bike advocate who was "peeved the money hadn’t been spent on bicycle lanes instead."

Read more...
2 Comments

More on McCain’s Anti-Transit and Coburn’s Anti-Bike Amendments

As Streetsblog Capitol Hill reported yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered amendments striking money for more than 20 transit projects from the bill that funds the U.S. DOT next year. 

john_mccain.jpgSen. John McCain (R-AZ) (Photo: Reuters via MediaBistro)
The individual amendments have yet to come to a vote, but earlier today the Senate defeated a McCain proposal to divert all earmark money from the DOT spending bill to NextGen, the federal government's long-delayed system for tracking airline delays.

McCain's NextGen amendment was brought down on a 26-68 vote. Three Democratic earmark critics -- Sens. Russ Feingold (WI), Claire McCaskill (MO), and Evan Bayh (IN) -- voted alongside the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee.

It's worth noting, however, that the transit projects McCain wants to strike are unlike most other earmarks. The projects have already received funding approval from the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) New Starts program, clearing the way for members of Congress to swoop in and direct transit money to their home states.

So even if McCain had his way, the FTA still would be free to use its annual budget on other transit projects -- having altogether no effect his stated goal of deficit reduction through a decrease in earmarking.

Meanwhile, McCain is not the only senator taking aim at clean transportation projects. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has offered seven amendments to the DOT spending bill, two of which would block funding for bicycle and pedestrian paths, as well as other programs that fall under the umbrella of "transportation enhancements."

More details follow after the jump.

The first of Coburn's amendments would allow states to opt out of the current mandate that 10 percent of federal transportation aid be spent on "enhancements" such as bicycle and pedestrian paths, bike and pedestrian safety education, or the conversion of abandoned rail tracks to bike-ped paths. A report released by McCain and Coburn in July found that states spent $3.7 billion on such enhancements between 2004 and 2008.

Coburn's second clean transportation-related amendment would block funding for bike and pedestrian paths and other "enhancement" projects until the DOT certifies that the nation's highway trust fund is fiscally solvent -- a prospect that is exceedingly unlikely for the forseeable future.

21 Comments

McCain’s Transit Hit List: Get the Details

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a self-styled foe of what he labels wasteful government spending, has launched a broadside against transit projects in the U.S. DOT's 2010 spending bill, which is slated for a vote this week in the upper chamber of Congress.

john_mccain_speech.jpgSen. John McCain (R-AZ) (Photo: Scrape TV)
McCain had proposed more than 20 amendments to the legislation as of Friday -- all but one of them to prohibit fellow lawmakers from earmarking Federal Transit Administration aid for local transit systems.

The GOP's 2008 presidential nominee frequently targets earmarks that span a broad variety of issues, although his efforts rarely succeed in peeling off more than a handful of Democrats. Still, his target list for the 2010 spending bill that funds the DOT and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is notable for its focus on stifling transit.

McCain included one federal highway project on his hit list, one that appeared deliberately chosen from his home state: a $4.25 million earmark for the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, requested by his fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R).

Even if McCain's amendments fall short, as is likely, the U.S. DOT still could be blocked from spending money on clean transportation. Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) seven proposed amendment to the 2010 bill include one that would "prohibit the use of funds for roadkill reduction programs, transportation museums, scenic beautification projects, or bike and pedestrian paths" until the nation's highway trust fund is on a firmer financial footing, according to a report in Friday's CQ.

After the jump, check out a full list of the transit projects that McCain aims to strike this week.

Read more...
2 Comments

On Election Eve, Reading the Transpo Tea Leaves

8_959.jpg

Though we found plenty of fodder this election season, transportation policy never emerged as a consistent talking point in the presidential race. This is more than a little surprising, considering the sad state of American infrastructure and the importance of same to this country's economic and strategic well-being. Then again, what kind of dialogue can we expect when one side's position can essentially be summed up in three words, two of which are "drill."

On this election eve, we turn to an unexpected source for a sober summation of the future of transport under either a McCain or Obama administration: the Pacific Shipper, "the Essential Transpacific News Weekly." In an insider-y feature story posted today, the Shipper susses out some of the main policy differences between the two candidates, from highways to waterways, and finds electeds and experts who think each is in for a rude awakening when it comes to funding.

Perhaps more than any national campaign in recent history, the major candidates have staked out very clear and decidedly different stances on transportation infrastructure investment.

McCain has made criticism of earmarks something of a crusade in his campaign, and says he wants to send more decisions on spending priorities to the states.

“I believe that a higher share of the taxes collected at the gas pump should go back to the state where those taxes were paid,” the Arizona Republican told the American Automobile Association, “and I’ve co-sponsored legislation that would allow states to keep almost all of their gas tax revenues for their own transportation projects without interference from Washington.”

“We’ve got a problem,” Mortimer Downey, a former deputy secretary of transportation in the Clinton administration and an adviser to the Obama campaign, told a public forum in Washington last week on transportation policy. “Infrastructure needs more investment. It is important, it is crumbling, and other countries are doing more than we are. We’ve got national issues we need to deal with, and transportation is the critical tool for doing that.”

He said the Obama camp has “a vision” for the next highway bill. “It should be a much better bill than the last couple. It shouldn’t have so many earmarks in it,” Downey said.

At the same forum, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser to the McCain campaign, said the spending priorities are critical. “There is no area where earmarking has been more visible than in highway bills. We have to get more bang for the buck.”

Downey said the economy will make transportation programs more important. Obama favors, he said, “an economic recovery measure that would have infrastructure and get people working on, hopefully, small projects that would roll out quickly.”

After the jump, the Shipper looks at how the next admin might try to finance the 2009 federal funding package, and what the US Department of Transportation could look like under each.

Read more...
12 Comments

Newt Gingrich: I Vant to Suck Your Oil

newt.jpgBefore the financial meltdown severely undercut John McCain's presidential ambitions, his campaign was giddy over the apparent success of its energy policy message: Drill, baby, drill!

It is, after all, a simple sounding solution that appeals to politicians in love with the quick fix, oil companies desperate for access to new sources, and auto-dependent Americans, many of whom now find themselves stranded in far-off suburbs, trapped in expensive car commutes and completely lacking freedom of choice when it comes to transportation. No matter that drilling here and drilling now isn't going to do much of anything to reduce gasoline prices or wean Americans from their crushing oil dependence. 

If you're curious about the masterminds behind the message, head over to Newt Gingrich's "tri-partisan" American Solutions web site. There, you can download "The New Language of Smart Energy," a 42-page talking points memo from Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz handily sums up his findings as "The 10 Communications Commandments for 2008." Not surprising, given the buckets of fossil fuel money behind Gingrich's American Solutions, the Commandments can pretty much be summed up as "Thou Shalt Drill. Thou Shalt Drill Here. Thou Shalt Drill Now."

Here, courtesy of Frank and Newt, is some of the messaging that oil companies are using to maintain their grip on U.S. energy policy and get to those environmentally-sensitive leases. Mock and ignore them at your own peril.

Read more...
2 Comments

Ask the Candidates to Talk Transportation at Tomorrow’s Debate

debate.jpg
Insert new question here.

We've noted throughout this election season that transportation policy is something of a third rail in presidential politics. Gas prices and auto industry jobs are irresistible fodder for campaign promises, but even the candidate who has decent ideas about rail travel and bike infrastructure doesn't mention transit on the stump. (The other one doesn't have much to say in the first place.)

If you want topics like intercity rail and federal support for transit projects to get more attention on the national stage, the place to go is the Transportation for America website. T4A is currently collecting signatures calling on Obama and -- suspend your disbelief -- McCain to address the future of the U.S. transportation system at the final presidential debate Wednesday night. Sign on by 1:00 p.m. tomorrow and your petition will be delivered to campaign representatives before the debate.

Wondering how to make the case for transit to a national audience? T4A policy director Mariia Zimmerman puts it in compelling dollars-and-cents terms in this piece, "Reinventing American Transportation," which accompanies the Blueprint for America series on PBS. (Excerpt after the jump.)

Read more...
9 Comments

If the Candidates Were Trains…

cantrains.jpg


Image via Caroline McCarthy

5 Comments

Where They Stand: Obama and McCain on Transportation

2887816920_248097e966_o.jpgWith a few hours to go until what will be the season's first presidential debate, we're looking over a report from the Brookings Institution, which outlines each candidate's positions on transportation.

The six-page report [PDF] holds few if any surprises for Streetsbloggers, but it nicely highlights respective statements from McCain and Obama on topics like federal spending, road pricing and public transportation, with links to source materials.

One category in particular caught our attention: "Smart Growth Considerations," from page five.

"Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. As president, Obama will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities." –BarackObama.com

"McCain hasn't released a formal policy identified as targeting urban issues." –WSJ.com

While it's true that much of "heartland" America still couldn't care less about bike lanes and sidewalks, as we've seen, livable streets issues are pushing further into the mainstream. Whether those issues, and the often starkly differing views held by the candidates, will emerge as part of the national discussion over the next five weeks remains to be seen.

As confirmed in many respects by the Brookings breakdown, one thing is a near certainty: the composition of next year's federal funding package will vary dramatically based on who takes the White House.

Photo: Chesi - Fotos CC/Flickr

7 Comments

From Denver: Dems Discuss Funding Woes; Biden Says “Amtrak”

bidenAP.jpgLast night saw what might one day qualify as an historic moment in transportation circles, as vice presidential candidate Joe Biden used the "A"-word during his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. From a transcript of Biden's address, via CNN:

You know, John McCain is my friend. And I know you hear that phrase used all the time in politics. I mean it. John McCain is my friend.

We've traveled the world together. It's a friendship that goes beyond politics. And the personal courage and heroism demonstrated by John still amazes me.

But I profoundly disagree with the direction John wants to take this country, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Amtrak to veterans.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, a panel of Democratic pols and economists seemed to agree that new investment in American infrastructure -- including freight and commuter rail -- is sorely needed, but came up short on the subject of funding. Roll Call reports:

They all expressed the need for a private-public partnership, but the question of where to raise federal funding caused anxiety among the elected officials.

One key issue was that the current system for infrastructure funding, implemented in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, relies on gas taxes for revenue. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called any attempt by Congress to raise the gas tax “dead on arrival.”

But Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) said that with or without the gas tax something had to be done to bridge the funding gap, noting that the $1.6 trillion cited by the ASCE report would only cover maintenance, not new projects.

“When I became governor I had to raise $2.4 billion in taxes,” Rendell said. “When re-election came around — people aren’t stupid — one incumbent lost and she voted against the tax increase.

“This is the time we have to challenge the American people. Folks, you get what you pay for.”

Photo: Associated Press via CNN