Inhofe Questions Transit and Bike-Ped Investments in House Transport Bill

The senior Republican on the Senate environment panel today criticized the House’s six-year transportation bill, lamenting that the measure "focus[es] very heavily on transit, bike paths, and sidewalks" and carves out a strong federal role in "decisions historically left to the state level."

Inhofe’s concerns, raised at the latest in the environment committee’s series of hearings aimed at marshaling consensus for a new long-term transport bill, suggest that the increased transit, bike-ped, and urban policy investments envisioned by the House measure could face resistance from rural senators who fear less of a federal emphasis on roads.

"We cannot grow the program in urban areas while ignoring the
rural component," Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said, describing rail and bike usage as "geographically and climatically prohibitive" in his state, currently the nation’s least-populated.

Environment committee chief Barbara Boxer (D-CA) assured Barrasso that "I don’t look at writing this bill as rural versus urban." Yet the House legislation offered by transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) would direct significant funding to urban infrastructure needs through a new metropolitan mobility program, a prospect that appeared to unsettle rural lawmakers.

"I don’t feel like transit is a great option in our rural areas," said Oklahoma state senator Bryce Marlatt, an invited witness. After Inhofe questioned the Oberstar framework’s emphasis on bike-ped and transit spending, Marlatt warned that the House plan could prevent rural areas from joining "the global economy" by boosting road spending.

Alternative perspectives were offered by John Robert Smith, president of the transit advocacy group Reconnecting America, and Scott Haggerty, a supervisor in California’s Alameda County who appeared on behalf of the National Association of Counties (NACo).

Smith told senators that the green-transport and land-use grants offered by the Obama administration’s multi-agency sustainability office should be open to cities with populations of 50,000 or below, giving rural areas more of an opportunity to compete for federal aid.

Haggerty, for his part, noted that the "overwhelming majority of congestion comes in metro areas" and advised that any project getting funding from Oberstar’s proposed urban mobility program should be able to document its benefits for commuters.

Even as the rural-urban debate unfolded, senators sought to steer the hearing towards the fundamental issue stalling progress on a replacement for the 2005 federal transportation law: how to pay for it.

"In terms of infrastructure, our roads and bridges are not getting any better if we neglect them," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said. "We’re going to have to address this problem one way or another; we might as well do it and create jobs."

Asked for their thoughts on transportation financing, Haggerty said NACo would back a gas-tax increase — an option ruled out by the White House for the foreseeable future — and Smith cited a poll commissioned by Transportation for America that found public support for more infrastructure spending, provided that it was approved in a transparent fashion.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The senior Republican on the Senate environment panel today criticized the House’s six-year transportation bill, lamenting that the measure “focus[es] very heavily on transit, bike paths, and sidewalks” and carves out a strong federal role in “decisions historically left to the state level.'”

    I’m with you Senator Inhofe. How about elimiting ALL federal infrastructure investment, including your roads, in exchange (say) for the federal government taking full responsiblity for Medicaid? And if the state share of Medicaid is greater than federal transport aids to state, throw in the elimination of business subsidies such as federal support for agriculture, and get the government out of housing.

    Or is it the case that federal money for Oklahoma’s needs is a national priority, and federal money for New York’s needs is only a national priority when Wall Street needs a bailout.

  • Bolwerk

    At least for sake of political rhetoric, someone must to convey to rural representatives that urban transit helps them too. If it actually does succeed in cutting congestion, it will cut fuel use – which could mean lower fuel prices for rural areas (or at least prices rising less quickly).

  • MAT

    Gotta love Republicans. The more they talk, the crazier they sound. Especially the ones from Oklahoma.

  • Erik G.

    Funny how Colorado has the same climate as Wyoming, is not as flat as Wyoming and yet, has a strong biking culture!

    Wonder how that came about Dr. Barrasso? Is he, as an MD, aware of the obesity crisis?

  • The trolls oppose even crumbs for transit and bikes. This exposes how panicky the fossil-fuel/autosprawl industry is about even the slightest threat. When it sinks in to the general public that their system survives only by subsidy and is otherwise economically and environmentally unsustainable, they will be swept from the stage of history.

  • “Alternative perspectives were offered by John Robert Smith, president of the transit advocacy group Reconnecting America, and Scott Haggerty, a supervisor in California’s Alameda County who appeared on behalf of the National Association of Counties (NACo).”

    For the benefit of those who never heard of Scott Haggerty, he is a real cretin:

    For years, Haggerty has been trying to pass a county ordinance requiring bicyclists get _parade permits_ in order to ride on county roads. He has also gotten the CHP and county sheriff to arrest and harass law-abiding cyclists riding county roads.

  • ZA

    It kindda makes you wonder how they ever manage to move all those churches around on flatbeds without broader federal highways.

    Mendacity, thy name is Inhofe.

  • JamesR

    When will the Senators and Congressman from rural states realize that it isn’t always about them? The parts of the nation where the majority people actually live, i.e. the densely populated coasts, would stand to benefit greatly from a transportation bill focusing on transit and non-motorized transportation. Why must the politicians from the low density states always be so damned selfish? Our hated metro areas and urban centers literally subsidize their rural highway development, yet we never manage to hammer on this point enough when the chips are down. Where is the sense of common good?

  • Brando

    I’m with you all, except JamesR.

    “The parts of the nation where the majority people actually live, i.e. the densely populated coasts”

    Why must you bring your coastal elitism into this debate? Particularly since what you say is untrue! Take a look at this pie chart:

    Do most people live on the coasts? NO! Are there plenty of urban areas away from the coasts? YES!

    The fact is, most of the population of the country does live in or near a city, but most of the population does not live on one of the coasts. True, the most densely populated states are on the east coast (largely due to their small size — California is big, so it falls way down the list), but not most of the population of the country.

    The urban areas away from the coast are just as likely to benefit from bike lanes and transit funds. Particularly since the east coast already has a nice transit system, and the west coast’s major cities are so very far apart, there are regions which could really benefit more than the coasts on transit spending, dollar for dollar. Observe:

    And of course any urban (or even suburban) areas can benefit greatly from improved bicycle infrastructure. You surely don’t need to be on the coast for that.

    So don’t make this a coastal state vs. inland state issue. Minneapolis, Denver, and Chicago are more forward-thinking than most coastal cities on these issues.

  • @Brando-

    It is, however, a rural vs. urban divide. One of the reasons our transport policy is so dysfunctional in this country is that, if the 25 least-populous states’ senators voted as a bloc, the representatives of a whopping 17% of our population would hold a majority in the Senate. A lot of those states are in the Midwest and mountain West, like Wyoming, the Dakotas, Utah, etc, and have no major urban centres to speak of. (Incidentally, if the Senate were suddenly apportioned by population, and Wyoming’s ratio of 2/500,000 were used, my mid-sized suburban city would get its own Senator. As it stands, we don’t even have our own Representative.)

    Speaking as a West Coaster, we often think of these things in terms of coastal vs. inland, because first off there is a real divide here in California (and I believe Oregon and Washington) in political and cultural values on a coastal vs. inland split; and secondly, inland from us is a whole lot of nothing. There’s so much of that desert and plain between us and the East that I think a lot of us kind of roll Chicago and St. Louis in with the East Coast because they’re all really, really damn far away.

  • Brando

    Justin N,

    I know it’s urban vs. rural; I think I kind of addressed that. But to think of the Midwest and South in the eastern half of the country as “coastal” obviously isn’t accurate. And certainly the East Coasters do not think that way.

    There are enough midsized-to-large cities that aren’t coastal that it’s not fair to generalize by equating ‘coastal’ with ‘urban’.

    I’m not sure where the line would be drawn on these lists for where transit infrastructure isn’t of much use, but probably about all of them could use bike infrastructure. The way JamesR was talking, he essentially made the following claim: because there is a high concentration of coastal cities at the top of those lists, the rest of the cities don’t need bike/transit infrastructure so much. He also made the obviously false claim that most of the American population is on the coasts.

    I’m not really trying to be argumentative, I am just trying to point out the air of “coastal elitism”, which is a very real phenomenon. I think it’s a form of provincialism/insularity. This is a bit ironic, because one of its tenets is that those from “flyover country” (<– more coastal elitism) are provincial/insular. So my point is, all you Right/Left Coasters, recognize that a lot of people in "flyover country" are just as progressive/sophisticated/pro-urban as you. These people even choose to live where they do, with full knowledge of there being a world outside.

    I say this as someone originally from the Midwest, relocated to NNJ, now attending grad school in Europe.

  • fanon

    Inhofe is the kind of guy I wouldn’t want around my children. I’m suprised he didn’t call it socialism to have good roads and transportation. Don’t be fooled though, good ole Inhofe wants him some federal money, he just wants it w/out any stipulations to build bike lanes for hippie-bikers.


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