We mentioned it briefly last week, but the amendment to the Senate transportation bill from Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin and Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran is a critical one to track. The amendment would give local governments, rather than state DOTs, access to most federal bike-ped funding.
The way the Senate transportation bill, MAP-21, is currently written, all funding for complete streets programs is funneled to state DOTs, and for many cities and towns this could mean losing access to funds that make streets safer.
The Cardin-Cochran Amendment would instead direct the funding to what are known as "Tier 1 Metropolitan Planning Organizations" -- agencies that help decide how to spend federal transportation dollars in regions larger than 1 million people. In states that have no MPOs serving areas larger than 1 million residents, state DOTs would distribute the money directly to local communities through a grant process.
Cochran told Streetsblog the measure would protect local communities from missing out on important funds: “Our amendment would ensure that communities continue to have access to federal resources to implement transportation improvements that are meaningful to public safety, economic development and quality of life at the local level,” he said.
Meanwhile, Melody Moody of Bike Walk Mississippi has been running a local letter writing campaign to thank Senator Cochran for his support. More than most states, Mississippi, which suffers from the nation's most acute obesity problem, needs to provide opportunities for active transportation.
"Two of the main issues in Mississippi are economic development and health," Moody said. "To me, biking and walking are two of the best tools, that can be accessed by anyone of any race or class, and really have a big impact."
Moody cited the Longleaf Trace multi-use trail, recipient of $4.5 million in Transportation Enhancements funding, for helping boost the bicycling economy in Hattiesburg. Meanwhile, the state capital, Jackson, is preparing to build its first trail system.
Moody said Bike Walk Mississippi is now campaigning to win Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker's support as well. They are hoping he'll see the value in letting communities set their own priorities.
"It's about what’s best on the local level," Moody said. "It may not be about biking and walking necessarily, but at least let the communities make the decision."
The amendment would not restore dedicated funds for biking and walking, which Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the Senate EPW committee, negotiated out of the bill. But it would give local transportation agencies the chance to prove Inhofe missed the mark when he claimed that Oklahoma and other states would prefer not to devote any money to biking and walking.
Caron Whitaker of America Bikes says that many places in Inhofe's home state would invest in safer streets, if given the resources. "Let's see what Oklahoma City wants to do," she said. "Let's see what Tulsa wants to do. Both of them have invested significantly in biking and walking."
Whitaker said she expects amendment to come up for vote the week of February 27.