Amendment could help transpo bill, but it’s not a done deal yet – UPDATED

U.S. House T & I hearing-7
Republican House member Jamie
Herrera Beutler, who represents
southwest Washington, sits on the
House T & I Committee and
bike advocates want her support
of an amendment to
the transportation bill.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s the morning after the House transportation bill was unveiled, and it’s being viewed as an abomination by national bike advocacy groups.

Horrible” is how the League of American Bicyclists feels about it, and former House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Jim Oberstar told Politico this morning that the bill has been “hijacked” by “fringe policymakers.”

Opponents of the bill are now counting on an amendment expected to be put forward by congressmen Tom Petri (WI) and Tim Johnson (IL) — both of whom are Republican members of the House T & I Committee. But the amendment needs two other Republicans on the committee to join them if it has any chance of being passed.

According to a one-page summary (PDF here; the actual amendment isn’t expected to be introduced until 10:00 am tomorrow), the Petri/Johnson amendment would look to preserve funding for two of the key programs advocates are most concerned about: Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements.

Keeping with the theme of consolidation in the existing House bill, the amendment would meld those two programs into one and call it the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Here’s how it would work (from the one-pager):

For fiscal years 2013 through 2016, a state shall reserve from its federal apportionments an amount equal to the apportioned funding received in fiscal year 2012 for Safe Routes to Schools and the amount of STP funds set aside for transportation enhancements. States have flexibility to determine source of reserved funds from its various apportioned program funds.

States could choose which specific projects and programs within Safe Routes and TE they’d like to fund; except for “transportation museums,” or anything having to do with battlefields or “tourist and welcome centers.” Those revisions to the definition of what can be funded with TE money are included in the amendment to counter one of the main arguments against the program made by Republicans — that TE is nothing but a slush fund for frivolous projects.

The other major highlight of the amendment is that it would require states to fund two full-time coordinators to administer the transportation improvements program.

While the plan is to introduce this amendment tomorrow morning, sources say it needs two more Republican members of the House T & I committee to sign on. Without those two additional supporters, the amendment may never see the light of day — and with what is likely strong pushback from Republican leadership about inclusion of any program that could benefit bicycling — they’ll need to hear loud and clear that voters have their backs.

National advocacy groups like T4 America are urging action today and local advocates are turning their attention to Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler who represents Clark County and Southwest Washington. If you live in Vancouver, or anywhere in Beutler’s district, drop her a line and ask her to support the Petri Amendment.

UPDATE: This was just posted to the Rails to Trails Conservancy website:

Petri/Johnson/Lipinski amendment was filed moments ago. Keep the pressure up into the night! Mark-up begins at 9 a.m. Thursday morning. Act now!

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