Members of the House and Senate have been working since April to hammer out an agreement on the transportation bill. When I checked in on the bill’s progress last month, advocates were fighting to lobby members of the conference committee (put together to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill) to keep key provisions and leave out others in.
Advocates hope to stave off a shift in how states access Transportation Enhancements money. The fear is that House Republicans will succeed in keeping provisions that make it very easy for states to opt-out of spending money on TE projects that would boost bicycling and walking and instead shift those to maintaining and building new roads and bridges. Other concerns are that key programs like Safe Routes to School and Recreation Trails (which funds natural surface trail and off-road bicycling projects) would be scrapped altogether.
With massive pressure to pass the bill by this weekend, legislators are rumored to be making all sorts of compromises. One provision pushed hard by House Republicans is to include an endorsement of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project in the bill. In order to keep that out of the bill, Senate leaders might have give up promises they’ve made to protect bicycling and walking funding.
On the whole, the outcome is not expected to be good for active transportation.
A few minutes ago, Politico transportation reporter Burgess Everett tweeted that Congressman and Conference Committee member Earl Blumenauer is already making his feelings known. Blumenauer told reporters he’d be “extremely disappointed” if the bill moved away from dedicated funding for bicycling and walking programs.
Also this morning, Politico reports that Republican House speaker John Boehner recently commented that the bill would include “significant reforms,” and would “streamline the regulatory process and allow us to focus our highway dollars on fixing America’s highways, not planting more flowers around the country.”
If you’re as cynical about Boehner’s perspective as I am, you might as well equate “flowers” with “bicycle paths.”
Expectations are that an agreement will be announced sometime this week. Or, if the conference committee can’t get everything figured out and voted on, they could, once again, give the bill a short-term extension or even extend the bill another six months and deal with it after the November elections.
For more details on what exactly has been going on, the most detailed breakdown I’ve read is from T4 America. They posted a thorough update this morning. Also check out the latest from Streetsblog DC and stay tuned for more coverage.