(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)
US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has sent his new transportation bill to Congress. The “Grow America Act” is the latest sign that Congress and the Obama Administration are getting serious about addressing our nation’s infrastructure problems as the Highway Trust Fund edges closer to bankruptcy this summer.
In a statement released today, Sec. Foxx said, “I visited eight states and 13 cities as part of my Invest in America, Commit to the Future bus tour this month and everywhere I went, I heard the same thing – people want more transportation options and better roads and bridges to get them where they need to go. Failing to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs out is unacceptable – and unaffordable.”
The four-year, $302 billion bill would address infrastructure maintenance, improve safety programs and investment, boost rail transit, and more. To pay for the investments, the bill relies on “pro-growth business tax reforms.”
it easier to push Safe Routes projects
through.(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
One key set of reforms Republicans fought for in the transportation bill was to ease environmental and other regulations in order to hasten project delivery. For active transportation and environmental advocates, this is a scary thought because it conjures up images of massive new highways and bridges running roughshod over wetlands, natural areas, and sustainable planning practices. While the project delivery provisions in the new bill are not as earth-friendly as those advocates had hoped, they could end up being a boon for bicycling — especially for projects carried out as part of the Safe Routes to School program.
From early on, House Republicans made it clear that cutting back on red tape and regulations on big highway projects was a top priority. Back in February 2011, when House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) held a “listening session” in Vancouver, he got an earful from state DOT and public works staff about “extremely onerous” regulations holding up their projects.
Congress officially passed a new, two-year transportation bill today. As I shared yesterday, it’s regarded by active transportation advocates as being downright bad. Even Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who was on the conference committee that hashed out the final bill, calls its passage “strangely anti-climactic” (I spoke with Congressman Blumenauer today and will share his candid take on the bill in a separate story).
For their part, the Oregon Department of Transportation has wasted no time in parsing the numbers to see where their programs and funding levels stand with the new bill. ODOT’s role in doling out federal transportation funds has become heightened because a major theme of the new bill is that it gives more control of the pursestrings to states. For instance, a full one-half of the total amount of money in a new program dubbed “Transportation Alternatives” (about $307 million per year nationwide) will be doled out through a competitive grant program. (States can also decide to spend that chunk on other things, although given ODOT’s track record and trajectory of respect toward active transportation, it’s unlikely they would take part in that sneaky “opt-out” provision.)
“The bill ultimately looks and feels like what it is: A stopgap that is the last gasp of a spent 20th century program. It doesn’t begin to address the needs of a changing America in the 21st century.”
— Transportation For America
It’s over 1,000 days late; but instead of relief and smiles, active transportation advocates are reacting with horror and gloom to the new federal transportation bill that emerged from a House and Senate conference committee late last night.
Details of the 599 page bill are still being analyzed, but advocates from Portland and around the nation have seen enough: They are extremely disappointed with what they have to show for years of member email blasts and bike summits. Nearly every major national bike advocacy group, as well as Portland’s own Bicycle Transportation Alliance, have already published statements of opposition to the new bill.
The bill, “Reverses years of progress on biking and walking policy,” says America Bikes. “A bad bill for bicycling,” reads a League of American Bicyclists’ headline. The Rails to Trails Conservancy says the bill is, “Bad news for America.”
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.
It’s been a very long and winding road for the federal transportation bill. And while it looks like the end is finally in sight, there is still some nail-biting ahead.
The law that dictates how the federal government funds transportation expired over 900 days ago and has survived on extensions ever since. With the Highway Trust Fund facing bankruptcy by fall of 2013, and with idle construction workers waiting to build projects, the House and the Senate finally got their acts together and in over the past few months, both chambers have worked on their own versions of a new bill.
The bill that Republicans attempted to pass out of the House — but failed in doing so — was extremely bad. It scrapped decades of programs and funding for bicycling and walking and it included provisions to pay for new highways with domestic oil drilling. It was even too extreme for some Republicans. Fortunately, the Senate’s bill, which they passed, turned out to be much more palatable. While it wasn’t a slam dunk for biking, most prominent advocates considered it worth fighting for.
“Terrible”, “horrible”, “worst ever”, “disaster”, “defective” — these are just some of the terms that high-profile media outlets and top-ranking officials have used to describe the House transportation bill (H.R. 7, full text here as PDF).
Realizing that the bill is so far off base that no amount of amendments would help, national transportation advocacy groups have launched a coordinated attack to kill the bill.
Transportation for America, the League of American Bicyclists, the Rails to Trails Conservancy, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and hundreds of local and regional bike and transit advocacy organizations across the country have launched an attack against the bill, starting today with a national effort to flood Congressional offices with telephone calls voicing outrage.
on bicycling lightly.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
As arguably the most bike and transit-sensitive member of the U.S. Congress, Earl Blumenauer has had a trying week.
Yesterday, the widely-maligned House transportation bill, a bill that eliminates the Safe Routes to School program and basically strips out all of the pro-bike provisions, moved through a marathon hearing and was passed out of committee this morning. Also this morning, Blumenauer saw the House Ways and Means committee debate — and then pass — a bill that severs the 30-year link between gas tax revenue and transit funding.