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Barbara Boxer

No Commitment to Bike-Ped Funding in Senate Transpo Bill Outline

The Senate EPW Committee just posted a transportation bill outline on their website, and despite previous assurances by committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA), there appears to be no dedicated funding for bicycling and pedestrian programs in the bill. The outline focuses on the consolidation of programs and streamlining project delivery, much like the House bill. The performance measures mentioned in the outline – while not necessarily a comprehensive list - don’t include emissions reductions, undoubtedly at the insistence of climate-denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the committee.

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The outline confirms that the Senate is working on a two-year bill but does not include the dollar amount. “Consolidation” is the name of the game these days and the Senate plays along, making seven core surface transportation programs into five, including a new Transportation Mobility Program, which "sub-allocates" some funds to metropolitan areas, and a National Freight Program, which proponents of multi-modalism have long pushed for.

It preserves the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which has funded some bike and pedestrian projects. Transportation Enhancements, another major way such projects are funded, will probably now be absorbed under CMAQ. It’s unclear whether the Recreational Trails program would move to CMAQ as well. But there are no explicit guarantees to actually set aside funds for these bike-ped programs, and how funding levels will shake out in the final analysis is anybody’s guess.

Like the House, the Senate bill offers states “the flexibility to fund these activities as they see fit” – which amounts to a revocation of the federal commitment to funding this work. Many states, absent a federal mandate, will spend virtually nothing on bike/ped infrastructure.

Bicycling advocates had asked for dedicated funding that doesn’t pit them against road projects, the same funding proportion as they had in SAFETEA-LU, and changes to Safe Routes to School. None of those features appear to be in this bill.

"It’s hard to know without seeing the details, but at first blush it doesn’t look good for bike and pedestrian issues," said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. "Perhaps it’s to be expected that there’s nothing upfront in the language about protecting dedicated funding, given that it was a topic of some contention among the protagonists. But it’s pretty troubling to see no reference to any of the issues that affect cyclists and pedestrians – nothing about complete streets, nothing about dedicated funding."

The Senate bill expands and modifies the TIFIA loan program, as does the House bill, and does not mention an infrastructure bank. Boxer indicated in the fall that she was more friendly to an expansion of TIFIA than to a new entity, though more recently she has said that she supported the inclusion of an infrastructure bank in the bill.

On performance outcomes, the outline says:

MAP-21 focuses the highway program on key outcomes, such as reducing fatalities, improving bridges, fixing roads, and reducing congestion, in order to ensure that taxpayers are receiving the most for their money. States will set their own targets for improving safety, road and bridge condition, congestion, and freight movement.

Probably one of the greatest disappointments in the bill – or at least this outline – is the omission of emissions reductions as one of those performance goals. To set that as a national priority would elevate the importance of transit and active transportation programs. The emphasis here rests squarely with roads.

“Improving bridges” and “fixing roads” don’t really sound like performance outcomes, and bicycling advocates fear that, while safety is an essential goal, the fact that there are about 60 times more car fatalities per year than bike fatalities will translate into a far greater focus on car safety than bicycle safety.

By contrast, the Bipartisan Policy Center has suggested setting national transportation goals such as economic growth, metropolitan accessibility, energy security and environmental protection.

The bill does seek to improve state and metro planning processes “to incorporate a more comprehensive performance-based approach to decision making.”

The Banking Committee has not yet inserted its transit language, nor has the Commerce Committee come forward with its rail language, so this outline doesn’t say anything about those elements.

We understand that the full bill has not even been circulated to Democratic committee members yet, indicating that, despite the false hopes of last week, a formal bill introduction is not yet on the horizon. The committee is holding a hearing this Thursday on “issues” for the reauthorization – a very general topic that would indicate that committee members are still gathering input, not debating an actual bill.

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