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House Bill Delayed, But Transit, Biking, and Walking Aren’t Safe Yet

12:58 PM EST on February 22, 2012

Congress is in recess, and the House's atrocious transportation bill has been dismembered and delayed, but if you want to preserve funding for transit and active transportation, don't let your guard down yet. There's still plenty to watch out for as the House and Senate attempt to reauthorize federal transportation programs. As we've reported, there are some stark differences between the House and Senate bills. But what is scariest may be their similarities.

When two companion pieces of legislation pass their respective chambers, they are combined by a conference committee. The committee is made up of members of both the House and the Senate, and it is their job to resolve differences between the two bills. (Most recently, a conference committee forged a compromise on extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance.)

Committee members are limited in that for each provision, they must choose either one chamber's version or the other's -- they generally do not have the power to come up with something new on the spot. Furthermore, if the two bills agree on something, that provision can't be altered by the conference committee.

There are already good chunks of the House and Senate bill that are the same -- eliminating dedicated bike-ped funding, for instance. The House bill admittedly goes much further than the Senate's, but if the two bills were to be conferenced right now, Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails would all be history. The committee would then have to choose how to weaken those programs: eliminate them altogether, like the House bill, or keep them eligible under Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program but let states opt out of them. Another critical choice: fund CMAQ from the Highway Trust Fund, as in the Senate bill, or fund it from the the smoke-and-mirrors "alternative transportation account" envisioned in the House bill.

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