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States Already Licking Their Chops Over Newly “Flexible” Bike/Ped Funds

11:14 AM EDT on July 10, 2012

Just days after Congress passed a bill allowing states to spend funds supposedly designated for biking and walking on completely unrelated projects, transportation officials are already circling like vultures over that money.

An AP story from Covington, Kentucky on Sunday quotes several transportation officials and executives parroting the GOP line that transportation enhancements funding, as that pot of money used to be called, is used for "beautification."

Just to refresh folks' memory, here's the actual breakdown of how transportation enhancement grants were spent.

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As you can see, bicycle and pedestrian projects make up 63.2 percent of the TE pie. Even if you find every single other use of TE funds frivolous, you can't just pretend that this money doesn't primarily go to transportation projects that are good for people's health and the environment.

But opponents of investment in safer biking and walking do go on pretending. Brent Cooper, chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said he likes to compare infrastructure to teeth. "If your teeth are falling out, it does no good to whiten them," he said. "If roads and bridges are falling into the river, we need infrastructure, so in general it makes more sense to me to focus on the infrastructure than the beautification piece."

Nice analogy, but it doesn't work. Here's a better one: If your teeth are falling out, stop stuffing your face with candy and start brushing and flossing every day. If your infrastructure is in bad shape, stop getting distracted by shiny new projects and spend your money on repair. In no way are bike lanes to blame for states' infrastructure maintenance problems.

In the case highlighted by the AP, officials are eyeing that money for repairs to the Brent Spence Bridge -- which President Obama highlighted last year as his venue for a speech on infrastructure investment. As Obama himself said at the time, “It’s safe to drive on, but it was not designed to accommodate today’s traffic, which can stretch for a mile.” In other words, widening this bridge is like gorging on gum drops.

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