Down But Not Out
The full Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously approved its bipartisan two-year highway reauthorization bill (S. 1813) today by an 18-0 vote. The bill, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (or MAP 21), as drafted will dramatically reduce the available funding for Transportation Enhancements (TE), the Rails to Trails Program (RTP) and Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) by consolidating them into the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund. Under the auspices of providing states “more flexibility” in dispersal of transportation funding, MAP 21 eliminates the 10 percent TE Program set-aside completely, and, by rolling it into the expanded CMAQ fund, places it in direct competition with not only the RTP and SR2S programs but also big-ticket highway projects for the same $900 million in provided funding. Further, the draft bill includes an ‘opt-out’ clause which permits states to refuse funding to any TE program if it sees fit, essentially encouraging them to sit on the funding until it decides to redirect it to other projects. These actions will be devastating to our efforts to improve the bicycling and walking infrastructure in the United States as well as to programs that support popular, healthy and cost-effective transportation.
Despite this setback, we must continue to urge our Senators to speak out and offer a corrective to the MAP 21 bill as it currently stands. Though Senate EPW Chairman Boxer effectively squelched any serious markups to the bill in order to retain bipartisan support (one sanitized package of amendments received a voice vote), several Senators referenced the amendments they were withdrawing during the meeting today. Two Senators who specifically spoke in favor of TE, RTP and SR2S were Sens. Merkley and Cardin, Chairman Boxer called those programs “the toughest, toughest areas of negotiations” but promised to keep working with both Senators to find resolution before the bill’s consideration on the Senate floor.
Although MAP 21, as it now stands, places TE, RTP and SR2S in its crosshairs, these programs are extremely popular with communities. It is imperative that park and recreation advocates convey to their elected officials the intrinsic value of TE funding to their community and their constituents IMMEDIATELY and to keep repeating the message. Speaking of value, did you know that a new HOV lane typically costs upward of $100 million per mile? Under the bill that passed through the Senate EPW Committee earlier today, the $900 million provided for CMAQ funding would be wiped out in just nine miles. How many miles of safe and accessible pedestrian and cycling pathways could $900 million buy instead?
By: Leslie Mozingo with The Ferguson Group