As Capitol Hill continues battles over budget priorities and how to best balance transportation priorities with the currently unsustainable Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Enhancements (TE) are already center stage in the debate. TE recently came under attack in the Senate when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered an amendment to prohibit the use of these funds for certain projects during a recent Senate floor debate on the current continuing resolution. Fortunately, Coburn's amendment did not pass. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been cleared to offer an amendment to eliminate the program during the upcoming Senate floor vote on the first round of combined appropriations bills (called mini-buses) when the Senate returns October 31.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has pledged to eliminate the current 10 percent set aside for TE and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly singled out TE as funding that should go to more pressing infrastructure needs. Others in opposition to continuing the program ask why states should be mandated to spend federal dollars on bike trails and landscaping when the nation is in an undisputable transportation crisis with crumbling roadways and collapsing bridges.
Conversely, the Administration’s U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican House Member, has cited on his blog the benefits of bicycle infrastructure, noting studies that argue pedestrian and bicycle projects create more jobs than road upgrades or resurfacing and the CDC’s report that 67 percent of Americans support street design that increases physical activity. He went on to say that these investments increase mobility and generate economic growth.
What some call bike paths, others are calling begonias. A treasured pedestrian walkway is being characterized as nothing more than roadside wildflowers. Proponents speak to the mere two percent of the highway budget actually spent on the program in Fiscal Year 2011, so elimination doesn’t really save anything or create any new huge pot of revenue to solve the nation’s transportation funding problems. Furthermore, advocates note the program’s contribution to a balanced transportation system that adds the additional benefits of safety, congestion mitigation, air quality, erosion control, physical activity and reducing dependence on foreign oil, just to name a few.
At a time when our nation needs to maximize our federal dollars, reduce obesity, minimize traffic congestion, and reduce our carbon footprint, while also creating jobs, how can we afford to not invest in trails? Have you posed this question to your member of Congress?
Leslie Mozingo, The Ferguson Group