The Long Strange Disappointing Transportation Trip

By Stacey Pine | Posted on June 28, 2012

After almost three years and nine extensions, the House and Senate have finally struck a deal that will likely result in Congress passing a bill by this Saturday – the day the bill is set to expire.  Unfortunately, many of the carefully crafted bi-partisan reforms and compromises included in the Senate passed bill (S. 1318 or MAP-21) have been removed. 


This includes:


  • Removing dedicated funding for programs such as the Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP),reversing more than 20 years of progress on active transportation options; and


  • Removing the Senate provision that provided $700 million in dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for each of the next two years and reauthorized the program through 2022 (currently due to expire in 2015).


The TE Program provides each state with funds for projects that enrich the transportation experience at the local level, and has been the largest source of funding for walking and biking projects over the last 20 years.  Current law requires that 10 percent of a state’s surface transportation law be set-aside for TE projects.  As a result, approximately $984 million is annually provided to states through the TE program and usually competed out to local communities. 


The original Senate bill removed this set-aside, and NRPA and other national organizations worked tirelessly to restore funding.  In the end, the Senate removed the set-aside, but provided dedicated funding for TE projects. The compromised bill, however, would not only eliminate the set-aside requirement, it would also permit governors to “opt-out” of spending federal transportation funding on TE, RTP, and Safe Routes to Schools projects. Governors can use the money designated for these programs for highway projects.  Because governors are no longer required to invest in these types of projects, we will likely see a significant decline in the capital construction of these projects which could negatively impact local economies. A study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute found that for each $1 million spent on bike lanes, approximately 14 jobs are created. Compare this to $1 million spent on road repair work that generated only about 7 jobs. 


Because funding for walking and biking projects is now an option, future state level advocacy will be vitally important.


Another disappointment is the removal of LWCF funding as part of the final conference deal made during the final hours of negotiations. The Senate version of the transportation bill had provided $700 million of dedicated funding for the LWCF over the next two years.  The House bill did not include the provision and Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA), a conferee, was particularly outspoken with avid opposition to the program remaining in the final bill.   In the end, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the conference chair, traded giving up the Senate’s LWCF provision for the removal of the House’s XL Pipeline and coal ash demands.


As tension mounted and there was increased pressure to pass this bill by June 30, Senate Democrats readily caved to the demands of House Republicans, thereby selling out alternative transportation, recreation, and conservation. The compromised bill is a $109 billion authorization, the same level as current law that will last through September 2014.


A glimmer of hope for trails funding, exists with the TIGER Grant Program.  


U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is committed and vocal with his support for non-motorized transportation, and during the recent TIGER IV grant awards, 12 percent of the $500 million awarded went to multimodal, bicycle and pedestrian projects. This program is separate from the transportation reauthorization and the battle for funding will have to be fought through the annual appropriations process.  For FY 13, which begins on October 1, 2012, the Senate has provided $500 million for the TIGER grant program, while the House has provided zero funding.  The two chambers will conference their respective bills, and we are hopeful the final negotiated transportation bill will include funding for the TIGER grant program.


Written by Stacey Pine, Vice President of Government Affairs