Jun 292012

On Friday, Congress will did vote on a “compromise” transportation reauthorization bill that would does drastically cut funds provided to local jurisdictions for bike and pedestrian projects.  I assume regret to say that the bill will did pass.

According to America Bikes:

Congress will vote on a new transportation bill that reverses years of progress on biking and walking policy and cuts by 60 to 70 percent funding for local safety projects such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

There’s more from that synopsis hereHere is their detailed analysis.

Prior years’ transportation bills always included funding for “transportation enhancements”.  That’s funding provided by the federal government to the states who in turn are required to award it to local jurisdictions (counties, towns, etc.) for bike/ped projects among other things.  Maryland for example took the federal money and doled it out to local jurisdictions for projects it felt were the most worthwhile, requiring a 50% local match.  In Maryland the program has allowed local jurisdictions to make bike/ped improvements they otherwise probably wouldn’t make.  The Rock Creek Trail bridge over Veirs Mill Road was built with a huge contribution from this funding source.

So once again Congress is crafting a new transportation bill to cover the next several years.  First the House of Representatives approved a version of the bill that would strip out the enhancements funds.  The Senate however approved a version of the bill that contained a bipartisan amendment continuing the enhancements funding.  Things were looking up for awhile.

Well, Congress just completed the conferencing process on the bill (creating a single bill)  and oops, the thing has been stripped of half its enhancements funding.  Under the new bill, states would be allowed to “opt out” of half the enhancements funding and basically spend it however they want.  Even the remainder could be spent on things besides biking and walking.  It’s a real blow to biking and walking.  You can take it to the bank that many states (you know who you are) will always be able to find “something more important to do” with bike/ped money and will opt out.

If you can tolerate the conservative take, read this Heritage Foundation response.   For me it embodies everything wrong with conservatives as far as bike/ped priorities, the role of the federal government and rhetoric in general.  Apparently it’s just a flexibility thing with them, according to their response:

[Under the old bill] States are currently unable to fully set their transportation priorities, because the federal government dictates how they can spend portions of their money. Their limited resources are diverted from urgent infrastructure projects to so-called “enhancements,” such as flower plantings, bicycle and nature trails, and roadside transportation museums.  This bill would send 50 percent of the funds meant for these alternative transportation programs to the local level, and the rest would go to the state. States would have the ability of opting out of spending money on pedestrian and bike trails and safety-related infrastructure. With other projects eligible for this once-sacrosanct funding, states will have more control and freedom to meet their transportation needs without the micromanagement of Congress or federal bureaucrats.

I guess state bureaucrats are okay though.  I’m mystified as to why it’s inappropriate for the federal government to facilitate national priorities with the money it provides, like ensuring all parts of the country have walking and biking infrastructure so we can rely less on carbon-emitting cars.  Granted, the enhancements program has always allowed some pretty fluffy stuff in there, like visitor centers and what-not, but that’s certainly not the majority of the spending, even though opponents act like it is.  I gladly welcome congressional effort to eliminate that bathwater, but they want to throw out half the baby too.  Bike and pedestrian access isn’t “nature trails”.  It’s important transportation.

Oh, and the bill also eliminates the Safe Routes to School program.


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