It appears the rumors about California Senator Barbara Boxer caving to Republican pressure are at least partially true: The final product of a conference committee drafting the next Federal transportation funding bill cuts spending on the Safe Routes to School program and Transportation Enhancements.
After two months of negotiations, Senate Democrats and House Republicans crafted a compromise transportation policy that will expire on September 30, 2014, surprising many observers (including myself) who expected Yet Another Six Month Funding Extension in this election year. A ban on earmarks (“pork”) imposed by Republican leadership in the 112th Congress made negotiations especially difficult.
The final bill guts funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs by more than 60%, according to the America Bikes Coalition. While 1% of Federal funds can be used by local governments for transportation enhancements, states can opt-out out completely and use the funds for highway projects. Dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School have been completely eliminated in the 599 page compromise bill. The bill also expands the definition of enhancements to include projects that can be used solely to increase highway capacity in the name of ’emissions reduction.’
Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) provided dedicated funding for projects to improve the walking and bicycling environment near schools, while Transportation Enhancements (TE) is a catchall program to “expand transportation choices and enhance the transportation experience.” TE includes highway beautification programs and rest stops, but TE has also been a significant funding source for pedestrian and bicycle facilities and programs. Safe Routes dedicated funding was eliminated and the scope of TE expanded under GOP demands for program consolidation to reduce costs, while overall program spending was also cut significantly. In other words, more programs are available under the TE program, while less money is available for all of those programs. Highway funding, in the meantime, increases even as vehicle miles traveled drops from historically high levels.
This final bill also retains this horrible mandatory sidepath rule that appeared in the original MAP-21 bill:
BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road unless the Secretary determines that the bicycle level of service on that roadway is rated B or higher.
This means that if any bike path is within 100 yards of a road under Federal agency management is available, that agency must prohibit bikes on the road. Roads under Federal management would be things like 11,000 miles of road maintained by the National Park Service; 380,000 miles of Forest Service roads; and 40,000 miles of Bureau of Land Management roads. Roads on military bases would also be included in this law. Roads under state or local control but built with Federal money do not have this Federal restriction. Attaining a Bicycle Level of Service of B or higher requires wide shoulders and wide lanes, excellent pavement conditions, and very low traffic volume. There’s absolutely no provision accounting for the safety or usability of the trail.
House Republicans dropped their demands for some of their more controversial requirements, such as Keystone XL pipeline approval and deregulation of toxic ash from power plants in exchange for concessions on bike project funding (in the name of “program consolidation) and environmental review requirements (which they call “project delivery acceleration”) for highway projects.
The transportation funding bill retains the name given by the Senate: “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21). MAP-21 replaces the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users” (SAFETEA-LU) bill that expired on September 30, 2009 and which has been continued with a series of short-term extensions. The latest SAFETEA-LU extension expires this Saturday, so the Senate and House are in a hurry to push this through before the entire American transportation funding system crashes to a halt.
One positive from MAP-21 is slightly more emphasis on road maintenance over just building more miles of freeway that they call the “National Highway Performance Program.” It dedicates a big chunk of money to fix roads and bridges. In spite of the ban on earmarks, some measures unrelated to transportation in the MAP-21 bill also include creation of a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund,
- The Hill: Bicyclists oppose ‘bad bill for biking and walking’ in highway funding compromise
- Streetsblog DC: Transpo Bill Cuts Bike/Ped Funding, Lets States Spend It on Left-Turn Lanes
- Rails 2 Trails Network: Transpo bill bad news for America. Via Streetsblog Network.
- League of American Bicyclists: A Bad Bill for Bicycling.
- Conference Committee statement and summary of MAP-21. [PDF]
- Complete text of the conference report. [PDF, 599 pages]