6-year transportation funding bill in Congress: 2015 looks SO much better than 2012

As we reported Monday, the 6-year federal transportation bill has now passed the House, and the three anti-bike/ped/trails amendments were defeated.  The federal bill represents many billions of dollars of funding for transportation across the U.S.--about a billion dollars a year just for Missouri.

Visiting Missouri members of Congress in Washington, DC.
Visiting Missouri members of Congress in Washington, DC.

The federal transportation reauthorization bill is pass--in theory!--every six years and sets policies, priorities, and funding levels for federal transportation for the next six years.

We last went through this process in 2012.  How does 2015 compare with 2012?

2015 compared with 2012: Some major improvements and a far better outcome

Where are we now compared with 2012, when the last federal transportation reauthorization bill was passed?

In 2012:

  • It took Congress 4 years to pass a 2 year bill (reauthorization is supposed to last for six years)
     
  • The "uniquely terrible" House bill included dramatic cuts to/eliminate of transit, bicycle, and pedestrian funding. The proposal was so dramatic the House never was able to pass it.
     
  • The House bill and overall approach was so polarizing that House leadership--despite holding a majority of votes in the House--couldn't even hold enough votes of the their own party to pass the bill.  Most transportation bills pass by large bipartisan majorities--so this represented a major change.
     
  • Final result was a cut in TAP funding (main source of bike/ped/trails funding) of 1/3
     
  • Local control of bicycle/pedestrian funding and some other transportation funding was increased--a net positive
     
  • Several programs were combined, resulting in some net gains and losses: State Safe Routes To School programs were eliminated, though funding remained (at the 80% level instead of 100%), funding for bicycle & pedestrian safety education programs was eliminated.  More details here.

Altogether, it was a major victory just to retain major bicycle and pedestrian funding in the face of major opposition from several powerful members of House leadership. 

Bigger picture, there was a clear positive outcome of this very ugly process:  The attempt to portray bicycle and pedestrian programs as the next 'Bridge to Nowhere' failed miserably. Safe bicycling and walking is a bi-partisan issue.  After the 2012 attacks, opponents of bicycling and walking got a lot of blowback from consituents--and didn't have any real success in their attempts to cut programs.  Three years later, it is apparent they have learned that attacking a "mom and apple pie" issue like safe places to walk and bicycle is not a winner.

In 2015, we are looking at a much better situation:

  • Congress has taken just one year to pass a six-year reauthorization bill
     

  • They have found funding for all six years--though they have neglected to take the obvious approach and make some small increases to the fuel tax, which hasn't been raise in over 20 years now.  Instead they are using what amounts to a serious of accounting tricks.  The end result is that 'user fees' such as the fuel tax are covering only about 50% of federal transportation spending now.  The rest is covered by general funds and deficit spending
     

  • Bicycle and pedestrian funding continues at approximately current levels. One minor downside: They have placed a cap of bike/ped funding.  While most program funding will grow with inflation, TAP funding will remain fixed.
     

  • Continued trend towards local control and putting more decision-making power in the hands of local agencies rather than state DOTs.  Overall, this is a positive for those of us who support better planning for bicycling, walking, and transit.
     

  • Several important improvements:

    • For the first time, a national Complete Streets policy was passed by Congress--both chambers, so this should be in the final version
       

    • Vision Zero language
       

    • Increased emphasis on walking and bicycling in dedicated Safety Funding - states with higher than 15% bike/ped fatalities will be required to make bike/ped safety a priority issue
       

    • Some improvements that will allow smaller projects (like bike/ped projects) to use innovative financing techniques
       

    • The TIGER grant program--which has provided hundreds of innovative grants and encourages multi-modal transportation solutions--was preserved

At this point, the bill looks like a major improvement over the situation in 2012.  Several key issues still could swing either way as the bill moves to Conference Committee and the Senate and House hammer out any differences between their two versions. 

So stay tuned for the final results!

Thank you for reaching out to your elected leaders

And as always, thank you for contacting your elected representatives and asking for their support for bicycling and walking.  When you make that personal contact with your elected representatives, it really does make a difference.

 

Working to create a world-class bicycle and pedestrian network in Missouri and improving safety for all road users are two of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking.

Working to ensure a fair share of funding for walking and bicycling in all transportation funding initiatives--federal, state, and local--is an important part of making that Vision a reality.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support of MoBikeFed help us turn our Vision into reality!

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