House Will Consider Transportation Spending Bill with Many Major Flaws; Petri will Offer Enhancements Amendment

TEA-21 has determined the federal government's transportation policy for the past 6 years. It is set to expire on September 30th, 2003. Because re-authorization of TEA-21 is far behind schedule in both houses of Congress, the opportunity presented itself for members of the House Appropriations Committee to put forward a transportation bill for 2004 that runs counter to federal transportation policy as embodied in TEA-21 (and which will almost certainly be continued in the TEA-21 re-authorization).

Here is SmartGrowthAmerica's summary of the current situation:
Just before the August recess, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill to fund transportation programs in FY04 that would maintain current transit spending levels, cut Amtrak, and end the Transportation Enhancements and Transportation and Community and System Preservation (TCSP) programs--all while increasing highway funding by $4.5 billion over the President's request and $6.1 billion over the FY03 guaranteed amount.

The Enhancements program is the main source of funding for streetscapes, traffic calming, bike paths, and other pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-friendly projects. In the transportation appropriations bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee, language was included that permits states to utilize Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds for Enhancement-type activities; however, it ends the 10% set aside included in current law.  However, Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines, has agreed to offer an amendment to restore the Enhancements set-aside.  This is very good news and a clear indication to other Republicans that supporting the Enhancements program is important to one of the chief authors of the reauthorization bill.

In the transportation spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee also cut all funding for TCSP, a modest but very popular program that supports the coordination of transportation and land use planning.  The House remains very hostile to coordinating transportation and land use planning, even in the face of mounting evidence that it not only promotes more livable communities but also saves considerable amounts of taxpayer dollars.

The committee did restore some of the needed funding for Amtrak.  The bill marked up by the Transportation Subcommittee had funded Amtrak at only $580 million--$320 million below the Administration's request, far below the $2 billion authorized by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and according to Amtrak too low to even fund a shut down.  The bill passed by the full committee increased the funding level to $900 million--which is still considerably lower than the funding requested by Amtrak--and required the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure sufficient funds for commuter operations.

The House of Representatives is expected to consider the FY04 transportation spending bill during the second week of September, and the Senate Appropriations Committee could take up its version of the bill as soon as the following week.