Federal transportation bill: What are the problems with the Senate bill, what is being done to address them?

Congress is working this week to pass a bill that will set federal transportation policy and funding for the next six years.  Different versions of the bill are making headway in both houses of Congress. Both versions are likely to come to a final vote next week.

In this article, we'll tackle the Senate bill, known as MAP-21, and in a separate article, the House bill.

Missouri delegation at the National Bike  summit
Missouri delegation at the National Bike summit

The Senate bill
In a separate article, we outlined the situation with the House bill--a bill so bad that over 600 organizations have called for it to be killed.

The good news is, the Senate bill is far, far better.  The bill is the result of bi-partisan negotiations, mostly among leadership of the Senate committees.  The result is a bill that doesn't make anyone completely happy, but at least addresses issues and concerns from all sides of the political spectrum.

The bill, known as MAP-21, still has some very serious problems in the way it treats bicycle and pedestrian programs. It weakens walking and biking programs, by mixing this funding together with programs requiring far, far more annual funding without creating protection for the far smaller bicycle and pedestrian funding, and allocates less funding for these programs than in previous years.

The result is that the Senate’s transportation bill, as currently written, removes dedicated funding for walking and biking.  In addition, it allows state DOTs to opt-out of safe street programs under circumstances that are incredibly common in all federal funding programs.

Senators Cardin (D-Maryland) and Cochran (R-Mississippi) have introduced an amendment to fix the worst problems in MAP-21.  Vote on this amendment may happen as soon as Monday, February 13th.

The Cardin/Cochran Amendment
The Cardin/Cochran amendment is a bipartisan amendment to guarantee local governments a voice in transportation decisions and allow them to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that keep people safe.  The "Cardin-Cochran" amendment ensures local governments can fund walking and biking infrastructure.
 
The League of American Bicyclists summarized the amendment this way:
  • Local governments deserve a voice in transportation. The Cardin-Cochran amendment ensures that cities and counties have a voice in making transportation decisions for safer streets in their communities.
     
  • Safety matters. Bicycle and pedestrian deaths make up 14% of all traffic fatalities, but only 1.5% of federal funds go towards making walking and biking safer. These programs provide funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that make streets safe for all users.
     
  • Active transportation is a wise investment. Walking and biking infrastructure is low-cost, creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, and is critical to economic development for main street America.

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