WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN) Feb 1, 13:58 MT—The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) unveiled a new transportation bill Tuesday, sending shock waves through bike advocate groups who say that it emphasizes spending on construction of new highways while eliminating dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7) authorizes $260 billion in funding over the next five years for highway, transit and highway safety programs.
As drafted, the 847-page bill consolidates or eliminates 70 programs that are “duplicative or don’t serve a federal purpose.” Among the programs that it would cut is the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program and Safe Routes to School.
The Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program provided $25 million grants to four communities for sidewalks, bicycle lanes and pedestrian and bicycle trails with a goal to demonstrate how these networks can increase the rates of biking and walking while decreasing congestion and energy usage.
Safe Routes to School, introduced in the SAFETEA-LU bill—the previous federal bill that authorized transportation spending for 2005-2009, created safe ways for kids to walk and bike to school.
The bill also effectively cuts the federal Transportation Enhancements program, leaving spending on bike and pedestrian facilities completely up to states. And state Departments of Transportation will no longer be required to have a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator on staff to ensure bike and pedestrian access on new construction projects.
One positive note, the bill does maintain the current level of funding for Recreational Trails at $85 million per year through 2016.
Still, Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said the proposed bill reverses 20 years of progress made to include cycling and walking in the country’s transportation plan. In a video on the League’s website, he lists the top 10 reasons why it’s unfavorable for cycling and walking.
“We were expecting the funding would be under attack but were surprised at how carefully they want to take bike/ped out of the bill altogether,” Clarke said. “There were sections of the bill that we didn’t know they knew existed. They’ve gone out of their way to attack the bike/ped portions.”
The previous long-term law authorizing federal surface transportation programs expired in September 2009. Since then, Congress has passed eight short-term extensions.
The bill will be marked up by the Transportation and Infrastructure committee Thursday. Advocates are encouraging members of their organizations to contact their representatives to gain their support for an amendment that will be introduced by Reps. Tom Petri (R-WI), Tim Johnson (R-IL), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL).
The amendment restores dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School in a consolidated Transportation Improvement Program. It also directs states to fund two full-time coordinators to administer the program.
But they will need to gain the backing of other committee members in order to advance the amendment to a committee vote.