The U.S. House and Senate today voted overwhelmingly to pass a combined bill covering transportation, student loans, and flood insurance.
The transportation portion of the bill will cover the next two years of federal transportation funding and comes nearly three years after the previous transportation bill expired.
House “wins,” we all lose
Earlier this year, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill called MAP-21 that would have streamlined programs and offered policy progress in a number of areas. While it wasn’t the transformational bill we—and many others—hoped for, it was a step in the right direction. The House, meanwhile, was unable to pass the hyper-partisan HR 7 bill or anything else except for a short-term extension that included a couple bad, non-germane energy provisions approving the Keystone XL pipeline and not allowing the EPA to protect the public from toxic coal ash.
After negotiations between the two bodies, the final transportation bill looks more like the bad House bill than the compromise Senate bill. The “win” for the Senate was that the final bill does not include the Keystone or coal ash provision—a win for sure, but on issues that aren’t related to transportation. The bill
- reduces funds that go directly to repairing and maintaining our current roads and eliminates a bridge repair program championed by Senator Franken,
- cuts funding for biking and walking projects by 60 to 70 percent and eliminates dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School programs that support kids walking and biking,
- eliminates the Senate’s Complete Streets provision to ensure that federal-funded projects are built to provide safe access for everyone,
- greatly weakens environmental review, which offered a chance for meaningful community input and consideration of the impact of big projects, and
- in general, gives more authority to state departments of transportation at the expense of local and regional governments.
All in all, the bill is a big step back toward a highways-only approach to transportation. It will undoubtedly lead to more highway expansion and fewer investments in transportation options, despite the growing number of people who want alternatives to driving. High gas prices, the looming climate crisis, our aging population, and many other factors have more and more of us demanding more options. The silver lining: it’s only a two-year bill, and it could have been worse. (The final bill doesn’t include terrible House ideas to slash transit funding and fund new roads with an expanded oil drilling Ponzi scheme.) Let’s hope policy makers don’t extend this bad bill as long as the last one.
Transportation for America (a huge national coalition that includes Fresh Energy): Conference Committee Deal a Step Backward From Current Transportation Policy
National Resources Defense Council: Congress Takes Up a Throwback Highway – Not Transportation – Bill
Transit for Livable Communities: Transportation Bill Rolls Back Progress