Federal Transportation Policy Off to a Fast Start in 2014

Margo PedrosoWhile we are only three weeks into 2014, there have already been several signs that transportation will be on the front burner this year with Congress and the federal government.

First, this week Congress has passed an “omnibus appropriations” bill that funds all government agencies and programs for fiscal year 2014.  After the government shutdown this fall, Congress was able to work together in bipartisan fashion to resolve spending levels. Specific to transportation:

  • Spending levels were set at the level projected by the MAP-21 transportation bill, which means that the Transportation Alternatives program which funds Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking will receive approximately $820 million in FY14.
  • Congress provided increased spending for the TIGER program ($600 million), which funds multi-modal projects through a competitive process run by USDOT, many of which have benefited bicycling and walking.
  • We are concerned by the elimination of funding for the Community Transformation grants (CTG), which have supported a lot of work on active transportation around the country.  Congress did instead create a new similar, but smaller, grant program called Community Prevention Grants. Approximately $80 million will be available for multi-sector partnerships to improve health.  In a change from CTG, which funded health agencies, school districts and transportation agencies will be available to compete for funds. 
  • Congress provided $2.2 million to the CDC’s Built Environment program. While the funding level is small, the built environment program has a big impact in ensuring that the CDC recognizes and supports the linkages between people’s health and their built environment. 

Second, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held its first hearing on the reauthorization of MAP-21, which expires in September 2014.  While it was a high-level hearing focused on the need to invest in infrastructure, Chairman Shuster (R-PA) announced at the hearing that he wants to have a bill completed in the House by August. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership will be advocating that Congress make improvements to the Transportation Alternatives program, address the rising rates of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities, improve data collection, and implement policies that make transportation healthy and equitable.

Third, USDOT Secretary Foxx announced his transportation priorities this week while speaking at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting. He spoke about the importance of identifying a long-term funding solution quickly, as USDOT estimates show that surface transportation funding will run out in September, before the MAP-21 expiration date. One of his four key priorities is to increase the focus on safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. 

Finally, in the past month, two key USDOT leaders announced their resignations: Polly Trottenberg, USDOT Under Secretary for Policy, and USDOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari.  Both have been allies to multi-modal transportation and to bicycling and walking specifically, so their departures are a loss.  Fortunately, two new staff have been added to the USDOT senior leadership that demonstrate that Secretary Foxx values bicycling and walking.  Barbara McCann, formerly of the National Complete Streets Coalition, will head up strategic planning in the Secretary’s policy office, and Peter Rogoff will move from the Federal Transit Administration to take over Polly Trottenberg’s position. Rogoff has implemented bike-friendly policies while at FTA.