Federal Transportation Bill Extended Again: Is It Groundhog’s Day?

Margo PedrosoIf you have been following our federal transportation updates for a while, this update may sound a bit like Groundhog’s Day.  Yet again, Congress has voted to extend the MAP-21 transportation law and yet again, lack of funding is the culprit. MAP-21 is the law that enables funding through the Transportation Alternatives Program for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking projects.

Since 2009, Congress has only been able to do dozens of short-term extensions combined with a two-year transportation law (MAP-21) rather than the traditional five- or six-year transportation law.  Last summer, Congress extended MAP-21 until May 2015, promising to find a funding solution, since the federal gas tax only generates about two-thirds of the funded needed to keep federal transportation spending at current levels.

With the clock ticking as that extension ran out, Congress couldn’t even reach agreement on a funding solution for the rest of the calendar year, which would have required around $11 billion.  So instead, at the last minute before Congress went home for the Memorial Day work period, they passed a two-month extension until the end of July. 

We could very well be heading to a make-or-break moment at the end of July.  During consideration of the extension, several transportation leaders—including Rep. Shuster (R-PA) and Hatch (R-UT)—already said that another extension through the end of year will be needed since they can’t solve the funding crisis in two months.  Yet, a number of other members of Congress said this was the last time they will vote for an extension—that Congress has had years to figure out a solution and it’s time for Congress to “act like men and women who were sent here to make tough decisions,” as Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) put it.  

With the backdrop of the looming July expiration date, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will consider a long-term transportation bill on June 24.  This is the ideal opportunity to make sure that our asks to strengthen the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), as outlined in S. 705, are included in the new bill.  If you haven’t let your Senators know about your support for TAP, please take a few minutes to weigh in.

Your voice is essential to counter opponents like those highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial that argue that spending on bicycling, walking and transit is wasteful and that gas tax money should be spent only on highways.  Arguments like these rely on outdated information that criticizes TAP for projects like transportation museums that aren’t even eligible for funding anymore and ignore the fact that Americans want a balanced transportation system with options for driving, transit and active transportation.  Plus, it is a fiction to assert that the $800 million a year for TAP could solve the $15 billion shortfall that Congress must fill to balance the federal transportation budget.