Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) unveiled their new six-year transportation bill. The DRIVE Act (Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act) primarily shores up our existing interstate and road-focused transportation system. Unsurprisingly given its name, the bill does not adequately address the needs of communities all across the country that are increasingly turning to bicycling and walking to get people safely between school, work, shops and home. (Note: a few more changes were made during the Committee consideration, those are marked below with italics.)
On the positive side, the DRIVE Act does sustain the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which provides funding for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking projects. It includes many of the recommendations we’ve been pushing for, including shifting more decision-making on projects to the local level. Specifically, the DRIVE Act would:
- Make nonprofits eligible to compete for TAP funding;
- Shift 100% of TAP money to the “population” pot, giving MPOs control over twice as much TAP funding and ensuring that rural and mid-sized communities also have access to their fair share. While we very much support local decision-making on TAP funds, eliminating the state pot of funding in TAP could be detrimental in a few states that fund statewide Safe Routes to School programs; we will be working to address this concern in the coming months;
- Add language requiring USDOT to issue guidance or regulations to lower the regulatory burden on TAP projects; and
- Increase funding for TAP from the current level of $819 million/year to $850 million/year—but TAP funding would be frozen at this level and would not increase over the six year bill.
- Protect all TAP funds from transfers (during Committee consideration, Senator Cardin's amendment on this was accepted), meaning that all TAP funds have to be used on TAP and can't be transferred to other pots of funding--a big change from the 50% that can be transferred under current law.
Unfortunately, the DRIVE Act does not include some of the provisions we’d been pushing for:
- It does not make small MPOs eligible to compete for TAP funding;
- It does not give states more flexibility on the required local match for TAP projects so that low-income or rural communities don’t need to provide matching funds;
- It does not significantly increase funding for TAP—in spite of the 30 percent cut that TAP experienced in MAP-21; and
- It does not protect TAP money in local hands from transfers—meaning that a state DOT could transfer half of TAP money, even as local governments and MPOs make commitments on how they want to use the funds for local projects. (This was changed during Committee consideration; all TAP funds are now protected from transfers.)
- Separate from TAP, we are also disappointed that the DRIVE Act decreases the percentage of funds available for states to address safety concerns.
We are grateful to Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Cochran (R-MS), who led the effort to get provisions into the DRIVE Act that will strengthen TAP, and for continuing to push for further improvements.
EPW will take up the DRIVE Act on Wednesday, June 24. There are several amendments being offered by several Senators that will help bring the DRIVE Act more in line with creating safe streets for everyone—not just drivers. We are asking Senators on EPW to support:
- Senator Cardin’s amendment to increase funding for TAP and to make sure the funding level can increase each year.
- Senator Cardin’s amendment to make sure states cannot take away TAP “local control” funds—which could undermine local decision-making and planning about how to use TAP funds. (Accepted during Committee consideration; no TAP funds can be transferred anymore.)
- Senator Markey’s amendment to include the text of Safe and Complete Streets Act in the bill to improve transportation planning for all users—including people walking and bicycling.
- Senator Gillibrand’s amendment to provide funding for Vision Zero policies, plans and implementation which will make safety of our transportation system the top priority.
- Senator Merkley’s amendment to create a national transportation goal of creating a multi-modal system that connects people with economic opportunities.
- Senator Cardin’s amendment to allow the transportation funding in the bill to increase if Congress finds more revenue for transportation in the coming months.
If your Senator is on EPW, you can use our easy action alert to ask for their support of these amendments. (If you aren’t sure, follow the link and enter your information; if your Senator is not on EPW, the system will tell you that you are not a constituent of the targeted Senators.) With your voice, we can help transform the DRIVE Act into something that is good for people, no matter what mode of transportation they use!
By showing support for these amendments, we will increase the chances of getting these changes into the DRIVE Act in the coming months as Congress works on the new transportation bill. Note that during Committee consideration, most amendments were discussed but not voted on--meaning that there will be further discussion between Committee members about what else can be included in the bill before its considered by the full Senate.
We’ve got many steps to go—including identifying a funding source and having House input on policy—before we get to a final transportation bill. So we will continue to keep you posted. And please don't hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.