What’s at Stake This Spring in Congress

Margo PedrosoIf you have been paying attention to how Congress has handled transportation over the past several years, you’d be justified in thinking that this May’s expiration of the MAP-21 transportation law will get pushed back by months and that you don’t need to pay attention to transportation this spring.

But, you’d be wrong.  While it is likely that we won’t see a new transportation law by May as Congress sorts out how to fund it – the transportation committees are indeed working on the policy as we speak.  Decisions are being made this spring about what programs will be continued, consolidated or cut and what changes will be made.  House offices are telling us that more than half of the transportation bill has already been agreed to—though bicycle and pedestrian issues have not yet been addressed. 

So – even if Congress doesn’t actually complete the transportation bill by May, the policy decisions we care about could well be settled by then. That means this spring will be a critical time to make our voices heard on behalf of Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking.

While we are hopeful that we won’t see attacks on this funding on the scale that we did in 2012, there are Members of Congress voicing their concerns that only roads and bridges should be funded out of the Highway Trust Fund gas tax revenues, and that transit, bicycling and walking should have to find funding elsewhere. At a February 11, 2015 House Transportation committee hearing, three of the newer Republicans on the committee raised exactly that issue to US Transportation Secretary Foxx.  Foxx responded that transit, bicycling and walking are not “non-essential” items and should be funded out of the trust fund.  We have our work cut out for us to educate some of the newly-elected Members of Congress about how Safe Routes to School funding helps with children’s safety, children’s health, school busing costs and more.

We don’t only want to play defense.  We will be working to build support for the Transportation Alternatives Program, and some tweaks to make it work better, including:

  • Making nonprofits and small MPOs eligible to apply for funding;
  • Shifting more funds to the population share, to give more local decision-making over projects selected;
  • Giving states more flexibility on the required local match for projects so that low-income or rural communities don’t need to provide matching funds;
  • Removing the language that creates a higher regulatory burden on TAP projects than on similar projects built with money from other transportation funding streams.

We will also be working with offices on ways to make sure more federal safety dollars go to bicycle and pedestrian safety.  Right now, states collectively spend just 0.4 percent of the Highway Safety Improvement Program on bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements, even though fatality rates are at nearly 16 percent.

If you are coming to the National Bike Summit from March 10-12, that will be a great opportunity for you to speak up for Safe Routes to School projects and the Transportation Alternatives program.  If you are coming, look for me there—I’d love to talk with you about building support for Safe Routes to School with your Members of Congress!  If you can’t make it to DC for the Summit, we will have a call to action coming soon where you can ask your Member of Congress for support right from your computer.