Facilities for pedestrians survive Senate vote
The US Senate voted 60-38 to reject an amendment by Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, that would have taken the only dedicated federal source of funds for walking and biking and allocated it instead for bridge repair.
The vote was reported by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which hailed it as a victory for for the federal Transportation Enhancements program. The conservancy was one of a number of organizations that mobilized opposition to Senator Paul's amendment. The organizations argued the amendment posed a false choice between transportation enhancements and bridge safety.
The advocacy group Smart Growth America also expressed satisfaction with Senate action, noting that today's passage of an amended 2012 "minibus" (opposite of omnibus) appropriations package will provide strong funding for the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
The package approved by the Senate includes $90 million for the Sustainable Communities Initiative at HUD and $550 million for the TIGER program at DOT. “The Partnership for Sustainable Communities programs are model investments for the federal government, and we applaud the Senate for including continued funding for these programs in its proposed bill," said Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America.
In a separate news release, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy said about the transportation enhancements issue:
“In truth, most states already have funds that they could use for bridge repair, but that instead go for new roadways,” says RTC’s Director of Policy Outreach Kartik Sribarra. “Further, last year, states sent back $530 million in unspent bridge funds. It’s shameful and disingenuous to claim to be promoting safety by pushing to cut funds for trails, walking and bicycling. 47,000 cyclists and pedestrians have died during the past decade, often because we lack the necessary infrastructure for them to be safe.”
The conservancy said Transportation Enhancement funds "have substantially decreased these risks, using less than 2 percent of surface transportation funding."
According to Smart Growth America, the bill will now go to the House of Representatives for a vote; the House has until November 18th to reach resolution about the funds. The House and Senate Appropriations committees continue negotiations over the fiscal year 2012 budget for EPA, the third agency in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
Groups including the National Complete Streets Coalition and Reconnecting America have been trying to forestall big cuts in transportation funding proposed by Republicans in Congress. In July, Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, proposed a transportation bill that would spend $230 billion in the next six years—a drop of about 20 percent from the previous transportation act and less than half of what President Obama requested.