Federal transportation proposal causes widespread dismay
Rep. John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, proposed a transportation bill Thursday that spends $230 billion in the next six years. "That is a drop of about 20 percent from the last transportation bill, signed by President George W. Bush in 2005, and less than half of the $566 billion requested by President Barack Obama to shore up the nation's crumbling infrastructure," the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville reported.
Advocates for pedestrian and bike facilities were especially disheartened by Mica's proposal, which would also eliminate the intercity rail capital grant program.
In an e-mail press release, Barbara McCann, executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, said Mica's proposal "ignores the millions of Americans who are now using the nation's highways — by foot, bicycle and bus." She criticized the proposal for eliminating "the very modest dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, claiming these are 'non-highway' or 'non-transportation activities.'"
"In fact, bicycling and walking make up 12 percent of the nation's trips," McCann said, adding that "67 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the last ten years took place on federal-aid roads."
"A 30% cut in the federal investment in public transportation, roads, and bridges is in direct contradiction to the findings of numerous studies that our infrastructure is in dire need of repair and rehabilitation," charged John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America, in an e-mail press release.
"The proposal also cuts support to Amtrak and eliminates the intercity rail capital grant program," which communities around the nation have used "to promote community and economic development around their stations," Smith said. "Elimination of these programs pulls the rug out from under their plans and creates uncertainties that will ultimately scare away private sector partners."
William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, credited Mica with making efforts to "expand project financing, streamline project delivery, and simplify federal grant programs. "However," Millar said in an e-mailed statement, "This proposal would severely underfund critical elements of the federal transit program. ... It will severely curtail the purchase of new buses and trains, reduce critical maintenance and safety programs, and could cut operating funds for transit systems in small communities and rural areas."
The current SAFETEA-LU legislation expired Sept. 30, 2009. The most recent of several extensions expires in less than three months — on Sept. 30. Democrats announced their opposition to the Mica bill, and instead proposed a two-year bill, $109 billion transportation authorization. Mica countered that the Democrats' alternative was not cost-feasible. "We can only authorize programs within the limits of the transportation trust fund," the Jacksonville paper quoted Mica as saying.
On the Alttransport blog, Joseph Cutrufo wrote:
While the bill’s summary lists few specific programs that would be cut, Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) announced in a press conference Thursday that the bill will eliminate funding for several bicycle, pedestrian and transit programs, including Transportation Enhancements, the Recreational Trails Program and Safe Routes to School. It also aims to cut Amtrak’s federal funding by a quarter through the 2013 fiscal year, which should be no surprise: Mica and Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) co-authored a bill that would privatize Amtrak last month. ...
The proposed bill, which has a working title of "A New Direction,” is decidedly pro-highway and anti- just about everything else, especially red tape (there were no less than 10 mentions of the stuff in the 22-page summary). One key feature of the proposal, is that states will no longer be required to use federal funds for non-highway projects. If states do, however, choose to prioritize any non-highway projects, they “will be held accountable for those choices through performance measures and transparency requirements.”
On TheTransportPolitic blog, Yonah Freemark described the proposal as not surprising: "It has been clear since last November that the GOP would push for this funding cut once it took control of the House."
Freemark further wrote:
Mr. Mica argues that a loosening up of red tape and increasing private investment would make up the difference, a questionable assumption.
The specific distribution of funds to transit or highways has not been enumerated, but the current shares (about 20% for transit and 80% for highways) will be maintained. This would mean a cut from about $11 billion for transit today to about $7 billion. What does this mean? Fewer dollars in the urban formula program means fewer new buses and rail cars for transit agencies across the country. Less money for state of good repair means a decline in the number of renovations of aging railway tunnels and viaducts or bus depots. A loss for theNew Starts program means the end of several major capital expansion projects nationwide.
The Administration’s high-speed rail program, already under siege by a siderodromophobic GOP, is axed in the proposal. Livability grants, too fuzzy for the mobility-oriented Mr. Mica, also appear to have been taken out of funding consideration.
Partisan divisions appear strong. On DC.Streetsblog, Alice Ollstein wrote:
"Several Democrats said the political environment on the Transportation Committee had become far more toxic and partisan than in years past.
“'I’ve served on this committee for 34 years now, and we’ve seen this year an unfortunate departure from decades of bipartisanship,' said [West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick] Rahall. 'This is the first time I can recall that the Majority and the Minority stand apart on such important legislation.'”