On July 31, the Senate agreed to pass H.R. 5021. This bill, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives the week before, will temporarily shore up the Highway Trust Fund and extend the current MAP-21 transportation funding bill, originally to fund transportation through Sept. 30, 2014, until May 2015.
The Highway Trust Fund has steadily been depleting, in part because the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been changed since 1993—the last year "Cheers" and "The Wonder Years" were aired on television—and thus has not kept pace with inflation or growing infrastructure needs. The trust fund was expected to start running a shortfall on funds in the beginning of August, so Congress acted in the nick of time, just before going away for August recess.
Adequate funding for transportation is vital to maintaining a strong economy and ensuring that workers can access jobs and schools. A balanced transportation system—not only roads and bridges, but also railways, public transit and places like trails for walking and biking—is necessary to provide the transportation options that Americans are looking for.
Congress has decided to pay for the temporary “fix” it passed using a smattering of different revenue sources, some only short term. As a result, Congress kicked the question of finding a permanent solution to the funding shortfall down the road to May 2015.
What’s more, there’s no guarantee that it will be resolved in May, either; Congress may then pass another short-term “fix” to avoid dealing with difficult political decisions.
The good news is that, at least for now, funding for trails, walking and biking, through programs like the Transportation Alternatives Program and the Recreational Trails Program, will continue at current levels. RTC and our partners have been working hard to fend off a number of attacks against these programs in the past few months, and so far, none have succeeded.
The bad news is that funding for trails, walking and biking will continue at current levels. Americans across the country are increasingly asking for a new vision of transportation. For some, like millennials burdened with expensive college debt or the working poor, a car is another expense they cannot afford but must still use to get to work, as they have no other options. For others, like some seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to drive a car, safe places to walk or bike provide a lifeline to community and friends, rather than leaving them isolated at home.
People of all ages and from all economic backgrounds want vibrant communities where they can choose to walk or bike to do their shopping, visit friends and family, and go to work.
For example, in Indianapolis, trails are connecting neighborhoods with downtown arts, cultural, sports and entertainment centers, creating a “culture of connectivity,” according to the mayor, “knitting neighborhoods and communities together, one by one.”
At RTC, we will continue to advocate in Congress for more investment in trails, walking and biking as part of a smart, balanced transportation system with a variety of real options for Americans.