Senate’s Turn Part I: Senate Committee Takes On the Transportation Reauthorization Bill

Posted 05/21/14 by Kevin Mills in Policy

Photo © Patrick Gage

Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill (S. 2322) to reauthorize MAP-21, the federal transportation legislation passed in 2012, which will expire at the end of September. The new bill seeks to fund transportation projects at status quo levels plus inflation through fiscal year 2020. The underlying premise of the bill is that transportation policies should not change substantially but should only be marginally refined, that long-term funding is critical for large infrastructure projects and that the current funding levels are acceptable.  

Three other Senate committees need to mark up the bill before the full Senate will act. A key to that process will be to identify a bipartisan solution to expected funding shortfalls.

While there are not far-reaching policy changes in the bill, several refinements would affect trail, walking and bicycling programs. Specifically, the bill—

1.  Amends the Transportation Alternatives Program, the core federal source for dollars to build trail systems. This includes the following:

  • A greater portion of Transportation Alternatives projects (two-thirds rather than half) would be distributed by population and would be allocated by regional planning agencies rather than state departments of transportation.
  • Nonprofit organizations with responsibility for local transportation safety programs, such as Safe Routes to School, would be eligible to receive funds.
  • States would assume responsibility to report annually on their spending. Note, however, that RTC has collected information very similar to this from states for the Transportation Alternatives Program and previously did so for Transportation Enhancements. All of this information will be available on the Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange on the RTC website.

2.  Provides significant funding for two programs that could be used for active transportation projects: 1) The Projects of National or Regional Significance program, which would help fund large projects that could include pedestrian or bicycle elements; and 2) American Transportation Awards, which could provide up to $10 million in funding for states or Metropolitan Planning Organizations to promote the use of best practices, including integration into larger projects and connecting trails to promote cycling and walking.

3.  Continues the TIGER program, which has funded a number of pedestrian and bike networks.

4.  Amends the Highway Safety Improvement Program performance measures to explicitly include non-motorized transportation serious injuries and fatalities. As Sen. Jeff Merkley noted at the mark-up, pedestrian and bicycle fatalities have risen, so it is important to focus on solutions.

5.  Continues the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, a successful low-interest loan program that has been used to provide leverage for transportation projects over $50 million. Smaller projects have not benefited because of the floor on project size and the cost of applying. The bill would lower the threshold to $10 million for projects located within walking distance from certain transit facilities. These projects could include active transportation elements. The TIFIA program would also provide $2 million per year to cover administrative fees for projects smaller than $75 million.

The Committee remains open to addressing specific unresolved issues for which bipartisan consensus can be achieved. The bill has yet to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee. Stay tuned!

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