Senate Passes “So-So” Federal Transportation Bill. What’s Next for Trails?

Posted 08/04/15 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Taking Action, Policy

Photo courtesy RTC

After weeks of heated debate, the Senate voted last Thursday to pass two highly important transportation bills.

One bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, is a short-term extension of current transportation law to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money. The other bill is a long-term reauthorization of the surface transportation funding bill (H.R. 22, or the DRIVE [Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy] Act) that would fund the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure for the next six years.

Lackluster DRIVE Act

We previously reported on the contents of the DRIVE Act after it passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. After the bill went to the Senate floor for debate, the Senate majority made several changes. Some of these were positive, such as including a Safe Streets provision to ensure people walking and riding bicycles are considered during the roadway design process.

Photo courtesy NACTO | CC by 2.0

Unfortunately, the bill also removes a provision guaranteeing that a small amount of funding for urbanized area grants goes toward transit enhancements, such as providing safe pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stations. Although we tried to restore this provision, Senate leadership agreed to allow only a small number of amendments to be debated and voted on, preventing Senate supporters from even discussing the issue.

Although the DRIVE Act makes some modest advances for trails, walking and biking, overall it doesn’t change much. We did achieve some important advances that will help make cheaper financing available for local governments wishing to pursue trail, bicycle and pedestrian projects. Additional walking and biking reforms we had hoped for were not included, however, so we will have to work with members of the House to try to address these issues as they debate the bill. 

Your Advocacy Making a Difference

Despite the bill’s shortcomings, the DRIVE Act preserves and strengthens the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), the nation’s largest and oldest dedicated source of funding for walking and biking. TAP includes the Recreational Trails Program and provides opportunities to get outdoors, stay healthy, and help people safely walk and bike to where they need to go.

Take action now! Tell Congress to oppose any attacks on funding for trails and active transportation!

Take Action

As Congress debated transportation legislation over the past two months, every time an attack on trails and walking and biking programs surfaced, our community of supporters rallied to defend them—and it worked!

We won three important victories:

  1. Photo courtesy RTC
    In early June, Reps. Sam Johnson (Texas-03) and Vicky Hartzler (Mo.-04) introduced a bill, H.R. 2609, that would eliminate TAP. More than 12,000 supporters emailed your representatives and senators to oppose their bill—within 36 hours of our alert. Wow! What a great show of support! We not only helped keep this bill at bay—for now at least—but we put Congress on notice that any legislation eliminating funding for walking and biking would be met with resistance. Indeed, an amendment to the annual transportation appropriation bill—to prevent a transit program from funding common-sense station improvements like sidewalks, lighting and bike facilities—was defeated (214-212).
  1. In early July, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) introduced the portion of the Senate transportation bill that falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs. His draft sought to eliminate the popular TIGER program (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), which funds innovative projects for ports, rail, transit, and walking and biking, by replacing it with a freight-only program. Thanks to your calls and Senate champions behind the scenes, Sen. Thune ultimately altered his bill to include the freight program without eliminating TIGER.
  1. Two weeks ago, when Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) filed an amendment to strike the TAP provisions of the Senate’s DRIVE Act, we feared he would eliminate the program, a move he has repeatedly tried before. Supporters and partner organizations sprang into action, calling and emailing their senators. Many Congressional offices indicated to us that calls were pouring in pressuring senators to preserve funding for TAP. As a result, the Senate leadership did not entertain his amendment.

These victories are the fruits of our collective efforts to support funding for trails, walking and biking. Each and every action taken—every call or email to Congress—makes a difference. We really do depend on our supporters.

What’s Next for Trails and Active Transportation?

The Senate has passed its transportation legislation, putting pressure on the House to do the same before the current law expires on Oct. 31, 2015. Congress has adjourned for August recess, but when they return in September, we’ll be asking for your support again.

If you responded to our messages by calling or emailing your members of Congress, thanks for helping us win these victories! Give yourselves a pat on the back, and hit the trail; you’ve earned it!

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