House Committee Passes Multiyear Transportation Bill

Posted 11/03/15 by Kevin Mills in Policy, Taking Action

Photo by Katie Harris/RTC

11/3/15 UPDATE: Unfortunately, as anticipated, amendments have been filed to the U.S. House of Representatives’ transportation funding bill, H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA). They were filed this weekend in advance of this week’s floor debate in an attempt to eliminate a critical trails program and limit funding for safe places to walk and bike.

  • Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) filed an amendment that would eliminate funding for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and strike existing eligibility for walking and biking projects in the Surface Transportation Program. This would take from states and localities the flexibility to set their transportation priorities. Due to pressure from the trails community, he has withdrawn this amendment. However, he also filed an amendment that would allow urban areas to transfer out all their walking and biking funds for other uses. 
  • Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) also filed an amendment that would eliminate funding authority for the RTP. A modified version of his amendment now discriminates against non-motorized trail users by eliminating funding authority to build new non-motorized trails.

The Rules Committee continues to meet to determine which amendments are in order. Debate and votes on the amendments we have discussed here could begin on the afternoon of Nov. 4.

This post was originally published on Oct. 22, 2015. 

On Thursday, Oct. 22, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a new transportation funding bill, H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA). The bill represents a draw between our goals to meet growing demand for resources to build trail and active-transportation networks and opponents’ intentions to eliminate core programs that support trail building.

Take action now: Urge your U.S. representative to protect critical funding for trails, walking and biking programs to secure safe routes to everywhere for everyone.

Act Now

Although this six-year bill maintains the present level of funding for trails, walking and biking, it would no longer increase in future years along with highway and road funding. Given current political and funding constraints, securing this status quo funding was probably our best likely outcome. We have much work to do, however, to lead Congress to address the nation’s rapidly growing need for connected networks of trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and other forms of active transportation.

The Details

Photo by Katie Harris/RTC

The House bill freezes the core funding set-aside for active transportation at about $820 million per year; $30 million per year less than the Senate bill. The way funding is allocated to states and urban areas is similar in both bills, except the House bill would allow urban areas to repurpose up to 50 percent of their walking and biking funding for other uses, including highway and transit purposes. The Recreational Trails Program, which provides funding to build and maintain trails for motorized and non-motorized trail users, remains intact in both bills.

The current bill also includes a provision that RTC championed to make low-interest financing accessible to support trail and active-transportation networks through a program called TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). Three reforms we advocated were added in the Senate’s bill this past summer; two of the three also appear in the House’s bill.

Specifically, the provisions called for lowering the minimum eligible project size from $50 million to $10 million for projects involving local governments and allowing related projects to be bundled to meet the threshold. Increasingly, communities are working to connect existing trails and active-transportation infrastructure to create regional networks. These reforms will help make it easier for communities to accelerate completion of these networks that have significant impacts regionally.

Next Steps

For several months, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been working in collaboration with partner organizations to ensure that federal funding and support for trails was maintained in this bill, if not grown to meet demand. Trails and other pathways complement our nation’s highway and transit systems by providing a safe way for people to commute to work, school and other places. They have the added benefit of providing a way for people to get outdoors, spend time with their families and get healthy. Because most trails are built with the help of federal funding, it was critical that the bill retain this core funding.

Photo by Katie Harris/RTC

Trail champion Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-02) introduced an amendment that would streamline and simplify the TIFIA application process for small, low-risk projects. He secured a commitment from committee leaders to work with him to address this issue as the bill advances. Rep. Larsen also led efforts to protect our core programs in the House bill.  We commend Rep. Larsen for his great leadership to support trails, walking and biking.

The next steps are unclear because of tumult in House leadership, but the bill could be brought up for a vote on the House floor as early as next week. RTC is concerned that harmful floor amendments may be filed in an attempt to eliminate these vital programs, which is why it is so important at this critical juncture that you tell your representative that you support federal funding for trails, walking and biking.

Please act today and send a message to your representative today. As the bill process moves forward, we will keep you updated on next steps, so stay tuned for additional ways that you can help. And as always, we will continue to advocate for resources to build safe and convenient places to walk and bike for all Americans.

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