In a show of bipartisan cooperation among Congressional leaders that has become all too rare on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a long-term surface transportation bill today that maintains funding for trails, walking and biking at current levels. The bill also includes policy changes championed by RTC to make innovative financing accessible to build trail and active-transportation networks.
Despite repeated attacks, core programs that support trails, walking and biking remain untouched since committee leaders introduced their bill three weeks ago. Although the country needs increased investment in trails and active transportation to meet growing demand, maintaining level funding is an encouraging outcome from a House that is deeply divided and unwilling to invest further in transportation. The Senate bill provided for a modest increase in funding, however, so the opportunity remains to negotiate for a little more.
The House bill incorporated provisions of the Transportation Alternatives Program—the nation’s top source of dedicated funding for trails, walking and biking—into a larger multi-modal transportation program (Surface Transportation Block Grant Program). The Senate did not make the change, so this will be another point for negotiation as the bill is finalized.
Both the House and Senate bills expand eligibility for innovative financing to smaller projects involving local governments and allow bundling of related projects to qualify. A complementary provision, championed by Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), prevailed during yesterday’s floor debate. It will cut red tape that would otherwise make it too difficult and expensive for smaller projects to take advantage of low-interest financing.
These positive outcomes were far from inevitable when the week began. Many partner organizations and trail supporters joined RTC in speaking up this week in support of trails, walking and biking. Also critical was the drive of the top committee leaders—Rep. Shuster (R-PA) and Rep. DeFazio (D-OR)—to forge a workable bipartisan bill.
Sometime in mid-November, a joint conference committee between the House and Senate is expected to convene to work out the differences between both bills before the chambers vote on final passage.
Bumpy but Victorious Path
Late on Friday, Oct. 30, Reps. Buddy Carter (GA-01) and Ted Yoho (FL-03) introduced three harmful amendments that would have greatly damaged federal funding and support for trails, walking and biking.
One amendment by Rep. Carter, #68, would have allowed urban areas to transfer all their walking and biking funds for other uses. A second amendment by Carter, #69, would have eliminated the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and removed eligibility for walking and biking projects in the Surface Transportation Program. This would have taken from states and local governments the flexibility to determine their own transportation priorities. Finally, a third amendment introduced and modified by Rep. Yoho, #158, would have also eliminated funding authority for the RTP to build new non-motorized trails.
Key partners, including motorized trail users, successfully pressured Rep. Carter to withdraw amendment #69. In addition, partner organizations—and thousands of trail supporters who called and emailed their legislators—succeeded in defeating the remaining two amendments. By Wednesday morning, the Rules Committee decided not to allow these amendments to come to a floor vote.
Though the harmful amendments were blocked, a positive streamlining amendment, #36, introduced by trail champion Rep. Larsen, was allowed to come to the floor for a vote. Because of his leadership and willingness to work across the aisle with leadership in the House, and the grassroots support to back him up, his amendment was agreed to yesterday. Ultimately, it could help to accelerate the completion of trail and active-transportation networks.
To all RTC members and supporters who contacted their legislator this week: Thank you! This success shows how, if we work together, our voices will be heard. Success hinged on thousands of you calling and writing your representative and many partners stepping forward to contribute.
RTC will continue to work with partners and friends in Congress to protect and improve provisions supporting trails, walking and biking during this crucial period.
The fight is not yet over, but because of our successes in the House this week, we are well positioned to continue to advance trails, walking and biking as critical transportation choices on our path to build healthy places for healthy people.