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Delivering a Transformative Federal Transportation Bill

By: Kevin Mills
March 24, 2021

Photo courtesy RTC
Photo courtesy RTC

Breaking News: T&I Earmarks

The U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee just yesterday issued guidance for its fast moving earmarking process. The committee is inviting all members of Congress to submit specific “Member Designated Projects” for inclusion in the surface transportation reauthorization currently being drafted.

This process is separate and distinct from the earmarks process taking place in the House Appropriations Committee. RTC is prioritizing the T&I Committee’s earmarking process because of its alignment with reauthorization, in our strategy to increase and better target federal investments in trails, walking and biking.

Since your member of Congress is the best conduit to pursue an earmark on your behalf, we encourage you to connect with your member’s office to learn more about their individual process for collecting earmarks and to advocate for the ongoing funding proposed in the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act.

We will be in touch as more details and guidance are made available. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to engage your member of Congress.

As I write this, Congress is working quickly to gather the policy ideas and projects needed to draft the next federal surface transportation bill, which will define how funding is spent on trails, walking and biking for years to come.

Simultaneously, the Biden Administration is preparing to release its priorities for an infrastructure package that will create jobs and prioritize equity. The pace has quickened on reauthorization, and all indications are that the federal government is poised to reauthorize the FAST Act before it expires in September.

Major decisions that will shape this bill are being made right now, increasing the urgency to advocate for a bold package for trails, walking and biking.

You can expect to hear from the team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy frequently in the coming weeks and months about the progress being made and ways you can support it.

We have been working with many of you as well as our champions on Capitol Hill to define the components of a visionary transportation bill. Our vision will increase funding for trails, walking and biking, while targeting investments in projects that connect people to the places they want to go and serve communities most in need.

We have bipartisan support for a trio of bills that more than doubles funding for trails, walking and biking.

The Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act (H.R.5696 pending reintroduction/S.684) is a new policy that provides $500 million annually over five years to help communities and regions accelerate their work to build connected active-transportation systems through sizeable competitive federal grants.

The Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act (H.R.463/S.614) increases funding and reduces transfers of Transportation Alternatives, the largest federal funding source for trails, walking and biking.

The Recreational Trails Full Funding Act (H.R.1864/Senate bill pending) will triple funding for the Recreational Trails Program, the only federal funding source that supports trail maintenance, to reflect recreational fuel taxes and ensure good repair as trails age.

This package of bills provides critical policy changes to strategically target investments—so that funds maximize the role of trails and other active transportation infrastructure in contributing to job creation and healthy, safe and equitable communities.

As progress is made on Capitol Hill and in the White House to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill and once-in-a-generation transportation reform, we are being precise in where our advocacy can have the most influence and impact. Here’s where we are and how you can help.

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Priorities

EPW leadership asked their colleagues to submit top priorities last week to inform the blueprint for the Senate version of the surface transportation bill. A substantial bipartisan group of senators submitted the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act, which is good news as we work to influence the committee’s base bill and ensure that new focused funding for active transportation connectivity is included. This is an important milestone, and we appreciate all your help to make it happen.

House Earmarks

Two committees will gather project ideas for potential transportation related earmarks: the House Appropriations Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. While both sets of earmarks create opportunities for new project funding, RTC is prioritizing the T&I process because of its potential to align strategically with reauthorization.

The T&I Committee aims to generate guidance regarding its earmark process by the end of the month. We will be in touch with specific actions you should take to elevate a key project in a manner that will advance the critical message that ongoing federal investments to connect active transportation networks are essential to fill strategic gaps over time.

Since your member of Congress is your best conduit to pursue an earmark on your behalf, it would be strategic for you to focus on convincing the member or members whose districts would directly benefit from your project of its value. If convinced, they could explore both earmark processes as opportunities to deliver your project. We encourage you to connect with your member’s office to learn more about their individual process for collecting earmarks and to advocate for the long-term funding that the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act would provide.

In the meantime, guidance for the appropriations earmark process is available here. The Appropriations Committee will be accepting transportation earmark submissions from March 29 to April 30. Please check the link often, as the guidelines and deadlines may shift.

With progress being made almost daily in support of a visionary transportation reauthorization, we are here to answer your questions. Stay tuned for regular updates about ways to help!

Kevin Mills | Photo by Anthony Le
Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills is RTC’s vice president of policy and instigator of the Partnership for Active Transportation.

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