6/29/2012: Federal Transportation Deal: A Step Backwards for California and the Nation

June 29. 2012

Shannon Tracey, Field Organizer
[email protected]
510-338-2937 cell

Federal Transportation Deal: A Step Backwards For California And The Nation

Today, Congress approved a new federal transportation bill that will authorize funding and set policy for the next 27 months, ending in September 2014.  The deal, which also includes provisions on student loans and flood insurance, was finalized by conference committee just yesterday and is expected to be signed by the President in the next twenty-four hours to avoid a shutdown of the U.S. Department of Transportation when current law expires tomorrow.

TransForm is surprised and disappointed by the details of the conference deal, especially after a strong bipartisan bill was passed by the Senate two months ago. 

“The good news is that overall transportation spending remains the same, including the 20% of dedicated funding for public transit,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm.  “The bad news is that so much was cut from the forward-looking bill that Senator Boxer helped usher through the Senate in April.”

TransForm is concerned about many policies contained in the conference deal, including the following:

  • Cuts to funding for repair and maintenance of our aging infrastructure.  Currently, approximately 32% of highway funds are dedicated for repair of highways and bridges.  The conference deal requires less than 3% of highway funding to be used for bridge repair – at a time when 13% of California’s bridges, and 12% of all bridges nationally, have been marked as structurally deficient.
  • Cuts to funding for safe walking and biking, including Safe Routes to School programs.  The conference deal cuts dedicated funding for walking and biking by one-third (from $1.1 billion to $750 million), and allows states to flex 50% of this funding to other uses for any reason, or 100% of this funding in cases of emergency.  As pedestrians alone account for 12% of all traffic fatalities, cutting funding from 1.5% to 1.0% of federal transportation spending makes no sense and will mean too many people will continue to get injured or die from walking and bicycling.
  • Elimination of policies that would have made streets safer for people who walk, bike, and take transit.  The original Senate bill included a “safer streets” policy that would have improved public health by requiring safety considerations of all road users be taken into account in road construction and repair.  Unfortunately this provision was removed by the conference committee.

“We must immediately turn our attention to making sure Congress approves a better bill in the next twenty-seven months,” said Cohen.  “In the 2012 elections, we’ll need to redouble efforts to choose leaders who understand that transit, and walkable, bikable communities can improve our economy, health, and environment.”

“We demonstrated earlier this year that our efforts can result in positive change in transportation policy, when the Senate approved a bill that focused on repair and maintenance, protected funding for safer walking and biking, and included other provisions that would strengthen our economy and safeguard public health and the environment.  And compared to the proposals originally entertained in the House, which would have completely eliminated pubic transit funding, we have certainly not hit rock bottom.”

“This closed-door deal is a setback, but it is not a permanent defeat.  We will continue to press for a 21st century transportation policy that serves all Americans – and all Californians – and we look forward to a different outcome before these two years are up.”