Statement by Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG’s Senior Transportation Analyst, regarding the final Federal Transportation Bill as released today. The nation has been without a new transportation bill since the 2005 law expired in September 2009 and has been subject to nine temporary extensions.
“America needs new direction for the 21st century. Despite outdated transportation laws, Americans for years have been driving less and making greater use of transit and other alternatives, trends which can make America less dependent on oil and should be encouraged. Unfortunately, the legislation unveiled today is even worse than the status quo – and because the bill would extend for two full years, it forestalls future reform until July 2014.
“With America’s bridges and roads seriously neglected in past years, the bill removes already insufficient measures to ensure states “fix it first,” rather than diverting funds towards building new and wider highways while neglecting existing roads and bridges. The weak provisions the bill includes to ensure adequate repair lack teeth and potential accountability measures could not begin until after the bill expires.
“The bill fails to increase the portion of transportation funds directed to public transit and allocates no money for high-speed rail. It reduces the tax-deductibility of commuting costs for transit riders and ends performance criteria for allocating loans.
“This bill isn’t much of a compromise. The Senate was the only chamber that had actually passed a transportation bill. Unlike the House, the Senate bill had a few modest reform measures and strong bipartisan support. It is surprising therefore that the bill emerged from conference negotiations so much worse than the status quo.
“We do support the part of the legislation to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling, which is also included in the final package. But we are disappointed that Congress has let this opportunity for reform slip by, saddling 21st Century America with an increasingly outdated transportation system.”