Speaker Ryan’s “Homerun” on Federal Transportation Bill Closer to a Foul Ball

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House Bill Gets it Wrong on Fix it First, Active Transportation, and Accounting for the Needs of Millennials


“Last week, the House of Representatives passed the first long-term surface transportation authorization and funding bill in nearly a decade. Known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRR ACT), this new legislation authorizes $340 billion in federal funding for critical transportation projects over the next six years. Roughly 80 percent of federal funds have been marked for highways, and the remaining twenty percent split between public transit, walking and biking infrastructure needs.

“While it is great that Congress recognizes the importance of moving forward with a long-term solution for our country’s beleaguered transportation system, the plan put forth by the House, unfortunately, misses the mark. 

“At a time when nearly a third of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and more than 60,000 bridges remain structurally deficient, the new House bill does little to promote the fix it first policies our country needs. Instead, the House bill merely offers a continuation of the same failed policies that, for decades, have favored expansion over repair. This, in turn, leaves our crumbling infrastructure in a prolonged state of neglect – increasing long-term rehabilitation or replacement costs, and jeopardizing public safety. 

“Yet, as a nation, we must do more than just repair the system we already have. We must also invest in the system that we need for the future – a multimodal transportation system that places greater emphasis on active forms of transportation like biking, walking, and public transit. Active transportation increases physical activity, decreases air pollution, and limits global warming causing emissions. Such investments are necessary to help protect public health and to sustain the environment, but also to account for the changing travel behavior of the Millennial generation. 

Millennials drive less than older generationsapply for driver’s licenses less frequently, are more likely to support public transit investments over highway expansion, and generally report greater concern about the availability of public transit near work centers. 

“Since Millennials will undoubtedly be the primary consumers of the transportation system we build today, we must account for their changing preferences as we decide on needed investments. However, this bill is a missed opportunity to make necessary progress in these areas.

“For instance, Congress had the opportunity to expand the popular TIFIA loan program to make it easier for cities and states to finance transit-oriented development projects under an amendment offered by Congresswoman Donna Edwards during the bill’s markup in committee. Expanding TIFIA in this way would have saved public money by making the most of transit investments, and cut down on total infrastructure costs. Unfortunately, the amendment was shot down.
“Similarly, Congress shot down the David-Titus Amendment, which would have increased overall flexibility of federal transportation dollars, so that localities could have put money where they needed it most, including on necessary public transit, biking, and walking projects. Specifically, the amendment would have increased the amount of funding in the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) overall, which are the most flexible transportation dollars available.

“To make matters worse, while highway projects will continue to have 80 percent of their costs covered by federal highway funds, the bill lowers the share paid on transit capital projects to 50 percent. While many large transit projects already match more than half of the cost locally, especially in more prosperous metro areas, poorer and smaller communities will both be punished. 

“Finally, Congress missed an opportunity to meet changing future needs by capping the popular Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) which provides the majority of federal funding for biking and walking infrastructure, so that it doesn’t grow with inflation, effectively making the program lose value each year.

“For these reasons, and others, with the passage of the STRR Act, Congress has missed an important opportunity to right the ship for years to come. In so doing, Congress has made it likely that much needed reforms will continue to be put off for the foreseeable future. Our nation has waited long enough.”

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