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Committee Examines Surface Transportation Reauthorization

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held the first in a series of hearings aimed at addressing the reauthorization of the surface transportation law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which is scheduled to expire in September, 2014. MAP-21 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012. The two-year bill authorized more than $105 billion for surface transportation projects for fiscal year 2013 and 2014 and was first transportation reauthorization to be passed in nine years. After vigorous and sustained advocacy efforts from ASLA, Congress chose to continue active transportation programs like the Transportation Alternatives Program, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs.

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The preliminary hearing broadly addressed funding, increasing global economic competitiveness, and the need for an improved and integrated infrastructure network. State and local elected officials were present to voice their opinion and stress the importance of passing a long-term, six-year bill, which would allow cities and states to more effectively plan and execute transportation decisions in their jurisdictions. Governor Mary Fallin (OK), the National Governors Association (NGA) chairwoman, stressed these points stating, “When there are short term-extensions, it affects our states and certainty our marketplace. Surface transportation requires both a long-term vision and funding stability.” Governor Fallin’s testimony noted that infrastructure investment was a central theme in 32 of the 50 “state of the state” addresses delivered by governors in 2013, behind only educational reform and job growth. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed added, "A two-year bill is not very helpful to us.”

One major issue that will need to be addressed is finding a solution to revive the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which uses the federal gas tax to fund surface transportation projects. MAP-21 allocated approximately $81 billion from the trust fund, which is expected to be tapped dry in 2015, according to the July 2013 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Report. Currently at 18.4 cents per gallon, the gas tax has not been raised since 1993, forcing Congress to transfer nearly $50 billion from the general fund since 2008. Both parties in Congress disagree on how to address the Trust Fund’s shortfalls, with some legislators proposing to raise the gas tax, indexed for inflation.

Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (PA) stated he remains committed to his goal of passing a reauthorization bill by early June 2014 and securing a chamber vote prior to the House’s August Recess. This would leave enough time for conferees from both chambers to produce a bill for a final vote prior to the expiration of MAP-21 at the end of September. Chairman Shuster noted the importance of a bipartisan effort and that the reauthorization “must ensure that our surface transportation system can continue to support the U.S. economy and provide Americans with a good quality of life."

As the negotiations to reauthorize MAP-21 continue to unfold, ASLA will weigh in with T&I Committee members and other legislators about the importance of passing a bill that supports all modes of transportation, including bicycling, walking, and transit use. ASLA will need your help in communicating the importance of a balanced multimodal bill that continues to make investments in active transportation infrastructure, spurs community development, and provides valuable transportation choices. Now is a good time to use the ASLA Advocacy Network to tell your representatives about the importance of active transportation projects in your community and how landscape architects are at the forefront of designing these projects.

For more information on ASLA’s transportation priorities, visit www.asla.org/advocacy.

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