Senate Committee Passes Transportation Bill With Weakened TE Program-ASLA Working To Restore Dedicated Funding


Recently, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously passed a two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 (S. 1813).  The measure seeks to make reforms in many existing transportation programs and, in many instances, would maintain their current funding levels. The bill also provides significant support for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program to leverage state, local, and private sector funding for transportation projects. However, non-motorized transportation projects, including bicycle and pedestrian projects, take a major hit under the bill.

The Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs are all continued in the bill.  However, the proposal lumps all three programs together along with programs to build high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) roads and wetlands mitigation projects and dramatically reduces funding levels for the programs. Specifically, the programs would be consolidated and listed as “eligible uses” under a subset of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ) with funding for all three programs limited to $833 million.  This represents about a $313 million cut from 2010 funding levels for the programs.  Moreover, the proposal would also allow states to “opt out” of these pedestrian and bicycle programs and divert their portion of funding to spend on other CMAQ road projects.  

With recent attacks against TE as wasteful spending on “squirrel sanctuaries, movie theatres and flower beds”, EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (CA) promised reforms of the program.  The EPW proposal would consolidate 12 of the TE eligible project categories into 10 categories, by eliminating the “establishment of transportation museums” category and combining two historic preservation categories into one.  Further, the “landscaping and scenic beautification” category has been renamed “vegetation management practices.”

During committee consideration of the bill, ASLA worked with the Defense of TE Coalition and other groups to support amendments to strengthen the non-motorized programs in the bill.  Specifically, Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) offered an amendment to restore dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs and Senator Benjamin Cardin (MD) introduced an amendment to make it harder for states to “opt out” of the TE program by ensuring that they solicit localities for TE uses before refusing to use funds.  At the request of EPW leadership, the amendments were withdrawn, with both senators planning to offer them on the floor during full Senate consideration of the measure.

Three additional Senate committees must now weigh-in on the bill, before full Senate action can occur.  The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee has jurisdiction to consider the transit portion of the bill and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will now weigh-in on the rail and safety provisions of the bill. Finally, the Senate Finance Committee must work to find revenue to pay for the $12 billion shortfall between Highway Trust Fund revenues and the bill’s spending levels.  Full senate action on the bill will likely not occur until all other Senate committees have responded to their portions of the bill.  

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