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Yesterday, we saw the proposed new federal transportation bill for the first time. Our hearts sank; our worst fears were confirmed. For nearly three years Congress has been deadlocked about a new transportation bill and has been extending SAFETEA-LU, which provides dedicated funds for biking and walking. This new bill released yesterday is the closest we’ve seen to America’s next multiyear surface transportation bill, and it’s a terrible bill for bicyclists.
At a time when folks across the nation want better, safer places to bike and walk for themselves and their children, this bill goes in the opposite direction, undoing decades of work towards creating a balanced transportation system in urban and rural areas.
Here are some of the low-lights of the bill, as reported by America Bikes and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership:
- Cuts available biking and walking funds by 60 to 70 percent. Biking and walking programs are combined into a single program, Transportation Alternatives, with drastically reduced funding.
- Eliminates dedicated Safe Routes to School funding. The bill eliminates dedicated funding for the massively popular and cost-effective Safe Routes to School program, which helps make walking and biking to school safer for millions of American schoolchildren.
- Weakens local control. The new transportation bill allows states to opt-out of half of the funds potentially available for small-scale biking and walking projects. Whereas the bipartisan Senate bill allowed local governments and planning entities to compete for 1% of transportation funds, the new bill allows states to opt-out of the local grant program completely.
- Makes biking and walking compete with new, expensive eligibilities.
New eligibilities such as road uses and environmental mitigation have been added to Transportation Alternatives, which means of the already reduced funding for biking and walking, even less will be available for communities for their biking and walking projects.
We understand well the need for fiscal constraint in current economic circumstances – but that’s not what this bill is about. It does not reduce overall spending on federal transportation, but rather takes money from biking and walking uses to put it elsewhere.
As the bill gets voted on today, few leaders in Congress will vote against it. Why? Because it’s been touted as a “jobs bill”, even though time and time again it has been proven that investing in bike and pedestrian infrastructure creates many more jobs than continuing to invest in highways.
Even if this bill becomes law, we will have an opportunity to mitigate its negative impacts here in Texas. BikeTexas will continue to fight with the strong, unified voice of all Texas cyclists at the Texas Transportation Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation, and at the Texas Legislature. Your support will be critical throughout this process. Together we can ensure Texas does not opt out of funding for bicycle and pedestrian transportation.
Thank you for all your calls and emails to Senator Hutchison and other Texas members of the conference committee. We know it had an impact and made it a tough decision for them to support this version of the bill.
Please stay in touch, as we will continue to keep you updated about this bill and, as always, to fight for the rights and safety of bicyclists in Texas.