Saturday, April 14, 2012

Federal Transportation Bill Update

On April 4th, the U.S. Senate approved a two-year blueprint for transportation that gives states greater spending flexibility allows the federal government to set minimum safety standards for subway systems and buys time to find a solution for a funding system teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

This bipartisan bill was approved 17 days before current transportation funding and authority to collect the federal gas tax that support it, will expire. During the 2012 Bike Summit, our marching orders were to request a clean extension of the current bill. And, we were to ask for approval of the Petri amendment that would have maintained all transportation enhancements. Ultimately, we wanted the Senate to approve the House Bill but the Arizona senators would not see us and furthermore, we learned from insiders that that was highly unlikely to happen.

Fulfilling that prophecy, the House transportation bill did indeed stall. The newly-approved Senate bill might hold the only chance for that legislation reaches the White House before the deadline. The new law pushed through largely by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) won broad support, passing on a vote of 74 to 22.
Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md), played a central role in protecting funding for popular bike and pedestrian programs. Joining with Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) Cardin crafted a successful amendment that created a competitive grant program for those projects, with the winners to be selected on the city and local level.
The senate bill carves more than 60 federal transportation programs from about 90 to less than 30. The tenets of the bill that are most attractive to conservatives is that it allows for local control of federal transportation money. It also funds projects to ease congestion and allay air pollution while increasing highway safety funding, cutting red tape that can delay projects and expands a federal program that provides loans and loan guarantees to encourage private investment.
Additionally, the law creates mandates for federal safety standards for transit systems. These mandates were urged by Maryland’s other senator Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md) since the 2009 Metrorail crash in which nine people died.
The $109 billion Senate bill bridges a funding gap by raising almost $10 billion with several moves that critics have denounced as gimmicks. One would transfer $3.7 billion from a trust fund established to pay for damage caused by leaking underground storage tanks. An additional almost $2.8 billion would be raised by ending a tax credit for paper manufacturers, and hundreds of millions more are projected to roll in by pursuing delinquent taxpayers.

Sheryl Keeme

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