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Congress to finish Transportation Bill by November?
Since 1991, the federal transportation authorization has included dedicated funding for bicycling and pedestrian projects. Over that time, states and communities have matched federal dollars with local funds to build close to 32,000 bicycling and walking projects — including bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails, and other improvements.
From 1991-2009, funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects grew, and its place in the bill was generally non-controversial. Since 2008, transportation funds (which come mostly from the gas tax) have not kept pace with transportation needs. Many in Congress have favored limiting what that funding can be used for, and dedicated bike-ped funding has frequently come under attack. Rifts in Congress and the lack of secure funding have made it prohibitively difficult to pass a full transportation reauthorization. Instead, Congress has passed a series of short-term extensions of the current bill. These frequent extensions have kept bike advocates up in their saddles to avoid having bike-ped funding stripped from those extensions.
Congress is again trying to pass a full transportation bill. The best-case scenario for bike advocates is a full bill of several years duration, maintaining bike-ped funding and improving safety policy.
The goal is suddenly within reach. Last week, the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives passed the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR – pronounced Star), and referred it to the House floor.
At the same time, Chairman Shuster introduced an extension to MAP-21 (the current transportation authorization) until November 20th (the current authorization runs out on October 29th). By introducing an extension until November 20th, Chairman Shuster is expressing confidence that the House can pass its bill and then reconcile it with the bill the Senate passed in August to pass a final bill in less than a month.
In order for this to happen the House will likely have to agree to the Senate funding plan (despite earlier objections) and leaders from the House and Senate will have to negotiate quickly.
While the House bill is less favorable to bicycling and pedestrian projects than the Senate bill, dedicated funding is maintained at current levels. There are also some new programs to fund bike safety. Here are the details:
Transportation Alternatives Program
Currently, the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is a stand-alone program and is a significant source of funding for bicycling and walking- particularly for local governments and states that don’t prioritize biking and walking.
League ask: Given the improvements we won in the Senate, our ask in the more conservative House was to keep TAP the same.
- Placement: moved into the Surface Transportation Block Grant program as a set aside.
- Funding flow/ structure of the program stays the same. Half of the money is reserved by population size of community. Half goes into a grant program run by state. The funding must still go through a competitive program and only local government entities are eligible
- Transferability: Metropolitan areas will be able to use half their TAP funding on any STP project
- Funding level: The bill caps TAP funding at $820 million for the next six years.
Analysis: This is a workable outcome for us moving forward. While the cap on funding is a problem, maintaining the competitive structure and local control aspects is critical to maintaining the integrity of the program. Given the wins in the Senate bill, we will work with our champions in conference committee (where Congress works out the differences between the Senate and House versions) to work for the best potential outcomes.
Transportation Alternatives Program- Comparison of House and Senate bills
|Element||Current (MAP-21)||League Position||Senate||House|
|Funding||% of core programs||Back to 2011 levels, > $1 billion||Capped at $850 million||Capped at $820 million|
|Placement||Stand-alone program||Stand-alone program||Rolled into Surface Transportation Block Grant program|
|Funding flow / structure||50% allocated based on population of MPO
50% allocated in a state-run in competitive process
|100% population||50% population
|Transferability||50% (state discretionary funds may be redirected to non-bike/ped projects)||None||50% of state and 50% of population based MPO funds can be redirected|
|Eligible entities||Local government agencies||Add NGO and small MPO||Adds NGOs||Local government agencies|
|Treatment of projects||“as if federal aid project”||Remove language||Compromise language||No change|
Safety, Complete Streets, and Design Standards
Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP): HSIP currently funding is available for virtually all safety projects, infrastructure and non-infrastructure. The majority of the funding goes to interstates and intersections with less than one percent going to bicycle and pedestrian projects- although some funds do go to education programs for bicycling and pedestrian safety.
402 and 405 funds fall under the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) which leads education programs to improve safety, including efforts like encouraging seat belts and reducing drunk driving. Section 402 is a general funding for safety programs for which bicycle and pedestrian projects are eligible. 405 funding goes to specific priorities.
League Ask: The League ask was to use 1.5% of this fund for a new Vision Zero program to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive plans to fund education, enforcement and engineering solutions to safety problems.
- Excludes non-infrastructure from HSIP eligibility (as does the Senate).
- Creates a 405 bicycle and pedestrian safety priority program ($14 million a year).
- Only states where 15% or more of traffic fatalities are bicyclists and pedestrian. (Roughly 20 states and DC).
- Focuses on enforcement and education of police on state laws that effect bicyclists and pedestrians (such as vulnerable user laws).
Analysis: The 405 program is a nice win for us. This is a great opportunity to connect the work at the state level to pass legislation such as vulnerable user laws, dooring laws, passing laws, etc. as well as Vision Zero efforts to federal funding to educate the police and the public. These funds can be sub contracted to NGOs.
Under current law there is no language requiring or encouraging states to pass complete streets policies. There was some weak language stating that states “may consider” all users when building National Highway System (NHS) roads.
League Ask: To pass the Safe Streets Act requiring states to pass complete streets policies.
- Strengthens language on NHS. Bill now says, states “SHALL consider” the access of all users when building NHS roads.
- Includes a new section stating, “The Secretary [of transportation] shall encourage states to pass complete streets design standards. This was strengthened in committee to:
- Include a report back to Congress and a gathering of best practices.
- Include Metropolitan Planning Organizations as well as states.
Analysis– This is the first time since 2009 that there has been any complete streets language in the House bill. While this language is weaker than the Senate language, it should mean that in the conference committee we get some type of Complete Streets language.
Safety, Complete Streets and Design Standards- Comparison of House and Senate bills
|Element||Current (MAP-21)||League Position||Senate||House|
|HSIP||Include non-infrastructure||Vision Zero program||NO non-infrastructure||NO non-infrastructure|
|Education funding||Eligible under section 402 – no priority status||Section 405 priority program||NO priority status||Priority program – enforcement. States where 15% or more of traffic deaths are bike/ped|
|Complete Streets||“May consider” on National Highway System||“Shall consider”||Shall consider access and safety of all modes||Shall consider access of all modes|
|Safe Streets||None||Inclusion of the Safe Streets act – requires states to set complete streets policies based on set criteria||Secretary requires state policies, sets standards||Secretary encourages policies, states decide on standards|
|Design guidelines||AASHTO||Adds NACTO||Adds NACTO|
- The House bill, like the Senate bill, codifies the use of the NACTO Urban streets design guidelines.
- The Bill includes funding for intelligent transportation systems, connection cars, etc. that is inclusive of testing with active transportation and has as a goal increasing access to transportation alternatives.
- The planning guidelines were changed to include, “enhance travel and tourism” to the scope of planning process at both the state and MPO level.