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DRIVE Act Gets A Tune-up

This morning the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee met to debate and discuss the DRIVE Act, the Senate’s proposed transportation bill. The  hearing today was a feel-good show of bi-partisan support and compromise for a long term transportation bill. The Committee rightly congratulated its leaders (Sens. Jim Inhofe, Barbara Boxer, David Vitter and Tom Carper) for moving the conversation forward on the need for a long term and sustainable transportation bill. 

While the Committee discussion today was uneventful, it marked the end of a whirl of activity for the Committee members in terms of amendments to the bill — some of which improve the bill significantly from a biking standpoint. Roughly 30 amendments we filed on Tuesday, and a few key ones were passed through by the committee leadership and the committee as a whole. Read our analysis of the original bill here.

Photo by Brian Palmer

Here are the new changes that are good for biking.

Transportation Alternatives

Sen. Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) technical amendment to ensure that the Transportation Alternatives Program funds to be distributed by population could not be transferred by the state was adopted. That is an important change, allowing MPOs and others to have certainty in funding levels. In its previous iteration, 100% of the funds were to be dispersed by population size, however, it stipulated that the state could take 50% of those funds at any time, which creates a planning headache for local agencies.

Complete Streets

In MAP-21, the current transportation bill, the design criteria for the National Highway System (other than interstates) stated the design for new construction, reconstruction or resurfacing projects “may take into account the access for other modes.” In DRIVE, the language was changed from  “may take into account” to “shall consider.”

Sens. Ed Markey (D-MD) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered an amendment, which was accepted, that changed the language from “access” for other modes to “safety and access for other modes.” Now, it says that projects on the National Highway System (not including interstates) “shall consider the access and safety of other modes.” 

These two changes taken together come very close to a Complete Streets policy for the National Highway System. Plus, it is a big improvement to the bill. This link to the NHS maps will show which roads in your community are affected by this provision.

Research and local governments

An amendment from Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) passed, which makes local governments and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) eligible for funding to do transportation research projects, including research on innovative design. These two Senators also deserve our thanks for their continued push for better access to transportation funds and decision-making power for local governments. 

Looking ahead

We also owe a round of thanks to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for her leadership on Vision Zero and bicycle and pedestrian safety in general, and to Sen. Merkley for his consistent advocacy for transportation equity.

And thanks to everyone who weighed in with their Senator on these issues. While the overall bill is still very DRIVE focused, the changes to Transportation Alternatives, design standards, and local government access to funds offer some significant improvements for bicycling.

Stay tuned: The Senate continues its work with the Commerce Committee, which writes the safety aspects of the overall transportation bill, is hoping to propose their section of the bill next week.

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