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DRIVE Act Passes Full Senate
The Senate passed the DRIVE Act, a comprehensive transportation bill with at least three years of funding, after a week of deliberation. The bill was more divisive than we’ve seen in transportation in the past — mostly over funding — but it’s also the first long term bill in a decade.
Taking a broad view, it’s missing any real innovation or vision to really grapple with transportation needs for the 21st Century. However, there were a number of improvements in the new bill, including an increase in funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program and two new Complete Streets provisions.
The bill passed at the very end of July, a time when Senators and Representatives are preparing to leave town for their August Recess. However, with the Senate bill done, and a short extension in place, there won’t be much of a recess for transportation staff on the House side. They hope to have a draft bill for the Transportation Committee in September. The League and our partners will work with them to protect, promote and build on the pro-bike provisions in the Senate version as they prepare for their own bill.
It’s now up to the House. They will need to get a bill written and through the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee quickly in order to meet the October deadline. It is important though that they work through the process. In 2012 the House went to conference on an extension. At that time Committee leadership was working from HR 7 (which hadn’t passed the House, but had passed T&I on a party line vote. That bill cut bike/ped AND transit from the Highway Trust Fund). This occurred, In part, because the House was de facto working from a bill that was not bi-partisan, and not vetted by the full House, they were able to pull the Senate into a much worse bill than the bi-partisan bill the Senate had passed.
Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)
TAP Funding Overall
- Currently: MAP-21 cut funding levels by 30 percent, by making TAP 2% of all other programs. In 2014, TAP was funded at $819 million down from $1.2 Billion in 2011.
- League Suggestion: TAPIA increased funding levels from 2% to 3% which would have restored funding close to the 2011 level.
- DRIVE Act: Increases funding to $850 million a year. However, the funding is no longer connected to other programs so will not increase along with other parts of the bill.
- Analysis: The Senate bill is flat funded so this is an increase for TAP
Local Control over Spending
- Currently: 50% of TAP funds go to a state run grant program, and 50% are distributed to communities based on population. Especially in small communities and rural areas, this means funding is often too small for more than one project.
- League Position: Two-thirds of the funding is distributed by population, which ensures a fairer distribution of funding among communities of all sizes.
- DRIVE Act:100% of the funds are distributed by population, and states CANNOT transfer funding
- Analysis: Overall this strengthens local control. It may effect Safe Routes funding in states where the state runs its own program. If no other changes are made in the House version of the bill, we’ll have to address this on a state by state basis
Who can Apply
- Currently: Non-profits and small Metropolitan Planning Organizations are ineligible to receive TAP funds. States have no flexibility to contract with qualified non-profits to run Safe Routes to School education programs; small MPOs can’t complete their bikeway networks.
- League Position: Make non-profits and small MPOs eligible recipients of TAP funds.
- DRIVE Act: Adds NGOs as eligible recipients.
- Analysis: This will help NGOs that get state contracts for bike share and Safe Routes to School Program. This, however, does not help small MPOs.
Create an Even Playing Field
- Currently: MAP-21 subjected TAP projects to the same rules and regulations as large highway projects, posing additional challenges and higher costs for communities. This provision was inequitably applied only to TAP funds and for similar projects built under other highway funding programs.
- League Position: Remove the burdensome requirements for smaller projects, like biking and walking infrastructure.
- DRIVE Act: It requires U.S. Department of Transportation to develop guidance to expedite small, low-impact projects.
- Analysis: This is a positive development.
Flexibility for rural and underserved communities
- Currently: TAP requires each individual project meet a strict 20% local match (federal funds cover the remaining 80%). Some communities are unable to raise that local match.
- League Position: Give flexibility to states and MPOs to meet the 80/20 match by bundling projects together.
- DRIVE Act: Each project must include a 20% match.
- Analysis: This give no relief to low income or rural communities that have a tough time making the match.
Provide Certainty for Recreational Trails Program
- Currently: Governors have the ability to opt out of the Recreational Trails program each year. This makes it hard to plan for upcoming trails
- League Position: Remove the ‘opt out’ language so Recreational Trails funding is automatic
- DRIVE Act: The bill does not change anything regarding the Recreational Trails Program
- Analysis: Advocates will have to continue being a watch dog to ensure Governors do not opt out.
The bill increases the amount of funding both from TAP and from the Surface Transportation Program (the most flexible of highway/road funding programs) that goes to local governments through suballocation.
We supported a Wicker –Booker amendment that would have increase STP suballocation but has not been included.
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.
Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP)
Overall this bill deemphasizes safety. It reduces the percentage of overall funds that go to HSIP – it also limits how those funds can be used. Under the Senate bill, HSIP funding can no longer be used for education or other non-infrastructure projects. MAP-21 disallowed TAP funds from going to education as well, again limiting the funds that can go to bike/ped safety.
The final draft of the bill also includes a Complete Streets provision. It is the amendment that passed the Commerce committee, was stripped out, and then put back under the EPW section of the bill. The amendment, Safety for motorized and non motorized users, “…ensures that the design of federal surface transportation projects provide for the safe and adequate accommodation (as determined by the State or other direct recipient of funds) in all phases of project planning, development and operation, of all users of the transportation network, including motorized and non motorized users.”
If a state does not have its own policy it will have to send a report to the Secretary of Transportation explaining how it meets these requirements. he language allows an exemption for states that have a complete streets policy which should act as an incentive for states who haven’t yet passed one. The sponsors were Sen. Schatz (D-HI), Sen Heller (R-NV), Sen Markey (D-MA) and Udall (D-NM)
Active Safety Technology
Finally, Senators Heller and Markey also championed a provision directing NHTSA to include active safety technologies in their safety rating of new cars. This provision was incorporated into the first draft of the commerce bill.
These technologies including forward collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and pedestrian detection, will raise visibility of bicyclists and help to maintain peak driver vigilance. Recent analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that active safety technologies addressing the five most common motorist-bicyclists crash types could mitigate or prevent 47% of all crashes and 38% of fatal crashes. In combination with improved infrastructure, education and enforcement, active safety technologies will make roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The bill was touted as improving TIGER by making TIGER a permanent part of the bill. Instead this bill replaced TIGER with a Freight grant program. Originally the bill included a sense of Congress directing US DOT to direct all discretionary grant programs to fund freight projects, and included a TIGER like program that would only fund freight projects (and specifically removed eligibility of bicycle and pedestrian projects.)
The current version takes out the ‘sense of congress’ language. It keeps the Freight grant program but makes it smaller. This new language does not preclude a TIGER program- but it doesn’t guarantee one either!