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INVEST in America Earmarks With Good News for Bicycling and Walking

On July 1, the House of Representatives passed the INVEST in America Act, a bill that would invest 715 billion dollars in surface transportation projects across the United States. Earmarks comprise a sizable portion of the included spending. The League of American Bicyclists supported passage of the bill, H.R. 3684, because it broadly increases funding for pedestrian and bicycle projects, especially safety improvements and complete streets. The League has been tracking the proposed earmarks and analyzing their projected impact on bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users.

A Little Bit of Background

In late February, congressional Democrats resurrected earmarks, which they formally renamed Community Project Funding. Put simply, an earmark is a provision in an appropriations bill directing discretionary funds to be spent on a specific project. While Congress has a constitutional right to determine how funds should be spent, the earmark system has long been controversial. When a 2010 “red wave” swept Republicans into the majority, Speaker of the House John Boehner acted to ban the earmark mechanism. The early 2010s ire against earmarks was bipartisan. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama promised to veto any bill containing earmarks. In the succeeding ten years, long-time Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle missed the appropriations tool and committed to reviving it with stricter ethics and disclosure rules.

Prior to the decade-long ban in 2011, earmarks were a fixture of the transportation appropriations process. This “Congressionally Directed Funding” (CDF) system allowed Members of Congress to determine which projects should receive priority transportation discretionary funding, not the Department of Transportation. Now that congressionally directed funding is once again permitted in the appropriations process, the surface transportation bill showed a massive resurgence of earmark usage. 

Overall Member Designated Projects Requested and Designated

Chart is taken from a press release by the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee from June 7, 2021.

Our Analysis of the INVEST in America Act Member Designated Projects

  • 2383 earmarks were requested in total. 392 of these requested earmarks were substantially related to bicycle or pedestrian issues. 275 earmarks related to bicycle or pedestrian issues were included in the final bill.
  • Earmarks were used to appropriate a total of $ 876,772,181 for bicycle or pedestrian-related projects in the final House bill.
  • The average cost of a proposed earmark was $6,239,970.25. The cost of an earmark included in the final bill was just dollars less, averaging $6,239,314.38.
  • 173 Members made bicycle or pedestrian-related earmark requests. 146 of these Members had at least one of their requests included in the final bill.
  • The largest bicycle or pedestrian-related earmark included in the final bill was made by Rep. Al Green (TX-09). He requested the appropriation of $28,500,000.00 for a Fondren Road Reconstruction with Transit and Pedestrian Enhancements. The smallest earmark related to bicyclists or pedestrians included in the bill was made by Rep. John Curtis (UT-03) who requested $73,345 for a Safe Route to School Sidewalk Project.

Use this interactive data table to learn more about the earmarks requested by your Member of Congress in the INVEST in America Act.

Interested in the amendments made to the INVEST in America act before its passage? Read our recent blog post taking an in-depth look at how Members used amendments to advance transportation equity in the legislation.

Author’s note: With over 2000 earmarks requested, it is possible that we omitted a few related to bicycles or pedestrians. If you catch any we missed, please let us know! We will be updating this article and the data table as changes are made.