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Raining on Everyone’s Parade

Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration informed state Departments of Transportation of another rescission of funds, this time totaling $2.5 billion. A “rescission”, you may recall, is a mechanism by which states return to Washington various unspent amounts of money that they could have spent but haven’t yet done so. The action is taken under the 2011 Full-year Continuing Appropriations Act. This is the FHWA notice, which includes the total amount of funds each state is to send back to Washington. Not the most entertaining piece of prose you’ll ever read, but hidden within the language is another significant threat to the funds that are available to spend on bicycling improvements.

States are given maximum flexibility about the source of the funds that are rescinded – from among a variety of transportation programs. Most critically for bicycling, the transportation enhancements, congestion mitigation, and recreational trails programs are included in the list of programs. Fortunately, the Safe Routes to School program is not included, so those funds are safe.

States have been given a whole week to respond – that’s right, they got the notice yesterday and have to decide what funds to send back by Friday July 8. The memo recommends that “Division Administrators should encourage their State department of transportation officials to reach out to stakeholders in considering how to implement the rescission,” but our experience has been this really doesn’t happen. Or at least, the bicycle community either isn’t considered a stakeholder worth reaching out to or once reached out to, our views are simply ignored.

We say that because Transportation Enhancement and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds have consistently been inequitably targeted for rescissions in most states – and this will likely continue unless State DOT’s hear from their customers. In August, 2010 almost $1 billion of CMAQ, TE and Recreational Trails funds were returned to Washington, out of a $2.2 billion rescission. That means that State Departments of Transportation didn’t spend these funds in the first place – even though they could have been using the funds to build better bicycling infrastructure, provide bicyclist education, install bike parking – and now are choosing instead to send the money back to Washington.

Given the complexity of issue, the short turn-around time, and the fact that there’s a Federal holiday of some note on Monday, it’s a challenge to know how to effectively respond and try to influence the outcome of this rescissions process – however, we have set up an action alert here that you can use. Governors often seem to have little influence over their Departments of Transportation and State DOT directors certainly need to know your concerns but will rarely be the person making the actual decision. If you have a statewide advocacy group in your state, they will be a good place to go for any targeted action or inside information on who to contact and how.

Sorry to rain on your July 4th parades…

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