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What’s Happening With Infrastructure Investment?
The Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) on August 10, known colloquially as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which includes significant new surface transportation funding that will be spent over the next five years.
The IIJA is the largest-ever federal investment in transportation infrastructure. The package consists of $1.2 trillion in total spending, constituting a $550 billion increase in funding over the 2015 baseline set by the previous transportation reauthorization bill, the FAST Act. Of that $550 billion increase, $274 billion is allocated to the US Department of Transportation.
While the IIJA contains numerous improvements that will help keep vulnerable road users safe, it is also missing key provisions supported by the League of American Bicyclists. Like any piece of legislation, the IIJA is imperfect, but we still view it as a major step in the right direction. The IIJA includes increased investment in biking and walking, better transit systems, complete streets, and increased local control over transportation projects. These policies are all people-centric and will focus transportation planning on what is best for people, not automobiles.
Throughout the IIJA negotiations, the League also supported including key provisions such as “fix it first” and “fix it right” policies, performance measures with actionable methods to ensure better outcomes, more discretionary funds, and a change in the highway to transit ratio in the Highway Trust Fund. Unfortunately, these provisions did not make it into the bill.
Is this a good or bad bill?
You may have seen multiple articles discussing if this bill is overall good for biking and walking, or transit, or climate change. That is really an incomplete or academic question. The real question is whether or not this is a good or bad bill compared to current law or what we could get next Congress.
A Bill in the Next Congress
Eventually, Congress must reauthorize the transportation bill. It was supposed to happen last year, now it is on track to occur this year. But, if the IIJA fails this year, it will be reauthorized by the Congress elected in 2022. Rolling the dice with the next Congress could result in a bill much less progressive than the current one. In 2012, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee passed a Republican-only bill that would have cut biking, walking and transit out of the Highway Trust Fund. That could have meant no guaranteed funding for any of those modes in that 5-year bill. (Eventually, the MAP-21 Act became law cutting 30% of biking and walking funding, ended the maintenance program, and incentivized interstate construction by reducing local match requirements from 20% to 5% of project costs.)
If the IIJA fails, and we get a continuation of current law, there would be less funding for new road capacity. However, biking and walking would be stuck at $850 million in Transportation Alternatives, and the roughly 1% of safety funding we get now, even as the overall new road capacity spending would grow every year. There would be no required complete streets standards, vulnerable road user assessments, new accessibility planning data, or new climate and resiliency programs.
The House INVEST in America Bill
The House of Representatives passed this partisan (Democrats only) transportation bill earlier this year, and it is a bill the League would have loved to see become law. It included most of the people-centric policies we cared about and put limitations and restrictions on auto-centric policies and spending we don’t like. However, this bill was always going to require negotiation with the Senate bill to ensure the support of 60 Senators. (Policy changes can’t go through reconciliation.)
What’s in it for Bicyclists and Pedestrians?
The IIJA contains numerous provisions that will increase safety, accessibility, and convenience for bicyclists and pedestrians. These can be divided into a few main sections: transportation alternatives, safety and safe streets for all, complete streets and accessibility, vehicle safety, and other provisions.
The IIJA includes a 70% increase in funding for transportation alternatives and new rules to make the program easier to use for local governments. The updated Transportation Alternatives guidelines will limit transferability of funds and allow them to be used for technical assistance.
Much of the IIJA is centered around increased safety for all vulnerable road users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians.
Required funding for biking and walking safety: One important safety provision is the requirement of dedicated funding for states with high rates of vulnerable road user (VRU) fatalities. States where more than 15% of fatalities are VRUs must spend at least 15% on bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessments: The bill also requires all states to conduct VRU safety assessments that identify dangerous areas and potential fixes.
More safety research and guidance for states: Other provisions in the IIJA will mandate new Federal Highway Administration research that identifies and promotes best practices for biking and walking safety AND for promoting biking and walking.
Safe Streets for All
The IIJA includes $6 billion for the Safe Streets for All program over 5 years. $1 billion of that comes from the commerce bill baseline, with an additional $5 billion being added. This increased funding will finance the creation of plans that relate to engineering, education, and enforcement. After plans are created, the Safe Streets for All funding can be used to finance the planning, design, development, and implementation of projects and strategies.
Complete Streets and Accessibility
The IIJA includes funding and a mandate for states to write Complete Street Standards. Once states have established these comprehensive standards, the appropriated funding can be used for a complete streets priority plan and other plans related to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Accessibility: The IIJA also includes a pilot program that will provide accessibility data that better measures how well a proposed project will connect people to everyday destinations like school, work, shops and healthcare facilities.
The IIJA includes a brand-new requirement that vehicle safety regulations take into account the safety of vulnerable road users.
- Updates to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP): The bill requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update its 5-star system to set standards for and rate car model’s crash avoidance technology, like Automatic Emergency Braking, and to improve efficiency with vulnerable road users.
- Updates to Headlight Regulations: The bill requires NHTSA to update its 1969 regulations regarding headlights. The old recommendation does not allow for adaptive headlight technology which has the potential to help drivers better see pedestrians from dusk to dawn.
- Updates to Hoods and Bumpers: NHTSA is required to start the process of establishing new safety standards for the hoods and bumpers of cars, trucks, and buses, with the goal of reducing injuries and fatalities suffered by vulnerable road users.
RAISE grants (formerly TIGER/ BUILD grants): The IIJA includes $7.5 billion in RAISE grants over a period of 5 years. This is a large increase from the $500 million per year baseline.
SMART Grants: The IIJA also contains $500 million for SMART grants, which can be used to help cities employ and experiment with new technologies. The SMART grant language protects bicycle and pedestrian interests by prohibiting projects from blocking access for other modes of transportation and requiring them to improve safety for all modes.
Bike/Ped Access on bridges: The IIJA includes a policy change that requires both new and reconstructed bridges to incorporate access for bicyclists and pedestrians unless it is cost-prohibitive. With almost $50 billion in new bridge money, how the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) employs this new policy can make a real difference.