Administration Sends Transportation Bill to Congress

Matthew Colvin As we have discussed in previous posts, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the Highway Trust Fund will go bankrupt as early as mid-summer, while the current transportation bill, MAP-21, will expire shortly after in September. As we continue to wait for action on a bill in the House and Senate over the coming months, the Obama Administration put forward their own proposal, the GROW AMERICA Act this week.

As we continue to wait for action on a bill in the House and Senate over the coming months, the Obama Administration put forward their own proposal, the GROW AMERICA Act this week.

The administration’s bill would reauthorize our surface transportation programs for an additional four years at $302 billion, and lays a positive framework for bringing greater safety, equity, and focus on multi-modal transportation options for all of our nation’s road users.  Although it is unlikely Congress will take action on the GROW AMERICA Act, we are hopeful that the president’s plan will guide lawmaker’s efforts as they continue crafting their own bills.   

We’ve put together an initial analysis of the 350-page bill in how it affects Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking, and will continue to review its content over the coming days.  We are particularly pleased that the Administration bill includes several provisions we had specifically advocated for. The GROW AMERICA Act:

  • Strengthens the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) that is now the home for Safe Routes to School funding by restoring eligibility to non-profits and small MPOs so they can directly apply for funding.  This will be a particular help for Safe Routes to School, as many nonprofits had previously received funding to implement non-infrastructure projects, but were then cut out by TAP.  The Administration bill also allows states to meet the 20% state/local matching requirement on average across multiple projects, instead of for each individual project.  This will give states more flexibility to lower or waive the matching requirements for projects submitted by low income, small, and rural communities. Unfortunately, the bill does not return the TAP program to 2011 funding levels. 

  • Incentivizes states with high bicycle and pedestrian fatality rates to spend additional funding on safety.  We previously discussed the need to include safety performance measures for bicycle and pedestrian road users to incentivize states to spend more Highway Safety Improvement Program dollars on roadway safety.  While we will continue pushing for a non-motorized performance measure, we view this as a positive step in the right direction for the administration and a recognition of the need to address rising rates of bicycle and pedestrian deaths.

  • Shifts more resources to the local level through several new initiatives.  One initiative would establish a new equity pilot project that will provide funding for up to ten MPOs to establish and meet measures to improve Americans’ connectivity in neighborhoods with limited transportation options—specifically including non-motorized modes. This pilot would also help inform USDOT’s consideration of adding a performance measure on connectivity from homes to jobs and schools.  Another initiative would shift additional transportation funding from state DOTs to MPOs that are “high performing.”

  • Establishes a federal Complete Streets policy, which will require that all road users are taken into account when planning federally funded projects. 

  • Makes bicycle and pedestrian projects explicitly eligible for TIGER grants. Since 2009, more than $4.1 billion have been authorized for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grants, which typically fund large highway, transit, port, and rail projects. 

  • Creates the Fixing and Accelerating Surface Transportation (FAST) program.   Modelled after the administration’s Race to the Top education program, FAST incentivizes transportation innovation and best practices, and will provide $1 billion in funding each year to qualifying states and MPOs for projects including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.