House Transportation Bill on the Move

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has set its consideration of the transportation bill for Thursday, October 22. This is coming in just under the wire, as the current transportation law expires at the end of October.  Congress will still have to do an extension of current law to allow the House to complete its work and then come to agreement with the Senate -- hopefully by mid-December.  (Update 10/22/15:  The committee completed consideration of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act today.  An amendment offered by Reps. Curbelo (R-FL) and Titus (D-NV) to strengthen the Complete Streets provisions was accepted.  No amendments to harm the Transportation Alternatives Program (now know as STP Setaside in the House bill) were even offered.  The summary below remains accurate about the House bill's treatment of Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking. Next action will be the House floor.)

The committee has released its draft bill, which is called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act. Given the positive changes in the Senate DRIVE Act on federal funding for bicycling and walking, our goal in the more conservative House was to maintain the status quo. 

Specific to the Transportation Alternatives Program, the House bill would:

  • Move TAP into the Surface Transportation Program and rename it "STP Setaside."
  • Retain all the core elements of the program--the same types of projects are eligible, the same type of applicants are eligible, it retains the 50-50 split between the funding the state controls and what has to be distributed by population, and all funds have to be awarded through a competitive process.
  • Freeze funding for TAP at the current level of $819M/year for the life of the six-year bill--meaning that the new setaside would not grow as transportation funding increases.
  • Big cities would also get new flexibility with their TAP money, allowing them to spend up to half of TAP dollars on other types of transportation projects. 

Given the leadership struggles in the House and the tension between conservatives and moderates, this is a workable outcome for the House bill.  We will of course be looking for improvements in the funding level and to maximize the portion of funds under local control, but these are issues that can be addressed when the House and Senate negotiate the differences on their approaches.

In addition to the TAP program, bicycling, walking and Safe Routes to School are still eligible for funding in other federal transportation funding streams.  A new bicycle and pedestrian safety program was also created that will split approximately $14 million among states that have high bicycle and pedestrian fatality rates (more than 15% of all traffic deaths) to support awareness, education and enforcement activities.  The draft bill also includes fairly weak language on Complete Streets, in which the US Department of Transportation would "encourage" states to adopt Complete Streets standards to ensure safe and adequate accommodation of all users (motorized and non-motorized) in all phases of transportation projects. Also included in the draft is language adding the NACTO urban street design manual to the list of accepted design standard guidance, which includes more progressive engineering designs for bicycling and walking.

We will be working with our colleagues and Hill supporters throughout the rest of the legislative process to protect federal funding for bicycling and walking.  We will be particularly vigilant when this bill moves to the full House for consideration as we could face attacks. That could be as soon as next week, or it could slip into November.