Reading the Tea Leaves for the Next Transportation Bill

Margo PedrosoIn my last post, I talked about the government shutdown and how the fighting over funding could be a bad sign for the next surface transportation bill, given the $15 billion per year funding shortfall. Here we are several weeks later, and Congress has resolved the government shutdown, but the ramifications for the next MAP-21 are still unclear.

As part of the deal to re-open the government and fund it through January 15, Congress is undertaking budget negotiations for how to handle the next round of sequestration cuts and funding levels for the remainder of FY2014.  Early on, there were hopes that perhaps these negotiations could be a framework for a long-term, multi-year budget deal that could include a long-term solution for the highway trust fund.  But, those hopes have faded and it now looks that any deal will likely be a fairly small-scale and address only the remainder of FY2014. While those budget talks are supposed to be completed by mid-December, they may well drag on into early January.

While that still leaves a major funding hurdle for the reauthorization of MAP-21, another infrastructure bill does give some hope. In late October, the House passed its version of the WRDA bill (Water Resources and Development Act) which governs water projects like ports and dams. While the bill itself has no direct impact on surface transportation projects like bicycling and walking, its bipartisan passage holds out small hope for the next surface transportation bill. 

Rep. Shuster (R-PA), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was able to build broad support for the legislation and make it a truly bipartisan bill.  Even though several conservative groups came out in opposition to the legislation due to spending levels, it passed the House with only 3 dissenting votes, and several conservative Republicans spoke out about the importance of the federal government’s role in adequately funding infrastructure.  While a surface transportation bill requires a significantly greater level of funding resources, the successful passage of the WRDA bill provides a model that Rep. Shuster may be able to follow in reauthorizing and finding funding for the MAP-21 successor.

So, we’ll continue reading the tea leaves about how to successfully build support for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking in the next transportation bill, while working behind the scenes to show the benefits when the federal government does invest in these modes.