Transportation Bill: Fits and Starts; Action Still Needed

Margo PedrosoWith Congress in recess this week, we have a short breather. So I’m taking this opportunity to bring you up to speed on where things stand on the transportation bill. The past three weeks have been action-packed—and there’s more to come next week and beyond.

Recapping the past few weeks

First, on February 2, despite hearing from thousands of constituents and local leaders, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure narrowly defeated the Petri-Johnson-Lipinski amendment that would have restored funding for Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements. The House planned to then move its bill within two weeks by the full House of Representatives.

Soon after, the Senate announced its intent to move quickly on its transportation bill, MAP-21. We swung into action, working with Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Cochran (R-MS) on an amendment to ensure that funding formerly dedicated to Safe Routes to School and bicycling and walking would be available for local governments through competition. Without this amendment, this “Additional Activities” money could instead be used by state departments of transportation as a slush fund for environmental mitigation costs for road projects, leaving communities without any access to federal transportation funds for their local needs and priorities. 

In spite of the rush to get both bills done, both the House and Senate have run into roadblocks.  The House bill has been derided for eliminating funding for bicycling and walking, putting transit funding in danger, using uncertain funding streams and more. The controversial nature of the House bill made it difficult for House leadership to find enough votes to pass the legislation, and Representatives filed more than 250 amendments.  In the Senate, Senators have filed more than 200 amendments, most unrelated to transportation, which has slowed the process of considering the legislation. After making several attempts last week to move forward, House Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader Reid each announced that the transportation bill would resume consideration the week of February 27. 

Coming next week

In the House, a bipartisan group of Representatives—Reps. Petri (R-WI), Johnson (R-IL), LaTourette (R-OH), Blumenauer (D-OR), Lipinski (D-IL) and Johnson (D-TX)—will be offering a slightly revised version of the Petri-Johnson-Lipinski amendment on the floor of the House to restore funding for Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements. We are working with the America Bikes coalition to apply grassroots pressure to key Republican offices. Winning the vote will be an uphill battle since you need 218 votes, which would require all Democrats to vote in favor and 26 Republicans to go against their leadership and vote in favor.   UPDATE:  The House has pushed its vote back to the week of March 5.

In the Senate, we are building support for the Cardin-Cochran amendment that ensures that local governments can compete for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking funding. We have to get to 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, so this will be a close vote. 

What you can do

  1. Keep those grassroots contacts coming. E-mail your Representatives and Senators to ask for their support of the Cardin-Cochran amendment and to oppose the House bill—and ask anyone locally who supports Safe Routes to School to do the same.
  2. Ask your local leaders—principals, mayors, school board members—to call their Senators in support of the Cardin-Cochran amendment.
  3. If your Representative is a Republican, call their office to ask them to vote for the Petri-Johnson-LaTourette amendment to restore funding for Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements.
  4. Keep excelling at implementing Safe Routes to School—the better successes we have, the harder it will be for Congress and state departments of transportation to cut off funding.