America Bikes Resources

The Cardin-Cochran Agreement

What Is the Cardin-Cochran Agreement?

The Cardin-Cochran agreement was a bipartisan compromise advanced in the Senate during transportation negotiations. The agreement proposed to give local governments access to a small amount of federal funds for small-scale, local transportation projects.

In the final transportation bill, the overall structure of the Cardin-Cochran agreement was maintained, but available funding for biking and walking projects was reduced. For more information about the new federal transportation law, visit the MAP-21 resources page

In the Senate's transportation bill, a small fund called Additional Activities combined Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School with a myriad of other eligibilities, such as environmental mitigation. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) offered this amendment to ensure that cities and counties have an opportunity to compete for Additional Activities funds for biking and walking projects, if they choose to do so. 

You can download an explainer about the Cardin-Cochran agreement here or view it below. 

Who Supported the Cardin-Cochran Agreement?

More than 70 national organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the Local Government Commission, YMCA for the USA, and the American Heart Association, expressed support for the Cardin-Cochran agreement.

In a sign-on letter to transportation bill conferees, groups asked members of Congress to preserve the Cardin-Cochran agreement to allow local governments and school systems to access a small amount of federal transportation funds for projects like sidewalks, bikeways, and other small–scale transportation projects. 

You can view the sign-on letter below or download a PDF of the letter here

While members of Congress debated the issue, most Americans overwhelming support biking and walking projects. A Princeton survey recently found that 83 percent of Americans want Congress to increase or maintain federal funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways, including 80 percent of surveyed Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats.

The United States Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties also wrote a letter to Senators in support of the Cardin-Cochran agreement. 

Why Cardin-Cochran? 

Safeguards in the Cardin-Cochran agreement were included to ensure that communities of every size benefit from making their own localized transportation decisions for safe streets. Local schools and local officials know the needs of their streets best, and local communities are in the best position to utilize federal funds to make streets safer and more accessible. 

The Cardin-Cochran agreement was a bipartisan compromise that successfully won the support of liberal and conservative members of the Senate. 

For more details, check out our blog post, “Why Cardin Cochran?”

How Was the Cardin-Cochran Agreement at Risk?

Members of the House hoped to make Additional Activities optional for states, thus nullifying the local control elements in the Cardin-Cochran agreement.

House Republicans argued for an Additional Activities opt-out provision in order to ensure greater state flexibility, so that state governments control all federal transportation funds. But state flexibility comes at the expense of local control over local projects.

States use federal transportation funds for large highway projects, and small, local projects tend to fall between the cracks. When the state controls all funding, local officials lose the opportunity to use transportation funds to address local needs. 

Is the Cardin-Cochran Agreement in the New Law? 

Yes. The overall structure of the Cardin-Cochran agreement was maintained in the new federal transportation law, although with several alterations and reduced funding levels.

If it were not for the work of biking and walking supporters across the country who emailed and called their members of Congress during transportation negotiations, biking and walking programs would have suffered much larger hits in the final policy. 

The final conference report — the bill to which selected members of the House and Senate ultimately agreed — combines Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, Recreational Trails, and several non-biking and walking activities into a new program called Transportation Alternatives. This combined program was originally dubbed Additional Activities in the Senate bill.

Funding for Transportation Alternatives will be 2% of a state's highway funds. This represents a reduction in overall funding for biking and walking: in 2013, only $808 million will be available for all Transportation Alternatives activities. In comparison, in 2011 the three biking and walking programs combined received a high of $1.2 billion. 

The Recreational Trails program will be funded at 2009 levels. Then, funding for Transportation Alternatives is divided into two equal pots. State departments of transportation (DOTs) will distribute the first pot by population to metropolitan areas and rural areas within the state. The DOT will distribute the second pot through a competitive grant program for local governments, tribes, and other eligible groups.

The state has the ability to transfer some funding out of Transportation Alternatives for non-biking and walking highway uses. 

For more information, check out the America Bikes MAP-21 resources page and our slides and factsheet on biking and walking in MAP-21

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