Yesterday the House voted to extend current transportation law for another 90 days, and dedicated funding for biking and walking remains safe!
While House leadership did include amendments to incorporate Republican priorities such as the Keystone XL pipeline and provisions to weaken environmental oversight, biking and walking programs survived uscathed.
On Wednesday, the House passed another 90-day extension of current transportation law. If it were to pass the Senate, this extension would apply from July 1 until September 30, 2012.
This time, the extension contained a number of policy-add ons, but no legislation attacking biking and walking.
House Approves New Extension
This extension of current transportation law included two policy additions and three amendments:
- The RESTORE Act for post-oil spill environmental restoration in the Gulf;
- Legislation to approve construction of the Keystone Pipeline;
- An amendment inserting the text of the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act;
- An amendment on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund; and
- An amendment inserting environmental streamlining from HR-7. This amendment includes a provision ruling that if an environmental assessment on a transportation project is not completed after 270 days, the project moves forward with an assessment of "no impact."
The environmental provisions in this extension have prompted opposition from environmental groups.
The House passed this additional extension in order to go to conference with the Senate. Representatives from the House and Senate will now hammer out a transportation bill that is a compromise between the Senate's MAP-21, and current law (including the above provisions.)
Biking and Walking Safe, for Now
Changes to biking and walking programs are notably absent in the House's new extension. This is a tiny victory for biking and walking.
Again and again, Republican leaders have called for an end to Transportation Enhancements, one of the three programs that provides dedicated funding for biking and walking. In the spring of 2011, House leaders pinpointed eliminating dedicated funding for biking as a policy priority. Eric Cantor reiterated that goal last winter when he targeted bike funding for elimination and inaccurately claimed that bike infrastructure doesn't create jobs. (It does.)
Thanks to the efforts of thousands of advocates across the country, we are showing Congress that Americans want to protect the funds to make streets safer for biking and walking.
So what's next?
This time, instead of just prolonging current transportation law, the House and Senate will conference this extension with MAP-21. Leadership in both chambers are discussing who will be 'Conferees.' Once all the Conferees are named, the two chambers could start work to reconcile the differences between the two bills and create a new transportation bill. Once the conferenced bill has passed Congress, President Obama can sign the bill into law.
When House and Senate go to conference, the two chambers will technically negotiate to reconcile the differences between MAP-21 and current law. Conference Committees are a black box, though, and sometimes what comes out doesn't resemble what went in.
We will need to be vigilant and advocate to Conferees, leadership and all members of Congress to preserve dedicated funding for biking and walking, including Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails. We will also promote the local control provisions of the Cardin-Cochran amendment to MAP-21.
How to Help
People all over the country have worked hard to show Congress that biking and walking matter. We must continue to show our elected officials that dedicated funding for biking and walking needs to be preserved and strengthened, not eliminated.
As Bike Month approaches, schools, communities, and advocacy groups across the country are organizing events to showcase and boost biking. If you're hosting such an event, please consider inviting your elected officials to show them that biking matters in their state or district.
Together, we can ask Congress to maintain dedicated funding for biking and walking and ensure that local governments have a voice in transportation. Programs like Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails are essential to keeping our streets safe and making biking more accessible.