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Bipartisan Senate bill introduced today would give local communities greater access to federal funding

Five Senators from both parties just introduced a bill this afternoon that would give local communities more access to, and control over, a share of the federal transportation dollars that flow to their states.

The Innovation in Surface Transportation Act establishes a modest set-aside for merit-based grants to local communities, to help them realize homegrown visions for economic success and improved quality of life. Grants would be awarded by a panel of representatives from local and state jurisdictions, ensuring that funds go to well-conceived projects with strong local support and potential for high return on investment.

The Senate bill was introduced Thursday by lead sponsors Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), along with cosponsoring Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS). This bill is a dramatic, bipartisan statement in the Senate, which now has a companion bill to one introduced in the House in June by Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Dina Titus (D-NV).

“On behalf of our alliance of local elected, business and civic leaders, I want to thank Senators Booker, Wicker, Begich, Casey and Cochran for their leadership in responding to the needs of local communities and taking a stand for their needs and priorities,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America.

Transportation for America Chair John Robert Smith, a former mayor himself, said he hears a constant refrain from local elected officials that they have little to no say in how their state’s federal dollars are used.

“The local leaders I’ve talked are held directly accountable for their local transportation needs,” he said. “They’re absolutely willing to compete and be held accountable for results, but they need better access to resources to meet their communities’ needs. This proposal would give them a seat at the table and award the funds in a competitive process, with the state’s cooperation, to help steer investment toward projects with the greatest bang for the buck.  It would take a major step toward restoring funding for local needs to ensure that those who know their communities’ needs best will be making decisions on how transportation dollars should be spent,” said Mayor John Robert Smith.

“As a former mayor, I understand local leaders are often in the best position to make sound, cost-effective investment decisions,” said Senator Cory Booker in today’s joint press release with Senator Roger Wicker. “This proposal will give New Jersey’s 565 municipalities a seat at the table and greater opportunities to fund innovative projects that will create jobs and boost the economy.”

“Local officials in Mississippi are on the front lines of America’s transportation challenges but often lack the resources to pay for critical improvements,” said Senator Wicker. “This measure would enable these local leaders to have a larger role in deciding which projects merit consideration. In doing so, leaders could implement the most targeted and cost-effective solutions to meet unique and urgent infrastructure needs.”

It’s telling to note that this bipartisan group of Senators represents highly urbanized states (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) as well as states with large numbers of rural and smaller towns (Mississippi and Alaska). But small town or big city, these Senators are responding to what they’ve been hearing from their local mayors and county officials. And putting more resources and control in the hands of local communities — usually left at the mercy of the state’s priorities each year — makes a lot of sense.

After all, it’s those same local mayors, county executives, or commissioners who catch the most flak from their constituents when commutes are too painful, when there aren’t good options for getting around, when crumbling infrastructure stalls traffic, when workers can’t connect to their jobs, when streets are unsafe, or when goods get stuck in congestion.

And often, all it takes is a relatively small boost to match the dollars and energy of local communities. The grant program envisioned in the Wicker-Booker bill would be something like the nationwide TIGER program, but offered within each state. With that program, a town like Normal, IL, was able to complete a $49.5 million multimodal station that revived their downtown and catalyzed $220 million in private investment.

Wouldn’t it be great to see that kind of story repeated in towns and cities of all sizes across the country?

This bill represents one of the best opportunities we’ve had in some time to ensure that more transportation dollars get used where they’re needed most; to be spent on the very best projects that local communities need.

Send a message to your Senators, urging them to support this important bill, or thanking them for introducing it today. With just a few days left in this Congress before they leave town for recess, it’s important that we create a lot of support for this bill over the next few weeks.

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Putting more transportation dollars in the hands of local communities is the USA

  2. Margaret Spina-Chance

    3 years ago

    I urge you to pass the Innovation in Surface Transportation Ac.t.

  3. Roberta Gallant

    3 years ago

    I want the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act to pass both the United States
    Senate and House of Representatives because some people did not receive driving
    education and others do not own automobiles. Someday, citizens who already
    know how to drive will not always have cars.

  4. Bliss E. Frings

    3 years ago

    please pass this very smart bill! Better rural transportation options, or just OPTION help people get to work. it is critical! Want my tax dollars? Help me get to work so I can earn them!