Senate EPW Committee releases bipartisan transportation bill outline ahead of Thursday hearingJuly 20, 2011
By Sean Barry
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) released a bipartisan outline today of its transportation bill, titled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. The outline highlights “key areas” of the legislation’s highway title but remains vague on details. The transit title and financing components of the bill are under the jurisdiction of other committees and are not included.
The emphasis on bipartisanship indicates that the Committee’s “big four” — Chairman Barbara Boxer (above), Ranking Member Jim Inhofe and Senators Max Baucus and David Vitter — are in accord on the bill’s skeleton. This cooperation paints a stark contrast with the unusually partisan release of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee proposal, where Committee Democrats apparently were shut out.
While the devil truly is in the legislative details, the Senate outline is already more promising than the House proposal, unveiled by T&I committee Chair John Mica (R-FL). Mica deserves credit for moving the ball forward on authorization, but his six-year proposal fails to articulate a vision or set the right priorities for a 21st century transportation system, and the 35 percent across-the-board spending cut mandated by his caucus leaders would severely strain our existing infrastructure and transit systems. Doing more of the same, with less money, on a faster treadmill is insufficient and a non-starter.
The Senate EPW bill authorizes just two years of funding, rather than six, but at current levels plus inflation. The outline does not specify any revenue sources outside of gas tax receipts from the Highway Trust Fund but does seek to attain the “optimum achievable authorization depending on the resources available and in a way that does not increase the deficit and can achieve bipartisan support.”
MAP-21 consolidates the seven core highway programs from the current SAFETEA-LU law into five: the National Highway Performance Program, Transportation Mobility Program, National Freight Program and Highway Safety Improvement Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, or CMAQ. The existing CMAQ program provides some funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects as well as air quality initiatives and other innovative plans.
However, MAP-21 makes no mention of the dedicated funding for biking and walking included in the existing Transportation Enhancements program, a point of deep concern for bicycle and pedestrian advocates. The League of American Bicyclists has warned supporters to stand by should a more detailed vision of MAP-21 be released without support for biking and walking. The House proposal would eliminate any dedicated funding for these programs.
MAP-21 purports to focus the federal highway program on “key outcomes,” including reduced fatalities, improving bridges and reducing congestion, “in order to ensure that taxpayers are receiving the most for their money.” Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not listed as a desired outcome. Statewide and metropolitan planning processes would “incorporate a more comprehensive performance-based approach to decision making,” according to the outline, though specific metrics are not included. More details are needed to determine whether MAP-21’s performance and planning sections contain real teeth.
Like Mica’s bill, MAP-21 would expand the current TIFIA federal loan program, boosting funding from $122 million to $1 billion per year, with the potential for each federal dollar to leverage $30 in transportation investment. Boxer is no doubt responding to major push from her Los Angeles constituents, who are seeking federal financing support to help them compress 30 years of transit construction into 10.
Thursday’s hearing, titled “Legislative Issues for Transportation Reauthorization” will feature testimony from the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Highway Users Alliance, AASHTO and others. The proceedings will commence at 10am in the EPW Hearing Room at 406 Dirksen.