Attempt to eliminate funding for safe walking and biking failsNovember 2, 2011
By Stephen Lee Davis
The attempt by Senator Rand Paul to take the relatively tiny amount of money that goes toward safer walking and biking on our streets and redirect it to our massive backlog of deficient bridges failed yesterday in the Senate.
|Busy bicycling bridge Originally uploaded by Steven Vance to Flickr.
|Send a message to your Senator to tell them how you feel about their vote on this amendment.
Senator Paul’s “misrepresentation” of the facts in his amendment, as the Associated Press termed it, sought to force the Senate into a false choice: either safety in our cars while driving on our bridges or safety while walking and biking on our streets and roads. A bipartisan group of Senators made it clear that’s a choice we don’t have to make and voted against the amendment, reaffirming the importance of making our streets safe for everyone, no matter how they’re traveling.
Senator Paul claimed that the amendment would take “beautification” dollars and direct them toward bridge repair. But that money (which largely goes to help keep people safe while walking or biking) is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to what we need to actually make a dent in repairing our bridges.
The FHWA estimates that we need almost $71 billion dollars right now to repair all of today’s deficient bridges, to say nothing of the bridges that will be deficient by next year. This small program that is mostly used on bike and pedestrian facilities was around $900 million last year. Under this plan, at the cost of safety for everyone who uses a road, states would have gained enough money to repaint a few bridges.
AASHTO, the trade group that represents state transportation officials, pointed out to the AP that “the stipulation that states set aside enhancement dollars has survived for nearly two decades because it’s popular with local officials and metropolitan planning organizations.”
This relatively small amount spent on safer streets and roads is popular because they save lives and give millions of people another option for getting around.
We do deserve a serious plan to address the woeful condition of our nation’s bridges. But taking the one or two pennies of each transportation dollar that help keep people safe while walking and spending it on bridge repair isn’t the serious proposal that we need. That’s akin to going on a diet by eating Big Macs everyday — but leaving out the lettuce to lose weight.
Here’s one fact about bridge repair that you likely haven’t been told by the people cooking up these plans:
States can already take up to half of their money for bridge repair and spend it on new highway capacity, no matter the condition of their bridges. And states can already spend most of what’s usually the biggest pot of transportation funding on almost anything they want. It’s entirely flexible. They could fix bridges, build transit, highways, bridges, sidewalks; it’s all eligible, and totally up to the states. No mandates from Washington.
The breakdown of the vote is below. If you want to send a thank you message — or send a message of disappointment to your Senator who voted the wrong way — we’ve modified our action for the amendment to do exactly that. Send a message to your Senator here.
You can also use that page to give the “No’s” a call and a thank you, which is always appreciated and rarely given.
And for all of you that called or sent a message urging a “no” vote in the last two days, thank you for your support. Your action had real impacts on this particular bill.
|Did not vote – 2|
|Burr (R-NC)||McCain (R-AZ)|