As the House revamps HR7, several amendments that could help win passageFebruary 29, 2012
By David Goldberg
Last week, we published our list of the ten biggest reasons that opposition to the House transportation bill, HR7, was continuing to grow. At almost the same time, House Speaker John Boehner announced through a spokesman that his team would “revamp” the bill, to make it shorter in duration, possibly smaller in funding size and to scrap the plan to end dedicated funding for public transportation.
That latter move should take care of one of the bigger concerns with HR 7 as initially proposed. House leaders could address most of the other issues by following the lead of Representatives Petri, LaTourette and Blumenauer and Senators Boxer and Inhofe, and incorporating bipartisan solutions to fix or improve critical aspects of the bill. The result would be a bill that is far more likely to win bipartisan support, much as the Senate bill is doing, and make the job of reconciling the two bills infinitely easier.
Several examples of amendments that have bipartisan support in the House or are similar to provisions of the bipartisan Senate bill include:
Though we have more than 69,000 deficient bridges in our country — almost five times as many McDonald’s restaurants — the House bill eliminates the bridge repair program. Representative Boswell (D-IA) has offered two amendments – 116 and 117 – that would help.
The first would require the Department of Transportation to establish state of repair standards for bridges on the National Highway System (NHS) bridges. States would have to spend a certain percentage of federal funds on repairing their NHS bridges unless they their bridges meet the standards for good repair. States that fail to meet the new standards would need to spend additional funds fixing their NHS bridges. This mirrors provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill.
The second amendment would apply to bridges on federal-aid highways outside the NHS. States that cross a threshold percentage of structurally deficient bridges would have to spend a portion of their National Highway System (NHS) funds to fix these bridges.
The House bill ends two popular programs that gave localities the ability to restore Main Streets, and make roads safer for kids walking to school and for others on foot or bicycle. Amendment 103 would provide dedicated funding for grants to local communities for projects that help improve local communities including promoting safe routes to school and other projects for safe non-motorized transportation. The amendment is sponsored by representatives Petri (R-WI), LaTourette (R-OH), Blumenauer (D-OR) and Lipinski (D-IL).
As drafted, HR7 undermines local communities by allowing governors to order metropolitan areas to include major projects in their local transportation plan over the objections of local communities. Amendment 25 by Nadler (D-NY) and Carnahan would restore the ability of metro regions to develop a transportation improvement plan, in concert with states, that meets their community needs without unilateral amendment by the governor.
Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality
The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program today is dedicated to help communities deal with two of the biggest outcomes of an excess of people driving alone at rush hour: air pollution and congestion. A provision in HR7 upends that intention by opening this air pollution fund to construction of regular highway lanes. Amendments 191 and 97 proposed by representatives Bluemnauer (D-OR) and Ellison (D-MN), would restore the current function to helping reduce exhaust and emissions, with the only new highway capacity eligible being high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.
Reducing regulatory burdens on transit providers
Amendment 16, by LaTourette (R-OH) and Carnahan (D-MO) would allow all transit agencies to use a portion of their federal transit funding for operating expenses during times of economic crisis. Currently, large transit systems are barred from using their federal formula transit dollars for operating expense. The amendment also would provide small public transit agencies with additional flexibility to use federal funds for operating expenses.
As drafted, H.R.7 promotes creation of new bureaucracy by requiring transit operators with both bus and rail service to split into two separate entities (one providing only bus service and one providing only rail and other services) in order to receive formula funds for buses and related facilities. Amendments offered by several members (numbered 17, 59 and 136) would reinstate current law and eliminate this provision.
“Streamlining” project delivery and environmental review
HR7 has been sharply criticized for taking dramatic steps that would severely undermine the most basic environmental and public involvement safeguards. Amendment 268, by Rep. Connolly (D-VA), would replace the controversial House provisions on project delivery, which makes substantial changes to the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Protection Act, with the bipartisan provisions on project delivery and environmental review provisions from the bipartisan Senate EPW bill, MAP-21.
These amendments don’t cover the universe of needed changes, but they share the virtue of having been drafted and introduced, with bipartisan support, making them relatively easy fixes, should House leaders decide to move forward with an authorization, rather than another extension.