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Senate Transportation Infrastructure Act makes welcome additions but fails to change the status quo

Today the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, a bill that will reauthorize the FAST Act once it expires in September 2020.  T4America director Beth Osborne offered this statement:

“This first attempt at reauthorization from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has some notable new additions worth praising, including the first-ever climate title and new programs aimed at measuring transportation by access to jobs and services, reconnecting communities torn apart by highways, reducing carbon emissions, increasing resilience, and improving safety. The bill also includes a focus on complete streets and increased funding for existing programs that make biking or walking safer such as the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP.) 

“But overall, four years later, this bill unfortunately fails in many of the same ways the FAST Act did in 2015. First, it does very little to accomplish what is perpetually promised by lawmakers: actually repairing our existing infrastructure. Despite the rhetoric we’re sure to hear in the days ahead, this bill has zero new, binding requirements to ensure that states use their core formula programs to actually bring their roads and bridges into good condition, while providing them with more than $32 billion more for existing road building policy. While the inclusion of a new bridge maintenance program is a welcome step, it’s a relative pittance at just two percent of overall funding. T4America believes anything short of holding states and metro areas accountable for cutting the maintenance backlog in half is unacceptable.

“Secondly, although the National Transportation Safety Board has been repeatedly sounding the alarm on speed as a primary risk factor in traffic fatalities—especially for people walking—this bill fails to require states to use complete streets designs to address the alarming 35 percent increase in people struck and killed while walking from 2008-2017. Instead, the bill makes these designs optional, and history has shown us that ‘optional’ will result in many states failing to take advantage of the option to save lives. 

“Third, it’s time to organize this overall program around connecting people to jobs and opportunity. T4America is delighted to see a pilot program based on the COMMUTE Act to help a select group of states and metros measure whether or not their investments are connecting people to jobs and services. But we need to reward the boldness of this proposal by expanding it to more of the population by measuring whether all $358 billion in this bill is connecting people to daily essentials.

“The inclusion of a climate title is an overdue addition and the committee is to be commended for their bipartisan approach to this pressing issue. We need more lawmakers like these willing to step out and tackle the risks of climate change. Though new money for reducing carbon emissions, resilience, alternative fuels, and reducing port emissions are notable, this approach unfortunately fundamentally fails to recognize that a federal program still focused primarily on delivering high-speed roads guarantees more driving and will undercut the committee’s worthwhile efforts to reduce emissions or stem the tide of climate change.

“Lastly, we also welcome the inclusion of new safety formula and discretionary programs, designed to invest in proven strategies for reducing fatalities and reward communities that have demonstrated progress in reducing fatalities. However, the funds available through these programs could be put to better use by requiring them to be used for complete streets and rewarding communities for specific investments in complete streets. As with the climate title, these programs will be undercut by substantial funding increases for high-speed roadways in the base formulas without any additional constraints to improve safety.”

5 Comments

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  3. Randall Tardy

    1 year ago

    Lofty goals can ignore human nature and pragmatic solutions to sustainable transportation infrastructure and green simultaneously. If requested, I can share an affordable path in a positionion paper. I am a retired transportation engineer with international practices wisdom spanning 5 decades. I will provide a path to progress in spite of federal government imposed speed bumps.

  4. Michael Smith

    1 year ago

    Thank you, Beth Osborne, for your statement.
    It appears that a plan to extend the FAST Act in favor to construct new roadways in Florida without a guarantee that existing infrastructure funding will be maintained is to
    go forward.
    As one who believes that rail-based train services for passengers is a viable transport alternative where existing tracks exist, I am disappointed that a former state governor, now US senator, has promoted a policy of new toll-road building. Such a policy flies in the face of environmental protection. His Florida successor has promoted new toll roads as well (with construction within 350 ft of a bald eagle’s nest), 08-08-2019

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