On September 30, 2009 I was teaching a class of undergraduate civil engineering and transportation planning students at UC Davis about the evolution of the federal transportation reauthorization — particularly timely as on the day the current SAFETEA-LU bill expired. A few months prior on my first day interning as a transportation policy analyst in Washington D.C., then Chairman Oberstar of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), proposed language for the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 — a 700+ page document stating that it would “transform federal surface transportation to a performance-based framework to reduce fatalities and injuries on our Nation’s highways, address the mobility and access needs of people and goods, improve the condition, performance, and connectivity of the United States intermodal surface transportation system, provide transportation choices for commuters and travelers, promote environmental sustainability, public health, and the livability of communities, support robust investment in surface transportation, and for other purposes.”
So here we are today — 646 days later — with another House T&I transportation reauthorization proposal described as a “multi-modal initiative” under Chairman Mica which “streamlines and reforms federal programs, expedites the project approval process, maximizes leveraging of limited resources, provides flexibility for states, and ensures long-term funding stability for job-creating transportation programs.”
However, if you ask anyone else paying attention what the proposal will likely achieve you will probably get a different answer.
The $230 billion proposal represents a 19.5% cut from the $286 billion from SAFETEA-LU (not accounting for the impact of inflation), with the “multi-modal initiative” in this proposal including:
- Vague performance measurements for highways, transit, and maintenance/state of good repair
- Major cuts to bicycle, pedestrian, transportation enhancements, and operational Amtrak funds
- Continues split of 20% for transit and 80% for highways
- No longer requires states to spend highway funding on non-highway activities
- No leadership for a federal infrastructure bank
James Corless, director of Transportation for America, responded to the Chairman’s proposal on state flexibility, transit funding and streamlining project delivery outlining that a bill this small would need to be constrained to three key goals:
- Maintaining our national highway and bridge system, which is quickly approaching its mid-life crisis;
- Providing more options such as public transportation, vanpools and safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians;
- Promoting accountability through meaningful performance measures and a more strategic approach to transportation planning.
My overall take is that the proposal outline carries a mood of “making the most out of our scarce resources” — rather than providing for innovation and leadership. I mean, really, nearly two years later and this is the best we can come up with guys?