Senate Passes Transportation Bill as March 31st Deadline Looms

By now everyone knows about the US House of Representatives proposing legislation that would jeopardize funding of mass transit.  Outrage from the public forced members to reconsider putting transit funding in peril.

It’s a perfect demonstration that when the public speaks up, Congress listens.

The House leadership couldn’t muster enough votes to pass the bill before they left town for a recess.  While members are back in their home districts, attention has turned to the Senate’s transportation bill, known as MAP 21, which was voted on today.

While I wouldn’t have written this bill, MAP 21, as amended in recent votes, has a number of good provisions. For instance, the bill:

  • Keeps guaranteed federal transit funding intact.
  • Allows transit operators to use grant funds for operations and maintenance (O&M) during economic downturns for up to three years. Operators with less than 100 buses can use these funds for O&M permanently.
  • Establishes a $20 million transit-oriented development planning program for the next two years.
  • Extends for one year the $240 pre-tax transit benefit at the same level as parking benefits.
  • Provides states the option of spending a small amount (4 percent) of highway funding for freight rail projects—a first.
  • Expands the popular transportation loan program, known as TIFIA, from $122 million to $1 billion.
  • Includes funding eligibility for Complete Streets projects.
  • Requires performance criteria for key highway and transit programs.
  • Continues direct allocation of funds to metropolitan areas with populations over 200,000. Percentage share has been reduced, but total dollars increased by a bigger pot and by providing Metros with funds from two other programs.
  • Increases funds dedicated to road repair from 15.6 percent to 27 percent, and it allows states to spend more on repairs rather than expanding or building new roads.
  • Requires asset management—making better use of limited resources—for the first time.

As this bill moves to the House, we will have to work hard to keep funding for the National Highway System, which tends to support large road systems, from getting any bigger. Under the Senate bill, the funding grew from 32 percent to 52 percent of the total highway program. We will also have to fight for transit on every front and for our urban communities to receive their fair share of funding.

We are quickly approaching a March 31 end to the current transportation bill, which could grind transportation construction to a halt and curtail transit services if we don’t pass something in its place. It is imperative that we pass a strong, transportation bill that benefits all modes of transportation.

I urge you to do two things:

1—Send your senators an email thanking them for supporting the key provisions listed above and urging them to maintain that support as it moves forward.

2—Send House Speaker John Boehner an email urging him to stop the partisanship when he gets back to DC and get serious about working with Republicans and Democrats alike to bring forward the newly passed bipartisan Senate bill.