Future Dimming for House Transportation Bill
We recently wrote about the new transportation bill proposed in the House, and disagreed with the direction it contained for America's transportation future. The debate on the bill has been delayed in the House until next week, and in the meantime many others have voiced their opposition.
Smart Growth America, NRDC, Reconnecting America, and Transportation for America were among the sizable group of organizations that signed a letter opposing the bill. The environmental website Grist compiled a number of reactions to the bill, including an article in the New York Times that called the bill 'uniquely terrible.' Most notably, the White House has voiced its opposition to the bill, threatening to veto it should it make an unlikely journey through both chambers. Giving a clear and concise opinion of the executive branch's opinion was U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who called it the "the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service."
There are many sticking points, including the provisions aimed at expediting approval for the Keystone XL pipeline and opening up drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps the biggest sticking point of all, however, is the proposed change in funding for public transit. Currently, transit funding has a secure position in the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, which steers a small portion of the federal gas tax to transit. This makes good policy sense, due to public transit's role in congestion relief and energy efficient mobility, which is why the policy has been in place since the early 1980s.
The new transportation bill, however, proposes setting up an 'Alternative Transportation Account' and giving it a one-time infusion of $40 billion, taking away the secure funding home for transit, and leaving its future uncomfortably uncertain.
Taking away the current dedicated funding source for transit jeopardizes its position at exactly the wrong moment, and we need look no further than our own state for proof. Minnesota saw record transit ridership in 2011, and Metro Transit's Commuter Challenge was a big success too. According to Metro Transit, "customers boarded Metro Transit buses and trains nearly 81 million times in 2011 – an increase of 2.7 million rides (3.5%) over 2010." Additionally, Minnesotans who took the Commuter Challenge in 2011 tracked 195,000 trips totalling 2.45 million miles, and saving an estimated 114,000 gallons of fuel.
Transit deserves a committed and secure funding source, and both Minnesota and the nation as a whole deserve a better transportation bill than the one proposed in the House. A bipartisan bill is making its way through the Senate, so stay tuned for further analysis as it progresses.