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Senate overwhelmingly approves transportation reauthorization

Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Picken

Today the Senate adopted MAP-21, the reauthorization of the federal transportation program, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 74-22.  

MAP-21 is a two-year, $109 billion reauthorization that makes several key reforms to federal transportation policy, which the Metropolitan Planning Council pushed for with our national coalition partner Transportation for America:

  • For the first time, establishes national policy goals and performance metrics for federal transportation program investments.
  • Makes the commuter benefit for transit users equal to those who drive to work and park
  • Maintains existing funding levels while consolidating programs.
  • Allows local governments to access critical dollars for main street revitalization, rail station improvements, and other additional activities through a competitive grant program.
  • Includes emergency provisions to allow transit agencies to avoid service cuts and fare hikes.
  • Gives states the flexibility to repair 180,000 federal bridges not part of the National Highway System.  
  • Ensures that metropolitan areas aren't left on the hook for financial penalties if states do not meet their requirements for fixing roads and bridges or develop a state highway safety plan.

Unfortunately, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would allow tolling on existing interstate highways was withdrawn. Carper withdrew the amendment as an act of good faith because he didn’t want the passage of the overall bill to get bogged down in debate over his amendment. On the floor of the Senate, Carper said that states should enjoy the flexibility to implement tolls on Interstate Highways as a user fee to pay for additional transportation investments along the roads being tolled.  He said he filed the amendment because Congress needs to face the facts when it comes to transportation funding and declining gas tax revenues – and that it must, in an act of fiscal responsibility, address structural flaws in the Highway Trust Fund, which are making long-term investments nearly impossible. 

View all of the amendments on the Transportation for America amendment tracker.

While additional reforms could improve MAP-21, like the Carper-Kirk tolling amendment, the Senate bill is a huge step in the right direction for a final bipartisan transportation reauthorization. While the House is in recess this week, House leaders are pushing their caucus members to support their version of the transportation reauthorization, H.R. 7.

H.R. 7, simply put, is a bad bill. It decimates guaranteed funding for public transit, a program signed into law by President Reagan; eliminates funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs, such as Safe Routes to Schools; makes Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality dollars previously reserved for transit available to less beneficial projects to improve air quality, such as highway construction; ends discretionary transit funding such as the highly successful TIGER program; takes away local control of planning and spending resources; and cuts Amtrak by 25 percent.

Further, H.R. 7 is funded in part with tax revenues from expanded oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Environmental concerns aside, those taxes will only generate $4.3 billion over 10 years, nowhere near the $40 billion needed to replace dedicated transit revenues that will instead go to highways. What’s more, these revenues would not materialize for several years because of the time required to build drilling infrastructure and lease ANWR land to energy companies.  

Under the current H.R. 7, the Chicago region would lose up to $1.2 billion over the next five years, including major cuts to public transit and the Illinois Dept. of Transportation. Additionally the bill would require the Chicago Transit Authority to separate rail and bus operations or lose eligibility for grants that, over the past two years, have generated $80 million for purchasing new busses and rehabbing bus garages. If funding in this “revamped” bill is reduced even further, it could mean even more cuts for the Chicago region.

As the March 31deadline looms, it is imperative that House leaders work with Republicans and Democrats to improve H.R. 7 or bring forward the bipartisan Senate bill passed today. 

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