House transportation bill to be marked-up today - Metropolitan Planning Council

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House transportation bill to be marked-up today

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has released the House Republican $260 billion five-year transportation proposal entitled the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7).  The transportation and infrastructure portion of the bill will be marked up in committee today.  While the House bill does maintain current funding levels it is a major step away from the multi-modal, performance-based program this country needs.

Any House-passed plan must be reconciled with the Senate’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) proposal, which would reauthorize U.S. transportation programs for two years at a cost of $109 billion.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) unanimously approved the legislation.  It may go to the full Senate for a vote later this month.

The current national surface transportation authorization, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which is on its eighth extension since September 2009, expires at the end of March. Funding a new transportation program poses a dilemma for lawmakers because the federal 18.4 cent per gallon motor fuel tax generates about $37 billion in revenue a year, significantly less than the annual funding needed to pay for the proposed legislation, which stands at $52 billion in the House and $54 billion in the Senate.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Highway Trust Fund is running a $10 billion deficit and faces insolvency sometime during fiscal year 2013, which starts Oct. 1, 2012.  Inflation has eroded about a third of the purchasing power of the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, and while increased production of fuel-efficient vehicles also has reduced revenues. Congress authorized general fund transfers of $8 billion in FY 2008, $7 billion in FY 2009, and $19.5 billion in FY 2010, to ensure Highway Trust Fund solvency.

Here’s a look at the House American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act:

The Good:

  • Keeps funding levels current at $52 billion per year; $260 billion over five years.
  • $1 billion per year is dedicated to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program.
  • The Secretary of Transportation would establish national performance management goals for the nation’s highway and public transportation systems.  States would set targets and report progress annually on 11 categories. 

The Ugly:

  • Eliminates Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School, Scenic Byways, and the Transportation Community and System Preservation program (TCSP). 
  • Eliminates the Mass Transit Account.  Currently, 2.86 cents per gallon of federal motor fuel taxes goes into the Mass Transit Account, a policy that began under President Reagan.  Retroactive to October 1 2012 that revenue would be transferred to the Highway Account.  The Mass Transit Account would be replaced by the Alternative Transportation Account, and funded from the General Fund.  That $40 billion has to be matched by saving elsewhere in the federal budget, since it is a General Fund expenditure. This move puts future transit funding at risk.
  • Changes the requirement for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ) from improving air quality to reducing congestion.  Currently states can receive CMAQ funding to support projects that reduce transportation-related pollution, like transit, bicycle and walking infrastructure. The switch would allow new highway lanes to be funded with CMAQ dollars meaning even less dollars for public transit.
  • The highway program would focus on “Interstate Highways and the National Highway System,” which would cut local flexibility. According to Transportation for America, if funds were restricted to routes on the National Highway System, it would reduce the number of highways states can invest in by 83.5 percent. Federal transportation objectives would focus on long-distance travel instead of urban networks of roads and highways where we know congestion occurs.
  • Allocates more funding to state departments of transportation, not cities and metro regions.
  • Augments motor fuel tax revenues with a tax from oil and gas drilling.
    • This is extremely controversial plan that is a step back from the “user pay, user benefits” motor-fuel tax model.
  • Funds would no longer be set aside for bike and pedestrian projects, though states would be permitted to use funds on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure if they choose. 
  • Eliminates discretionary transit programs, including the extremely successful TIGER competitive grant program.
  • Cuts Amtrak’s operating subsidy by 25 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
  • Increases weight and length limits on trucks to 97,000 pounds and 120 feet long.  According to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the additional cost of repairing bridge damage caused by raising truck weights to 97,000 pounds could be as much as $65 billion.

MPC submitted testimony to Chairman Mica supporting an approach to the federal bill that is strategic, reduces gridlock and the demand for costly transportation expenditures, makes existing transportation infrastructure more efficient, creates new financing tools, and demonstrates the value of innovative investments. We also submitted a letter to U.S. Rep Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), outlining proposed measures to enhance the performance and accountability of a proposed transportation bill. 

Streetsblog.org reports some lawmakers have already offered amendments for bike and pedestrian changes. 

The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisc.), would restore the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs, consolidated into a single “Transportation Improvement Program.” TE and SRTS have been two of the most important sources of funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and right now the House bill would eliminate dedicated funding for both programs.

According to a draft summary of the amendment, states would need to reserve an amount of money for TIP equal to the amount they currently reserve for TE and SRTS. TE-supported activities would no longer include transportation museums, depriving House leadership of one of their favorite talking points.

A second amendment would require states to prioritize bridge repair projects over the construction of new highways. As it currently stands, the House bill imposes little oversight on states that opt to spend on expanding highways.

A third amendment would provide operating assistance to transit agencies, a provision that the Senate has included in its transit bill to help prevent painful service cuts and fare hikes during economic downturns. However, neither of the bridge and transit amendments have sponsors in the House, and all amendments must be submitted by 3:00 p.m. today in order to be considered at tomorrow morning’s markup.

Transportation for America will be live blogging some of the highlights of the markup going on today by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee here:  http://www.t4america.com/blog/

If you want to watch the live stream of the markup, you can watch that here.

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