Federal transportation funding is a hot topic on Capitol Hill this month. Get the latest on the transportation bill debate, plus a progress report on the Gary and Region Investment Project.

Federal transportation funding is a hot topic on Capitol Hill this month. The Senate has begun debating MAP-21, a $109 billion, bi-partisan proposal to restore the nation’s transportation program. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto H.R. 7, the House’s $260 billion proposal that eliminates a dedicated federal funding source for public transportation. Both bills are expected to come up for voting when House and Senate members return from recess next week.

Where We Stand

Bike commuters on Milwaukee Ave
Commuters enjoy the dedicated bike-bus lane on Milwaukee Ave. Photo by Steven Vance

The Chicago region thrives on transit – as we should, with the second-largest transit network in the United States. More than half of those who work in downtown Chicago get to their jobs on transit. The more people on buses and trains, the fewer in their cars – freeing up road capacity for business vehicles, reducing traffic congestion, and doing less damage to the air we breathe. MPC has been a long-time champion of transit and other driving alternatives, including bicycling and walking.
Not surprisingly, MPC strongly opposes H.R. 7, the U.S. House’s five-year, $260 billion Energy and Infrastructure Act that guts transit funding. However, MPC does agree with about 80 percent of the U.S. Senate's two-year version of the bill, S. 1813 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21).
The Senate’s bipartisan, $109 billion, White House-backed plan restores the federal surface transportation program, identifies more than $10 billion to help fund the program, promotes performance-based investment, and restores the pre-tax commuter benefit for transit. (In January, Congress decreased the monthly transit benefit by nearly half, to $125, while a similar parking benefit increased to $240 a month.) Moreover, the Senate plan does not tie infrastructure spending to increased oil drilling, a political hot potato, as the House version proposes. One concern with MAP-21 is it reduces funding for bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and allows state departments of transportation to opt out of biking and walking programs all together. MPC supports the Cardin/Cochran amendment, which would grant local governments, rather than state departments of transportation, control over the majority of federal bike and pedestrian funding.
The House and Senate will need to reconcile their differences before Americans can begin to benefit from overdue transportation improvements. MPC and its national partners are jointly advocating for sound public policies that we believe will overcome partisan politics. The outcome we need is a modern, multimodal, national transportation system – one with quality roads, as well as options to serve the 2 million people in metropolitan Chicago alone who rely on or choose public transportation as their preferred way to get around.

Project Progress Report: GRIP

Newly elected Gary, Ind. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson thinks her city is ready to tell a vastly different story – and she’s not alone. In January, regional administrators and staff from eight federal departments met with the mayor, her top staff, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and MPC to discuss each department’s priorities in Northwest Indiana and how best to coordinate efforts to make significant progress on a few key transformative investments. HUD’s Region V Administrator Antonio Riley convened the meeting – an unprecedented discussion focused on bringing the power of multiple federal agencies to bear for an “all hands on deck,” place-based revitalization strategy in Gary – through MPC’s Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP).
As MPC continues to help strengthen partnerships and identify resources that can accelerate the pace of change in Northwest Indiana, we also are bringing new ideas to local leaders and the public through the Urban Exchange series and media partnership with The Times of Northwest Indiana. The third event in the series – which is designed to share best practices from across the country, inspire leadership, and draw more national attention to Northwest Indiana – will take place on March 16, featuring a discussion between Mayor Donald Ness of Duluth, Minn., and Gary Mayor Freeman-Wilson. The similarities between Gary and Duluth are uncanny: Both mid-sized industrial towns have grappled for decades with the loss of industry. Land-based casinos, lakefront reclamation, airport redevelopment, and private investment by U.S. Steel Corporation and Arcelor Mittal are common factors driving revitalization in both cities. For more information on Duluth’s renaissance, read The Times’ Rust Belt Resurgence series.

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