Columnist argues that new transportation bill is a step backwards for cities.
Last week, just before the expiration of the ninth temporary extension of the Surface Transportation law, which governs federal disbursement of gas tax revenues for transportation investment, Congress finally reached a deal to reauthorize it. The bill, passed by large majorities in both houses, will keep transportation spending at current levels through fiscal year 2014.
At first glance, the congressional compromise to renew the law for two years may sound like progress to urbanists. Infrastructure projects need to know they will be getting funding for a long enough period of time, and after years of short extensions they will get some of that certainty. The American Public Transportation Association, pleased just to get a guaranteed income stream for two years, lauded the bill, saying it “demonstrates that Congress and the Administration understand the important role public transportation plays in getting people to work and putting people to work.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also praised it, claiming it constitutes some sort of jobs stimulus.
But the bill, which is certain to be signed by President Barack Obama, is a step backward for cities. The bill has many disappointing provisions, taken from the radical wish list of House Republican demands that could not even get passed by their House, but nonetheless took to the Conference Committee.
The resulting compromise disappoints transportation and smart growth advocates. In a statement, Smart Growth America said that the bill “fails to provide the kind of visionary, game-changing transportation reform America deserves.”
“It compromises safety, it is a step backwards in how we take care of and repair our roads and bridges, and it bypasses the kinds of innovative transportation solutions that we should expect out of a new transportation reauthorization,” said Smart Growth America President and CEO Geoffrey Anderson.
Here are some of the problematic rule changes:
The bill makes no space for inter-city rail projects. What it does contain are some of the House GOP’s strategies for streamlining the environmental review of projects.
“House Republicans did everything they could to reduce, strip out or constrain non-highway spending — even the repair of highways [is diminished] — so that the impetus is speeding up construction and spending for highway building,” said David Goldberg, spokesman for Transportation for America. “It’s a short-sighted and backwards-looking policy. A new direction is called for, and this bill just completely ignored that and doubles down on the 1950s model.”