It was only 896 days late, but who’s counting now? While Congress has yet to get a bill to the president’s desk, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill yesterday that keeps that dream alive—and showed the House that making our roads safer and getting people to work is more important than playing election-year politics. It’s been 896 days since the last transportation bill expired in 2009. Since then, it’s been coasting along on “extensions”.
The vote yesterday was a resounding 74-22 on this two year, $109 billion bill. We had some serious concerns with the original bill language and the bill as passed is, admittedly, not perfect. But with your help and working with our national partners, we were able to make improvements like:
- Giving local governments and schools better access to funds for making bicycling safer
- Saving the Recreational Trails Program, originally slated for elimination
- Revising the mandatory sidepath law so that bicycles are not banned outright from federal roads (like national parks) with speed limits over 30 mph and with an adjacent paved path
Aside from these improvements, the Senate bill preserves dedicated funding for bicycling—like Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements—now consolidated as “Additional Activities.” I don’t love that name (additional? How about essential!), but I’m glad that we still have dedicated funding. The bill is also a step forward for transit, important for many of us who combine transit with a bicycle to get where we’re going. Both of our Senators voted for the bill.
Speaking of which, remember the “worst transportation bill ever”? I wrote about it here. It’s the House bill, and not only did it run out of gas, it never really had an engine or a steady pair of legs to pedal it.
The House is now tasked with writing something that has more than just the support of Speaker John Boehner. Then the two bills will have to be reconciled before President Obama signs a new transportation bill into law. There’s no clear path forward for the House—the failure of Boehner’s bill to even stand for a vote means that House leadership has to scramble to put something bipartisan together before the clock runs out. As I said, they’re 896 days late.
With the need to actually write and pass a viable House bill and then settle it up with the Senate, another vote to extend the current bill—for the ninth time since 2009—looms. March 31 is the deadline for a new bill or an extension or else transportation programs shut down and workers are laid off.
We favor a new bill modeled after the Senate bill that passed yesterday. An extension would mean more fights to save funding for bicycling and waiting even longer to develop a real long-term vision for transportation in America.
Thanks to those of you who sent literally thousands of letters and emails to your members of Congress. It made a real difference!