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February 24, 2012

House Transportation Bill Crumbles: Time for a Redo

TrafficHouse Speaker John Boehner finally got the message-- it is time to drop what has been broadly panned as the worst transportation bill ever.   Hoping the Presidents Day Recess would give him time to build support for his terrible bill, Boehner realized just yesterday that he couldn’t muster the votes to win.

It is amusing (maybe appalling) that Boehner sought to blame the Democrats for failure:

“Given Senate Democrats’ unwillingness to pursue a longer-term infrastructure and energy plan, House Republican leaders are considering a revamped approach that would retain the speaker's vision of linking infrastructure to expanded American energy production, and allow Republicans to stay on offense on energy and jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email.

First, the Senate bill is a bipartisan effort and second, while it still needs improvement, the overall Senate package is, at the moment, a step in the right direction for transportation policy.  Boehner should recognize that even with the gimmick used to split a terrible bill into three pieces as a strategy to bypass defeat, the terrible bill was destined to fail.

So, the word is that the House bill will be “re-vamped.”  Really, the re-vamp must be a complete do-over.  While much attention has been focused on the maneuver to end transit funding -- a deal brokered by President Ronald Reagan directing a portion of gas tax revenue towards public transit – the flaws of HR 7 run deep.

The bill eliminates dedicated funding for options like walking, biking, and programs like Safe Routes to Schools that helps kids bike and walk to school safely. It also takes an ax to Amtrak funding – all while gas prices are rising and Americans are looking for other transportation options instead of fewer and less safe options.

Additionally, the bill allows states to ram through projects without environmental review or public input.  Finally, the bill dumps road-widening to put more cars on the roads into a program meant to reduce congestion and clean the air.

The Republicans should learn some lessons from this failed effort.  From coast to coast, Americans want more not less transit; they want more options to walk and bike that are safe; and they like programs to help kids get to school on foot or 2-wheels.

Even Virginia’s Republican Governor announced his support when he awarded $5.9 million in Safe Routes to Schools funds to make bicycling and walking to school safer and more appealing for students at 28 elementary and middle schools in his state.

Governor McConnell’s statement includes:

"The Safe Routes to School program's primary goal is to support communities that want to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and convenient option for children," said Governor McDonnell.  "By providing these funds, as well as technical assistance to Virginia communities, we are helping to reduce congestion, improve air quality and promote other transportation choices. We also are encouraging healthy habits that we hope will transform into healthy lifestyles as these children grow." 

Actually, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves! 

We need action by March 31. Just fixing one piece of HR 7, like restoring transit funding, is not enough to fix this bill.  HR 7 needs major repair. Until then, please make sure you tell your Representatives to vote no on HR 7.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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