On January 31, Congressman John Mica (R – Florida) unveiled the “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act,” a bill that would provide about $260 billion over five years for roads, bridges, transit, and more. It’s fitting that the cover of the bill summary includes pictures of a congested freeway and an oil pipeline, because the bill’s intent seems pretty clear: retaining Americans’ dependence on cars and preserving huge giveaways to the oil industry. Even the bill’s funding options include the following Big Oil-boosting lineup:
- requiring approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline
- opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and vast areas of the Mountain West to oil drilling and oil shale development
- opening more coastal areas for offshore drilling and requiring more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico
The proposal has been called “horrible” by the League of American Bicyclists for cuts to biking and walking. The National Resources Defense Council calls it “Worst. Transportation. Bill. Ever.” StreetsBlog went with “a March of Horribles.”
I’ve gone with just plain bad. Some problems include the following:
- Drilling for transportation money. Relying on revenues from increased drilling to fill the expected deficit in the Highway Trust Fund—which funds federal transportation investments—is hoping for fiscal magic. The Trust Fund is expected to be approximately $10 billion short this year and will likely be insolvent in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. No amount of drilling can fill that hole. A recent press conference by Heritage Action for America, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Reason Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute used the message, “Don’t Drill and Drive.”
- Cuts to walking and biking. The bill would eliminate dedicated federal funding for walking and biking projects despite the fact that walking and biking make up 12 percent of all trips, 14 percent of all road fatalities, and only 1.6 percent of all federal transportation funding. Additionally, cutting investment in walking and biking ignores the huge return on investment these modes provide. We should increase funding for biking and walking, not slash it.
- Elimination of environmental protections. While permitting processes need to be shortened, and there are many steps we can take to modernize the process and eliminate redundancies, this bill simply eliminates protections and important steps like providing alternatives to big projects during the review process.
But that’s not all. The bill also cuts Amtrak funding, fails to invest in high-speed rail, retains the traditional split of 80 percent of funding for highways and only 20 percent for transit, effectively eliminates the possibility of another competitive grant program like the wildly successful TIGER program, and doesn’t encourage more coordination with land use. And that’s only the beginning.
There are a number of good things you can pick out of the bill, but they’re all slightly off. It’s a five-year bill, which would provide needed certainty after the last two years of uncertainty. It prioritizes some—but not enough–road and bridge repair over expansion. It reduces the number of federal programs from about 100 to about 30, still more than we really need. And it includes some good national transportation goals, although it’s unclear how they will be met with this bill.
As this post goes up, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee debates the bill. An amendment to restore funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs has, unfortunately, already failed 27-29 (thank you Congressman Tim Walz (D – Minnesota) for supporting that amendment). We’re also hearing rumors that tomorrow the House may move transit to the general fund—another terrible idea.
Things are happening very quickly after two years of dragging. I encourage you to follow the action at Transportation for America or on Twitter. The federal transportation bill is an essential investment for the country and has big energy impacts—we can’t afford to get it wrong with this bill.