Bike-ped advocates dodged a fight when Congressional leaders agreed to maintain the Transportation Enhancements program, which mostly funds bike-ped projects, in the proposed six-month extension of SAFETEA-LU.
Leading up to the agreement a number of influential Senate and House Republicans announced opposition to continuing the Enhancements program. However, House Transportation Chair John Mica proposes to continue the program but make the funding optional instead of mandatory. The program accounts for less than 2% of total SAFETEA-LU funding.
Optional, but preserved instead of eliminated. Sounds reasonable, right? Most bike-ped advocates disagree.
The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) argues that
“all the evidence of the past 20 years and beyond suggests that mere eligibility is totally insufficient: most states will simply stop spending any of their Federal transportation funds on anything related to bicycling and walking.” (The need for dedicated bike funding: Why “eligibility” is not enough)
The LAB maintains that under previous transportation bills, when States weren’t required to fund bike-ped projects, they spent very little on such projects. Now that the spending is required, states are slow to spend the funds, and disproportionately target the funds first when rescissions are enacted. LAB also claims that “states readily admit they don’t want to spend on bicycling and walking,” citing Congressional testimony from several State DOTs. That’s a pretty broad generalization; a number of State DOTs do support the program. And in some states, the legislature and/or Governor play a role in what projects are funded.
The bottom line? The LAB is probably correct that in some number of states, bike-ped project would decline from current levels if Enhancements projects are optional.
Those State DOTs, Chairman Mica and other critics argue that the federal government and public agencies need to better prioritize a shrinking pot of funding. Facing with aging bridges, highways and buses, and a growing population, the country should focus federal funding on the highest priority projects which are also of national interest.
Last April Chairman Mica said “Spending, meanwhile, has increasingly been diverted to non-highway projects, such as bike trails and museums.” That is a pretty broad generalization. If TIGER grants and other recent grant programs are included, and if measured against the spending of a decade ago, then sure more funds have been “diverted.” But it’s still a pretty small amount and arguably doesn’t solve the decreasing balance of the Highway Trust Fund.
This battle is not over, it’s merely postponed for a few months.