(Re-published from Alabama Conservationist). Congress has been operating under temporary extensions to the SAFETEA-LU transportation legislation since it expired in 2009. With the latest extension set to run out at the end of June, officials are working feverishly to find an agreement, rather than offer another six-month temporary fix.
The current debate involves disagreements on policy issues- such as permit streamlining and freight investment – funding levels and revenue sources for the extension, and even non-transportation issues, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and the RESTORE Act which would send a large portion of oil spill fines and penalties to Gulf coast states instead of the federal government’s general treasury.
Senator Richard Shelby serves on the conference committee that is debating the compromise transportation funding bill. His office feels that if a transportation bill can make it out of conference committee, the RESTORE Act will be part of the package.
While an entire post could be devoted to any of those issues, the most important issue is the overriding need for a sustained funding source for programs that provide transportation options for people throughout Alabama and the rest of the country.
Many local projects that involve construction or repair of sidewalks and greenways are funded primarily through various federal programs that promote congestion relief, improved air quality, or increased access to public facilities. In the current negotiations, these programs would be consolidated by the Cardin-Cochran agreement, a bipartisan plan that would provide a mechanism for local projects to apply for funding. Although it wouldn’t provide a dedicated funding source for bike-pedestrian projects, it would allow local officials to continue to pursue these types of projects.
Some are pushing to give states the ability to ‘opt out’ of the Cardin-Cochran agreement, which could allow states that do not place a priority on developing safe options for all users to eliminate these opportunities from the cities. Based on the success and popularity of Safe Routes to School programs and projects throughout the state, it is likely that local municipalities will enthusiastically choose to invest in making their communities safer, healthier, and more economically competitive. States should not take away the tools local officials need to improve the lives of their citizens, especially in a state like Alabama that ranks fifth in the country for pedestrian deaths.
As more municipalities in Alabama embrace the concept of Complete Streets as close to 20 cities have done already, federal transportation dollars will be essential in providing funding assistance to help create more livable communities that allow people to walk their kids to school, take transit to work, or bike to the grocery store. Conservation Alabama will continue to keep a close watch on the developments of the transportation bill and will be working with our partners at the local, state, and federal level to promote legislation that offers options for citizens of all ages and abilities.