Congress’ Transportation Bills Are Leading Us Down a Road to Nowhere

Since our nation’s surface transportation law expired in 2009, our nation’s transportation networks have been idling, waiting for Congress to unveil a comprehensive bill that will build 21st century state-of–the-art national infrastructure, put Americans back to work, and fit the growing needs of today’s communities. But both Senate and House committees have offered proposals that don’t accomplish these objectives. Instead, these congressional roadmaps are forcing our nation to drive down the one-way street of just building more roads and highways.

Together, the Senate’s plan and the House bill decimate our nation’s transit, bicycle and pedestrian programs by eliminating dedicated funding for the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, completely terminating the Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program, and abolishing the longstanding practice of providing dedicated funding from the Highway Trust Fund for our nation’s transit systems. Instead, nearly 1,800 pages of congressional bill text are dedicated to roads, highways, and bridges. This, at a time when nearly one in every five Americans utilize transit for some or all of their daily trips. Walking and bicycling now make up nearly 12 percent of all trips in the U.S.

As our nation struggles to maintain its global competitiveness, we must sustain a state-of-the-art multi-modal transportation system that can expedite the movement of people, goods, and services. Unfortunately, Congress’ current transportation proposals continue to promote a car-centric society, placing more automobiles on our already congested roads and highways. By terminating dedicated funding for transit systems, the House will take our country back to the days of sparse, intermittent, or unreliable transit service instead of moving us forward toward multi-modal systems where Americans have safe, reliable transportation alternatives to automobiles. Our 21st century transportation network must include all modes of transportation, including transit, rail, automobiles, and adequate access for bicyclist, pedestrians.

The reauthorization of our surface transportation laws also present a unique opportunity to help put more Americans back to work and jumpstart our local economies. However, current congressional proposals fail to fully realize the job-creating opportunities in our active transportation programs, like the TE program. Planning, designing and constructing bicycle and pedestrian projects create local jobs for landscape architects, planners, construction workers, nurserymen, and the myriad of other professionals throughout the supply chain. In fact, a recent report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) found that under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Transportation Enhancement projects generated the most transportation jobs, with approximately 17 jobs for every $1 million dollars spent. While other transportation projects like road paving and traffic management projects generated the least number of jobs – approximately 9-10. If the Congress is truly determined to put Americans back to work, restoring funding for the job-creating Transportation Enhancements program is a step in the right direction.

As the baby boomers, who once favored more suburban car-centric lifestyles, retire, a new generation of workers is seeking more transit-oriented neighborhoods that include walkable, bikable neighborhoods with easy access to jobs, entertainment and other amenities. According to a 2011 National Association of Realtors Consumer Preference Survey, nearly six in ten adults prefer to live in neighborhoods with a mix of houses and stores and other businesses within an easy walk.

Moreover, as today’s families’ transportation budgets dwindle, there is an increasing concern for their young children to have safe transportation networks to and from school. Since 2005, the Safe Routes To Schools (SRTS) program has successfully helped thousands of communities across the country develop safe walkable and bikable paths and corridors for young children to walk and bike to and from school. In many states, demand far exceeds the supply of available SRTS funds. Recently, in Washington State, 124 applicants requested $43 million. Yet only 29 applicants will be funded and receive approximately $11.4 million in total. Abolishing the Safe Routes to School program is one of the House bill’s most short-sighted provisions. SRTS is not only saving families, communities, and cash-strapped school systems money, it’s also saving kids’ lives.

In 1992, the 102nd Congress unveiled the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, the nation’s first bold and visionary step toward a multi-modal transportation system. Unfortunately, 20 years later, this Congress’ comprehensive transportation proposal is not only a road block to our nation’s economic recovery, it is detouring the American people to a place they don’t want to go – backwards.

This guest post is by Roxanne Blackwell, Esq., Manager of Federal Affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Use the ASLA Advocacy Network to let Congress know that walkable, bikeable communities are a priority in your community.

Image credit: Morning commute in Dallas, Texas /

3 thoughts on “Congress’ Transportation Bills Are Leading Us Down a Road to Nowhere

  1. James Bonney 02/10/2012 / 7:46 pm

    This is such an important issue and reading this article gets me motivated to do something about it. However, I don’t know where to start. What organizations are petitioning and working in other ways to make sure that transportation is safe, equitable, and sustainable?

  2. Ray R Irvin 02/11/2012 / 8:48 am

    Communities all over the country have benefited from pedestrian based transportation systems, from construction and maintenance to thousands of new businesses. They have in return hired local young people, improved health, reconnected communities and provided safe transportation for people. They have been used to relocate underground infrastructures clean up poluted sites and help re-forest communities. If quality of life matters then this bill is critical to everyone for we will all benefit.

  3. Andrew Sparks 02/13/2012 / 11:48 am

    I am concerned about where the government will get the money to do this? I think if there is a resource for that, this idea has value. But does this trump medicare/medicaid, social security, defense, etc.? We borrow from Asia to build these things, then our newly added workers buy all their goods from Asia, and our benefit is minimized. Eventually, Asia will own all our roads and bike paths, since they really will control our money. Is that preferable? LA’s are among the cleverest professionals in the world, but can we help the government with its debt problem?

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