The Summer of SAFETEA

Unfortunately, SAFETEA isn’t some sort of super-healthy refreshing summertime beverage. Neither, in fact, is its counterpart ISTEA. They are, respectively, the current and one of the former versions of the major federal transportation funding package. This behemoth, enacted every 4-5 years, allocates most of the nation’s transportation funding, last time at a cool $286.4 billion. And, as if there wasn’t already enough for Congress to do this summer, it happens to expire at the end of September.

In the past, its funding priorities have been skewed heavily (around 4-to-1) in favor of highways — asphalt rather than Amtrak, so to speak. But recent years have seen somewhat of a boom in demand for alternative modes of transportation. So there is a tremendous opportunity to rework that ratio, thereby investing in new forms of public transportation, dramatically expanding existing train, bus and bike networks, and substantially reducing the amount of car traffic on the road.

It’s easy to be skeptical about such an outcome in Congress, even with large Democratic majorities in both houses and support from the President. But things are looking rather promising so far. A couple weeks ago, two key senators with direct jurisdiction over transportation funding (Rockefeller and Lautenberg) introduced a plan for reauthorization. Although it fails miserably on the catchy acronym front (the new title is “The Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009“), it seems to make some crucual improvements over the current SAFETEA framework. Its big-picture goals are the following (my bolding):

•     Reduce national per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis;
•     Reduce national motor vehicle-related fatalities by 50 percent by 2030;
•     Reduce national surface transportation-generated carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030;
•     Reduce national surface transportation delays per capita on an annual basis;
•     Increase the percentage of system-critical surface transportation assets that are in a state of good repair by 20 percent by 2030;
•     Increase the total usage of public transportation, intercity passenger rail services, and non-motorized transportation on an annual basis;
•     Increase the proportion of national freight transportation provided by non-highway or multimodal services by 10 percent by 2020; and
•     Reduce passenger and freight transportation delays and congestion at international points of entry on an annual basis.

All sounds good to me. But as you all know, the legislative process has a nasty habit of sacrificing good policy goals for purposes of expediency. It’s up to committed activists like us to provide the push for a good bill. This thing is gonna move very quickly, and probably be wrapped up by the end of June. Thankfully, Transportation for America is on the case. They have been working the Hill hard the past few weeks and wrote a glowing review of the Lautenberg-Rockefeller proposal. I believe Bronwyn is very familiar with their work, a bit more so than myself, so hopefully she can chime in.

Anyway, I propose that we do some work on this. Anybody else with me?

-Jeremy

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2 comments so far

  1. Anne on

    I’d certainly be pleased to follow the lead of Transportation for America in supporting this legislation, (if, of course, I had any legislators who could represent me with a vote in Congress or the Senate). Full disclosure–Geoff Anderson, President/CEO of Smart Growth America is my son.

  2. jeremydc on

    By the way, the last transportation package was notable for two reasons:

    1) the “bridge to nowhere” fight, and
    2) the bill was illegally signed into law, because Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) had an earmark slid into the final House version at the very last minute without anyone noticing, meaning the House and Senate versions were substantially different. That was one of the many things for which Don Young is under federal investigation.

    Goooooooooo Alaska!


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