Where Does Federal Transportation Bill Go From Here?

What a federal transportation bill ultimately looks like — and when (and if) it actually gets done — is a big deal for the Lehigh Valley and regions across the nation. Federal funding has always been central to supporting transportation projects and its offshoots (such as transit-oriented development, complete streets, etc.). The current federal surface transportation — SAFETEA-LU — expired more than a year ago (it’s been extended several times), and until Congress passes a new comprehensive bill, states and localities cannot be sure what the federal transportation funding picture will look like.

This makes it very tough for  transit agencies and departments of transportation to plan. I can say that in almost every discussion of transportation for the Lehigh Valley — whether on passenger rail, bus rapid transit, bike infrastructure, pedestrian safety, or roads — the uncertainty surrounding the federal bill is a constant theme.  You hear it all the time: “We can’t do much until we see what happens at the federal level.”

Given that last week’s election shifted the political landscape Washington, the prospects for Congress moving a new transportation bill are not clear. Fortunately, our friends at Transportation for America held an in-depth briefing call today to lay out where things stand. Some of the highlights:

  • With former Housing Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar losing his seat in Congress last week, the leading advocate for pushing a balanced, forward-thinking transportation bill at a level of $500 billion is out of the picture. T4America Director James Corless notes that a $500B is not going to happen, and that even $400B might not be feasible.
  • T4America indicates that transportation is one of a handful of issues that the White House believes it could get bipartisan support in the next two years. At the same time, Corless notes that the window is really in the next 12 months or so–once you get into late 2011, you’re into the 2012 campaign season, and movement on the bill gets less likely.
  • T4America expects that the new transportation bill will emphasize innovative financing mechanisms, such as public/private partnerships (“P3″s) and a National Infrastructure Bank. Also, principles like accountability and performance measures (which T4A has been pushing) will likely be part of the bill.
  • Although last week’s election results overall seemed to carry a “less public spending” message, T4America pointed to a Center for Transportation Excellence report showing that at the local level, 22 of 30 transportation funding measures passed, totally more than $500 million in investment over five years.

Corless was clear on the fact that more will be known in the coming couple months, as the House leadership is selected and committee chairmanships are assigned. RenewLV will continue to provide updates via this blog and through our website. To follow every detail and development on the federal surface transportation bill, some of our favorite sources are Transportation for America (naturally), The Transport Politic, and Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

Posted on November 9, 2010, in Federal Policy, Public Infrastructure, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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