Transportation Reauthorization Conference Report
With this bill Congress had the opportunity to establish a transportation program that would support communities' efforts to become more sustainable and economically resilient. Unfortunately, the conference report missed this opportunity and is in many ways a retreat from these goals. While I am pleased to see that funding for public transit was preserved at current levels, rather than being cut by 30% as was proposed last year, and that some transit-oriented development (TOD) language was included, the bill could have done so much more to provide transportation choices for people in rural, suburban, and urban areas to connect them with jobs, education, healthcare, and opportunity.
Items that would have supported these goals include credit assistance for TOD projects, authority for transit agencies to use federal funds for operations during economic crises, dedicated funding for repair of existing roads and bridges, and a requirement that the safety of all users be taken into account when designing roads. I am deeply disappointed that these provisions were not included in the conference report.
However, I am pleased that the conference report supports proactive planning for TOD around new transit stations. The conferees also recognized the benefits that transit can bring to a community by simplifying the application process for new transit projects. In addition, the conferees acknowledged the importance of giving local officials control over funding for smaller-scale, community-oriented projects, though the report unfortunately allows states to usurp much of the local control that the Senate bill had provided.
I note that this is a short-term bill that will not even last as long as the time it took to develop. It's been nearly three years since the last transportation bill expired, and over that period thousands of people across America have become involved in the transportation debate. They are not industry experts, but rather health care professionals, business leaders, mayors, community leaders, and ordinary citizens who recognize that good, affordable transportation choices are key to a healthy, productive life and strong, sustainable communities. Over the past several years, I have traveled widely around this country, hearing from people in both big cities and small towns who want to see more investment in transit, in rail, in walking and biking, so that they don't have to depend on their cars for every daily trip. Reconnecting America will continue to carry this message forward, from the cities and towns in which we work to the halls of Congress, so that the next transportation bill will not be a missed opportunity. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to invest in the integrated, multimodal network they will need for the future.