This week, the House and Senate will return from their “in-district” work weeks. While the Senate appears ready to begin floor debate (despite several unrelated amendments to deal with) on a two year authorization bill, S. 1813, the House continues to struggle with internal opposition to H.R. 7 and is looking at revamping the bill. More information on that is available in a separate post.
The League and other transportation advocates such as the National League of Cities and Transportation for America, are seeking amendments to improve the Senate bill and ensure that we are in the best position possible as the process moves forward. Members are urged to call or e-mail Senators Levin and Stabenow and urge them to support the following:
The Casey-Blunt amendment to Restore Funding for Off-System Bridges: S 1813 would collapse federal bridge programs into a larger program for states to spend on all transportation programs and eliminates a 15 percent set-aside for off-system bridges which funds local bridges. The amendment would maintain the set-aside for bridges not on the federal-aid system which has been in place since 1978 and has been of substantial help to local governments in their efforts to upgrade local bridges. The Casey-Blunt amendment would provide full funding for the 15 percent set-aside to fund local off-system bridges.
The Shaheen (and others) Amendment to Grandfather Existing Metropolitan Planning Organizations: Current law provides that areas over 50,000 in population are designated as a metropolitan planning organization and have regional planning responsibilities and decision making authority over transportation and other projects in their region. S 1813 would change that threshold to 200,000 in population and set up new criteria for remaining as an MPO. The Shaheen amendment would grandfather in existing MPOs.
The Cardin-Cochran Additional Activities Amendment: S 1813 creates a new program called “Additional Activities” that includes a broad range of eligible projects that include Main Street revitalizations, local street safety improvements, street and boulevard redesigns, bus stop and rail station access improvements, Safe Routes to Schools, Recreational Trails, among many others — including the former programs that invested in safe walking and biking. The Cardin-Cochran Amendment would turn that Additional Activities program into a competitive grant program for local governments, giving local elected leaders more control over how to spend the funds. The amendment would give increased decision-making authority and control to local governments to fund important transportation projects.
The Begich amendment to increase sub-allocations to MPO: S 1813 creates a new program that collapse several other programs including some funding directed at local government programs and shifts authority to the states. As written, the bill would shift more authority to states to control the allocation and programming of transportation dollars into a newly created Transportation Mobility Program and end several locally targeted programs, thereby reducing the overall funding directed to local governments. This is an important amendment for local governments to restore the local share of funding under the TMP program contained in S 1813. The Begich amendment, sponsored by former Mayor Begich of Alaska, would restore the sub-allocation percentage for metro areas to levels in current law, resulting in more money allocated directly to metro areas under MAP-21. The amendment would not change the amount of funding going to each state but changes the way the dollars are allocated within the state.
Under current law, 62.5 percent of a state’s Surface Transportation Program (STP) or TMP in the Senate bill are allocated to metropolitan areas over 200,000 in population. States must spend the remaining funds based on population in remaining areas. S 1813 changes that local share from 62.5 percent to 50 percent and raises the state share.
Adoption of these amendments is critical especially if the bill becomes a part of a joint House and Senate conference committee that will decide its final fate. Please make contact with Senators Levin and Stabenow and ask them to support these important local amendments.
Arnold Weinfeld is Director of Strategic Initiatives and Federal Affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 517-908-0304.