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How State DOTs Got Congress to Grant Their Wish List
Posted By Tanya Snyder On July 24, 2012 @ 2:10 pm In AASHTO,Bike/Ped,Economics,Environmental Review,Federal Funding,Federal Highway Administration,Federal Transit Administration,House of Representatives,MAP-21,Performance Measures,Reauthorization,Safety,State DOTs,Tolls,Transit,Transportation Policy,U.S. DOT,U.S. Senate | 1 Comment
Bike and pedestrian funding got slashed . Federal assistance for transit operations was rejected . Even the performance measures – arguably the high point of the recently passed federal transportation bill – are too weak  to be very meaningful. For Americans who want federal policy to support safe streets, sustainable transportation, and livable neighborhoods, there were few bright spots in the transportation bill Congress passed last month .
But state transportation departments are celebrating. They scored victory after victory, getting a bigger share of federal funding with fewer rules and regulations attached.
In the Senate, advocates were able to work some reforms into the bill and mobilize grassroots support for amendments like the Cardin-Cochran provision , which put funds for street safety projects in the hands of local governments, not state DOTs. But the House never managed to pass a bill  of its own, and the opaque conference committee process was an exercise in horse-trading that advocates found difficult to penetrate.
The final product, which included measures like raising the federal contribution for certain highway expansions, seemed finely tailored to benefit DOTs in several ways. “This is a bill written by and for the benefit of state DOTs at the expense of both federal oversight and regional and community outcomes,” wrote David Burwell, director of the climate change program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an email shortly after the bill passed. He said the policy changes “are too elegantly crafted and specific in their effect to have been written, or even conceived, by members of Congress or their staff.”
For state DOTs, access to lawmakers is a given. “We worked very closely with the House and Senate to craft those measures,” AASHTO Director John Horsley confirmed to Streetsblog in an interview yesterday. He said that while AASHTO offered recommendations, no text written by AASHTO made it into the bill verbatim, as far as he knows.
According to Horsley’s account, AASHTO followed a pretty standard script when it came to advocating for their interests on the Hill. Every stakeholder and special interest under the sun had its lobbyists knocking on lawmakers’ doors, offering their two cents – everyone from gravel producers to equipment manufacturers to environmentalists to free market fundamentalists. It’s just that the state DOTs seemed to get everything on their wish list.
Horsley said AASHTO had been laying the groundwork for many, many months before conference  started, working with Republican House Transportation Committee staffers as well as aides of both parties in the Senate. (He didn’t mention working with House Democrats, who were shut out  of the process from day one.)
The House is where the magic happened for AASHTO. “We’ve been very pleased with where the Senate bill started,” Horsley said. “And we were even more pleased when the House and the Senate in conference agreed to incorporate a lot of the House provisions that were even better for states.”
What were those House provisions? Horsley went through the list:
The shift from Transportation Enhancements to Transportation Alternatives — and all the changes made to the program  — wasn’t AASHTO’s idea, Horsley said, but they’ll go along with it. He said AASHTO’s “official position was to support the enhancement program” and they never suggested changing it. “We were happy to have managed the entire program for the last 20 years,” he said. “Now that Congress has directed us to deliver 50 percent of the program through MPOs, cities, counties, local governments – that’s fine; we can work that out.” If he thought states should have been left in charge of the entire amount for Transportation Alternatives, he didn’t say so.
But Horsley did say states have a “pretty impressive” legacy of investing $6.2 billion in bike and pedestrian paths over the last ten years. (States also rescinded back  to the federal government $580 million in funding for these projects in 2010 alone [PDF ].)
Horsley indicated he’s as confused as anybody as to why Transportation Enhancements got portrayed as a frivolous “beautification” program in this debate. “Congressional leaders like Nick Rahall from West Virginia – he has found the enhancement program to be extremely popular with the communities and the citizens that he represents,” Horsley said. “His staff has told me that when you have the dedication of a bike trail, you’ll have 200 to 2,000 people come out for the dedication. And if you have a major highway improvement, maybe 50 people come out.”
They’re not so popular in all states, Horsley said – especially with the backlog of basic maintenance in so many places.
Supporters of safe streets and sustainable transportation will have their work cut out for them in those states that value highway spending to the exclusion of bike and pedestrian projects. But as Burwell wrote on Streetsblog shortly after the bill passed , the state of local grassroots advocacy today is strong.
As for federal policy, advocates have only a short while to learn from the state DOTs’ lobbying successes and turn the tables in the next round of legislating, just two years away.
Article printed from Streetsblog Capitol Hill: http://dc.streetsblog.org
URL to article: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/07/24/how-state-dots-got-congress-to-grant-their-wish-list/
URLs in this post:
 slashed: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/07/12/the-awful-truth-about-the-transpo-bills-bikeped-loophole/
 rejected: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/06/28/conference-bill-freezes-transit-funding-wastes-opportunities-for-progress/
 too weak: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/06/29/a-new-bill-passes-but-americas-transpo-policy-stays-stuck-in-20th-century/
 Image: http://dc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/horsley.jpg
 International Transport Forum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/internationaltransportforum/7202798870/
 the Cardin-Cochran provision: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/02/14/cardin-cochran-amendment-would-boost-local-control-of-transpo-spending/
 never managed to pass a bill: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/02/15/house-speaker-john-boehner-will-delay-vote-on-house-transpo-bill/
 conference: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/05/08/live-blogging-the-first-meeting-of-the-transportation-conference-committee/
 shut out: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/06/27/today-in-conference-land-a-free-pass-for-road-builders-and-texting-teens/
 used to have their own funds: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/06/28/transpo-bill-states-can-spend-bikeped-funds-on-left-turn-lanes/
 steamrolling: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/steamrolling_environmental_rev.html
 disposal of any and all criteria: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/07/03/americas-transpo-loan-program-to-reward-punctuality-not-innovation/
 rescinded back: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/04/20/what-the-feds-giveth-the-states-taketh-away-from-bikeped-programs/
 PDF: http://www.enhancements.org/download/Publications/Briefs/9-28-10-MEMORANDUM-Rescissions.pdf
 wrote on Streetsblog shortly after the bill passed: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/07/05/buck-up-reformers-despite-the-hard-knocks-this-bill-is-a-step-forward/
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