Reports out of Washington from last night and this morning indicate that the conference committee, the group that works to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills, has agreed to a final bill that will almost certainly pass. Transportation Issues Daily reports:
Senate and House negotiators and leadership reached a deal Wednesday. The conference report was expected to be filed by midnight (ET) Wednesday, but it wasn’t.
The vote will occur by the end of the week, probably Saturday. Members will be anxious to start their July 4 in-state work period and will be in no mood to work through the weekend. Of course it take only one Senator’s objection to slow the action in that Chamber, so it make take a bit longer to clear the Senate. But the bill is still expected to pass before SAFETEA-LU expires at midnight Friday.
Here’s what we do know. The Keystone XL language and the coal ash provisions are out, in exchange for keeping some of the project streamlining provisions. The bill continues to October 2014, a year later than everyone expected. That’s an election year, so maybe this deal is a positive foreshadowing for the next bill. Funding levels are basically flat with current levels.
Distillation of the bill (in full here, 91 page “summary” here) are only now trickling out but streetsblog is reporting that dedicated funding for pedestrian and bike projects through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, (CMAQ) has been folded into a larger funding bucket called “Transportation Alternatives”. Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails programs have also been folded into this larger funding bucket. Streetsblog reports:
In the transportation bill agreed to yesterday by Barbara Boxer, John Mica, and other Congressional leaders, the program that allocates federal transportation dollars to local street safety projects like bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks has morphed into a much more general fund for anything that can be considered an air quality improvement strategy. States have great leeway to shift funds around, and bike/ped projects will have to compete with road projects and much more.
The “Transportation Alternatives” section of the bill says it reduces total funding to 2009 levels for the Transportation Enhancements program for each state. But Caron Whitaker at America Bikes tells Streetsblog that’s actually an error in the bill. In reality, she said in an email, “The funding goes from 1.2 billion in FY 2011 to 700 – 750 million under TA.” That’s a drop of up to 42 percent.
Consolation of federal funding, called “streamlining” has been in the cards for many years, with 100+ federal funding streams being consolidated down to a handful of funding streams targeted directly at priorities such as safety or maintenance. From a high level policy perspective I think most people agree this is a good thing, although in practices this will obviously make groups that will get less funding frustrated.
We’ll provide more updates and details as they come.