Another Extension – No Transportation Vision on Capitol Hill

The extensions to the transportation bill are getting shorter and shorter. We are now close to 1000 days of extension of the current highway bill. Typically these bills cover 5 years and have broad bipartisan support. This time the US Senate managed to produce a 2 year bill, so-called MAP-21. This bill was passed with the Cochran-Cardin amendment, which provided continued funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, after a lot of pressure from pedestrians and cyclists. The 5 year bill that was discussed in the House did not get sufficient support even within the GOP to bring it to a vote. This to the great relief of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users, as this proposed bill really turned the clock back and provided money for not much else than building new roads. In this age of increasing gas prices, global warming, less miles driven, and an increasing demand for livability and transportation alternatives, that does not seem to make much sense. It is clear that there is a lack of vision with respect to our transportation system, at least at the political level. It does not help that federal gas taxes have not increased since 1993, as opposed to road building costs. Currently less than half of our road costs are paid for by gas taxes. In the absence of agreement on a new bill, the House passed another extension of the current transportation bill, this time for three months. This will enable the government to continue to collect gas taxes. Bicyclists advocacy organizations would rather have had the House vote for the bill that was passed in the Senate. Now the fight is dragging on. The representative if our region, Steve Southerland II, has so far not been very responsive to any urging of retaining funds for bicycles and pedestrians and the Safe Routes to School program (adding up to only 1.6% of current federal transportation spending) in the transportation bill. This in spite of it becoming more and more clear that  investment in bicycle and pedestrian facilities improve real-estate prices, create more jobs, attract tourism, and lead to more dollars spent within the state. Currently on average 16% of family budgets goes to transportation. Most of that money leaves the state, as Florida has no significant oil extraction industry, no oil refineries, and very little car manufacturing industry. Giving Floridians more transportation options means more money will be spent in Florida. This does not even take into account the reduced health care costs. Did you know that diabetes-related costs comprise about $150 Billion/year? This is about three times the federal transportation budget. Did you know that on average regular cyclists have a 20% lower risk of death than non-cyclists ?  This would be a good time to tell your representative that bicycle/pedestrian funding is important. Simply because it is good for Florida and for Floridians.