GOP Bills Would Cut Funding for Rail, Walking, BikingLast week, more than two years after the nation's last five-year surface transportation law expired, the House of Representatives introduced its proposed legislation for rewriting the nation's transportation laws. And boy, it is a doozy.
Facing severely reduced gasoline tax receipts, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has proposed to cut many of the non-highway programs in the transportation bill that help give people alternatives to driving. These include things such as Transportation Enhancements, which provide set-asides for local projects that improve the transportation experience in communities (the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal was restored with a Transportation Enhancement grant); and other programs that reduce the environmental impact of transportation and promote pedestrian and biking facilities. The bill also reduces operating funding to Amtrak and cuts a capital grant program to relieve congestion on rail corridors.
The cuts to these programs were largely expected, but what provoked anger and surprise among many transportation experts was a separate measure by Ways and Means, the committee that authorizes the revenues for the transportation bill, that severed the 30-year-old link between highways and transit in the transportation trust fund. Since 1982, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that dedicated a penny of the federal gas tax to transit, transit agencies have had a steady source of reliable federal funding that allows them to keep their systems in good repair, replace outdated infrastructure and equipment and plan for the future. Dedicated funding for transit, which today amounts to 2.86 pennies of the 18.3 cents per gallon gas tax, has allowed systems like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pull back from the brink of disinvestment and make five-year capital plans that include projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access that are now under way.