Transportation Bill Misses Boat on Most Exciting Aspects of Industry

Capitol traffic- Richie Girardin

From the fast-moving on-demand economy to increases in non-auto trips for Americans, one would think Congress would be trying to at least keep up with the latest trends in transportation.

But when the U.S. House of Representatives likely passes its bipartisan, $325 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act of 2015 this week, it appears there will be a lack of inspiration for a sector that is quickly transforming.

It’s about as vanilla a transportation bill as we could have expected.

With transportation funding expiring on October 29, hope for a somewhat long-term fix comes from either the House’s STRR (which is funded out over six years) or the Senate’s DRIVE Act (funded at $314 billion for six years, but only has a three-year funding guarantee).

The House bill fails to focus on the promotion of transportation options for people, opting to focus on vehicles and the “supply” side of transportation rather than the “demand” side. There is also nothing to advance energy, health, and environmental policies related to transportation.

Three major oversights in the bill include:

New, tech-driven services like ridesharing and transportation information that people have demanded are woefully underrepresented in the bill, which does not include definitions or expanded eligibility that could provide major opportunities for communities and public-private partnerships.

Also, many private-sector employers around the country are spending millions of dollars to help their employees get to work by cheaper, more innovative means than driving alone. The House bill should give them an opportunity to get involved in their region’s planning processes as described in a bill called Commute LESS (HR200) – which currently has almost no chance of being enacted and would require metropolitan planning organizations to work with employers and others to develop a commuter trip-reduction plan.

Finally, construction on roadways aggravates us all, and a small percentage of construction funding could be included in developing alternative transportation options during and after major projects that cost more than $75 million and close lanes for 120 or more days. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C., and I-36 in Denver are good examples where a congestion mitigation plan really worked to give travelers alternate means to get around construction.

Broadly, funding for transportation demand management comes from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program under the Highway, Investment, Job Creation, and Economic Growth Act of 2012.

It remains level in funding at $2.2 billion in 2016, up to $2.5 billion by 2021, basically adjusting for inflation. That’s somewhere in the range of $12 billion or $13 billion for TDM out of a $325 billion package.

The Association for Commuter Transportation has an advocacy page where you can quickly generate a letter to your member of Congress to support Commute LESS and support innovation and shared-use mobility.

Photo: Richie Girardin, Flickr

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