In a vote just minutes after a similar House vote, the United States Senate voted 74-19 on Friday for the Boxer-Mica highway bill (aka : “MAP-21”), eliminating Transportation Enhancements, the spectacularly successful federal program that funded 10s of thousands of walking/cycling projects in the United States between 1992 and 2012.
Senators Tom Carper (press releases HERE) and Chris Coons (press release HERE), and Representative John Carney, all voted for the bill. While saying he was “encouraged” that the “Senate was able to work together,” Senator Carper also said that “the final compromise is a mixed bag. I am disappointed that the bill fails to include clean air and public health provisions, significantly cuts funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety [emphasis added], and does little to address our addiction to foreign oil. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, I will not rest in my efforts to implement and restore measures to protect public health and the air we breathe.”
Before Friday’s vote, Senator Carper made personal appeals to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee and the lead Senate negotiator on the conference committee that produced Thursday’s bill, to preserve funding for nonmotorized transportation. After extended backroom negotiations, however, Senator Boxer and the lead House negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-FL) released the text of their 599 page bill on Thursday morning, which not only eliminated Transportation Enhancements, but also two smaller pro-cycling programs, Safe Routes To School and Recreational Trails, as well. In their stead, the Boxer-Mica bill created a new program called “Transportation Alternatives”, with funding 1/3 less than the programs it replaced. Even worse, the new Transportation Alternatives program can be used to fund other activities that have nothing to with cycling, including environmental mitigation and, even, some road construction. As the total amount of funding for Transportation Alternatives is extraordinarily small, these additional eligible project categories could easily absorb every penny of available funds, leaving nothing for either walking or bicycling projects.
Holding out the specter of “millions” of lost jobs if their colleagues did not pass it, and also adding in unrelated but politically compelling student loan and flood insurance legislation, the Boxer-Mica highway bill passed in little more than 24 hours, leaving little opportunity for their colleagues to even read the bill let alone for the public to influence the process.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative John Mica (R-FL), the lead conference negotiators of the transportation bill passed on Friday. Their bill eliminated the Transportation Enhancements, Safe Route to School and Recreational Trails programs.
The political juggernaut crafted by Senator Boxer and Representative Mica was so compelling that even Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon – perhaps the strongest defender of walking and cycling in the entire Congress – ended up voting for what is – in any sober analysis – the biggest defeat for cycling in Washington DC in 20 years. “We’ve spent three years working on a bill that will last for just two”, said Rep. Blumenauer after the Boxer-Mica bill was approved. “Over the weeks to come, it will be revealed how far short of the mark the bill falls. The policies in this bill do not get us to where we need to be. There is no national vision, no national goals. It does not help bring our transportation system into the 21st century, support local communities as they try to meet the diverse needs of their members, or protect the important safeguards we have supported to protect the environment. It shortchanges bike and pedestrian programs and eliminates the Safe Routes to School program. The bill makes it more difficult for metropolitan area to have control over their transportation planning and their ability to solve problems will be undercut.”