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What's Wrong with the Senate's MAP-21 Reauthorization Bill?

Plenty, according to Tanya Snyder, Streetsblog USA editor, who finds Obama's Grow America plan far superior. Outside of not including a gas tax to fill the Trust Fund gap, she finds the proposal "underfunded and highway centric." She is not alone.
May 15, 2014, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Snyder condemns the plan drafted by the Senate Environment and Public Work's Committee (EPW) under Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) for rejecting "pretty much everything the Obama administration put forth in its bill, including permanent funding for TIGER and the elimination of red tape that prevents states from tolling interstates. The administration called for spending $302 billion over four years, while the EPW bill envisions a $265 billion budget over six years — although that figure does not include transit or rail." 

Snyder explains the complex mechanics of the path the bill must take which accounts for some of its shortcomings, particularly as it affects transit and rail.

EPW only writes the highway component of the bill, then hands it over to the Banking Committee for the transit piece and the Commerce Committee for the rail and safety piece. And of course, nothing at all will happen unless the Senate Finance Committee can find a way to pay for it.

Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation also criticized the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S. 2322).

“It’s disappointing that the Senate is still operating under complete modal siloes [sic] and not thinking of this as a comprehensive system in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

Snyder writes that "the EPW bill maintains the status quo right down to the level of funding, which is only adjusted for inflation" of the current MAP-21 Act and makes some minor policy changes, including:

  • "(N)otable new line item is money for a national freight program."
  • Increasing the federal-aid highway program while maintaining TIFIA at current levels.
  • No mention of TIGER while funding the highway-centric Projects of National or Regional Significance, previously funded from General Funds.
  • "(S)mall but positive changes to bike/ped funding."

However, she indicates that the policy adjustments, as bad as some of them may be, pale in comparison to finding the revenue to fill Highway Trust Fund shortfall.

And really, securing a new funding source is what the Senate has set out to achieve with this bill, more than policy reforms. (Senators) mainly just want to find new revenue for the ailing Highway Trust Fund. And with a gas tax increase [see Baltimore Sun editorial, May 13] apparently off the table and a bipartisan plan for corporate tax reform not going anywhere, the options are pretty limited."

Snyder includes an optimistic note on funding by stating that the Reauthorization Act "does try to set the table for a solution by funding studies of revenue alternatives. Vehicle-miles-traveled fees would almost certainly be on the list. So would Boxer’s preferred option of a per-barrel fee on oil."

Of course, there have been plenty funding studies and commissions, many (if not most) pointing to increasing the gas tax in the short term and converting to a mileage-based user fee in the long term. What's needed is the political will to enact them.

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Published on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Streetsblog USA
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