New transportation bill passes: Would an extension of previous bill have been better?


A Metra train passes over a busy portion of the Kennedy Expressway. Photo taken from Grand Avenue. 

The Senate and House of Representatives finished their conference on Friday, June 29, to finalize the new surface transportation bill. The bill is responsible for making it legal for the federal government to collect gas taxes and manage the Highway Trust Fund and its Mass Transit Account, disbursing revenues to road, transit, railroad, water, bicycling, and pedestrian transportation infrastructure projects. The previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, was extended for 1,000 days since its original expiration in 2009. The new bill is known as MAP-21 and will expire September 30, 2014, for a total duration of 27 months. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, H.R. 4348, on Friday.

There are many changes, good and bad, between the two bills that have transit, bicycling, and pedestrian advocates disappointed. Continue reading New transportation bill passes: Would an extension of previous bill have been better?

Do something about transportation funding, today


New and maintained trains? Forget it. Photo by John Iwanski. 

If you are on the mailing list of any transportation advocacy group, or have been reading Streetsblog, this blog, and other websites, you may have noticed that transportation funding for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects is falling on the cutting room floors of two of the House of Representatives’s committees: Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), and Ways and Means (W&M). Full information on these issues was posted this morning.

Each committee has a bill that screws over funding that buys buses and trains, builds train stations, sidewalks, and cycling trails. You can ask your representatives to vote no on these bills. Here’s what to do:

Transportation and Infrastructure committee

It’s probably too late today to do anything about this, but you should ask your Representative to vote no on H.R.7. This bill repeals programs on safety, Safe Routes to School, and Transportation Enhancements.

Find your representative, or contact the following representatives from Illinois on this committee:

  • Daniel Lipinski – 3rd district – closes at 5 PM
    (202) 225 – 5701
    (866) 822 – 5701
  • Tim Johnson – 15th district – closes at 5 PM
    (202) 225-2371
  • Randy Hultgren – 14th district – closes at 4 PM
    (202) 225-2976
  • Jerry Costello – 12th district – closes at 5 PM
    (202) 225-5661

Ways and Means committee

Voting on H.R.3864 happens Friday morning. Ask your representative to vote no. This bill removes the Mass Transit Account from the Highway Trust Fund and leaves its funding up in the air, fighting for General Revenues along with thousands of other programs, instead of having a dedicated funding stream (gas taxes).

Find your representative, or contact the following  representatives from Illinois on this committee:

  • Aaron Schock – 18th district – unknown close time
    (202) 225-6201
  • Peter Roskam – 6th district – closes at 5 PM
    (202) 225-4561

House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas


Funding for trails? Forget it, say House Republicans. Photo by Eric Rogers.

Updated 15:36: See additions to this article under “updates”

No matter how you get around, whether on foot, by bike, in a car, on a bus or by train or water taxi, the federal surface transportation bill impacts your travel.

The surface transportation bill does essentially two things:

1. It sets national transportation policy. This includes plans on how much to subsidize monthly car parking for workers, monthly transit passes (see note 1); regional planning; safety goals; and environmental protection from vehicle pollution and infrastructure impacts.

2. Defines which transportation modes and programs get how much money.

A majority of trains, buses, bike lanes, roads, and highways in Chicagoland were built with funding from the surface transportation bill. And they continue to be majority-funded by federal tax dollars, year after year.

The last surface transportation bill is called SAFETEA-LU and it expired on September 30, 2009, at the end of fiscal year 2009 – Transportation 4 America has a clock counting the time since expiration. Since then, it has been extended many times while Congressional committees and representatives work on a new one.

A new one may be enacted this year!

Continue reading House of Representatives transportation bill fraught with bad ideas

Innovative financing for transportation infrastructure, notes from a seminar


The Metropolitan Planning Council graciously provided me with a free entry to a seminar in October about infrastructure funding and financing at their office at 140 S Dearborn. The seminar featured Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institution, Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, and Dr. Paul Hanley a professor at the University of Iowa. They talked about three innovative ways to fund construction of highways, airports, transit, and other capital-intensive projects: the surface transportation bill (Puentes), public-private partnerships (Stearns), and distance-based taxing (Hanley).

This article will be presented in two parts: presentations from Puentes and Stearns today, and Hanley on Friday. It is my intention that by presenting that discussion to readers, you can learn about some of the ways infrastructure in the United States is paid for.

Continue reading Innovative financing for transportation infrastructure, notes from a seminar

People will pay more to live near a bike trail


The Illinois Prairie Path as it passes through Elmhurst, Illinois. Photo by Clark Maxwell. 

New research from two University of Cincinnati professors suggest that people are willing to pay more for a house near a multi-use trail. But research on this topic is hardly conclusive. There are studies that suggest the same, and others that suggest the opposite. Research is based on stated preferences (what people say they want; perception) or revealed preferences (using data that shows people’s choices; voting with your dollar). Continue reading People will pay more to live near a bike trail

Tell Senate to pass clean extension to surface transportation bill

Updated September 16, 2011: Senate passes the bill. Now waiting for President Obama’s signature. Via Transportation 4 America


Photo of two Metra trains at Clinton Street by Eric Pancer. 

The House has passed a “clean extension” (the eighth one) of SAFETEA-LU on Tuesday, September 13, 2011. That’s the legislation that collects the 18.5 cents per gallon federal gas tax and distributes it to road, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects around the country. It’s already passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, but not yet the full Senate.

A “clean extension” means extending the existing legislation without amendments. Now’s not the time to debate amendments. Congress has had over two years to do that. They need to extend the legislation and then work faster on creating a replacement bill for surface transportation that reflects our nation’s current priorities, as the extension would only last until March 2012.

Additionally, some Congresspersons desire to remove a piece of the surface transportation legislation called Transportation Enhancements. This is a subsidiary funding mechanism that is often used to build bicycling trails, sidewalks, crosswalks, and more. (Bike lanes in Chicago are majority funded by grants from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality subsidiary funding.)

For more information, stay tuned with Active Transportation Alliance and Transportation 4 America.

You can get involved now by calling Illinois Senators Dick Durbin (312-353-4952) and Mark Kirk (312-886-3506).

Lastly, there’s a rally in Chicago next week, on Tuesday, September 20, at Union Station, to show your support for transit.