Federal Policy Hodgepodge: Transportation Spending, GHG Rule, and Updated State Ratings!

After waiting until nearly halfway through FY2018 to set spending levels, Congress is out of the gate quickly on the FY19 appropriations process.  The process of setting spending levels is easier this year, because the FY18 spending package included a two-year agreement on funding levels that were significantly more generous than what the Trump administration had proposed.  As an example, the transportation-housing spending max spending level for FY19 is more than $1 billion higher than the FY18 cap, which was already a significant increase over the prior year.

Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles transportation spending approved its bill, sending it to the full appropriations committee. It includes $750 million for the TIGER (now called BUILD) program, which is higher than the traditional funding level of $500 million, but less than the $1.5 billion allocated for FY18.  Appropriators also instructed USDOT not to funnel so much of the grant money to rural areas, calling for an even split between rural, urban, and port projects. Amtrak and new transit projects also got healthy allocations, in spite of the Trump budget’s call to slash these programs; and the FAST Act transportation programs, including the Transportation Alternatives Program, are all funded at expected levels.

The Senate appropriations committee is scheduled to take its version up the week of June 4. Both chambers have plans to try to get all appropriations bills considered on the floor this summer, which is an ambitious schedule.

Turning to the US Department of Transportation, sadly USDOT has confirmed it is repealing the new performance measure that would have asked states and metropolitan planning organizations to measure greenhouse gas emissions—a first step to better measuring the impact of transportation and transportation projects on climate change.   We commented last November asking USDOT not to eliminate this measure, as it would help states and regions start to identify ways to reduce tailpipe emissions and to shift more people out of cars and onto transit, biking, and walking. Implementing these measurements was expected to cost less than $2 million per year, spread among all 50 states and the MPOs -- a truly negligible cost given the billions invested in transportation each year.

Finally – we are so pleased to announce that in June, the National Partnership will be issuing the 2018 version of our State Report Cards that rate each state’s support for walking, biking, and physical activity.  A whole section of the report cards focuses on state implementation of the Transportation Alternatives Program—including whether they are getting funding out the door and if/how they prioritize Safe Routes to School projects.  You will want to see how your state rates—and whether they have made progress since our 2016 report cards.  You can sign up for our webinar, which is June 27 at 2pm ET, to get the first look at the 2018 report cards.