Over the course of 24 hours spread over two days, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee under the leadership of Chairman DeFazio (D-OR) considered amendments to the INVEST in America Act, which is the House version of the surface transportation reauthorization bill. Some members were in the Committee room, spaced out for safety, and others Members participated via webcam, while audience members watched via YouTube.
In spite of some technological hiccups in this example of virtual legislative process, the Committee was able to work through more than 300 amendments. We are pleased to report that an already good bill got even better with the addition of several amendments.
- Rep. Brownley (D-CA) offered an amendment to expand the new Vulnerable User Safety program to also include large metropolitan planning areas, and to have the vulnerable user requirements start in 2022 instead of 2024. This amendment was accepted by Chairman DeFazio, meaning that large MPOs, in addition to states, will be required to assess ways to improve safety for people walking, biking, and rolling and will receive funding to spend on safety projects. This amendment effort was led by Safe Routes Partnership and the League of American Bicyclists.
- Rep. Brown (D-MD) was able to get language added into the underlying bill that requires states to consult with educational agencies when developing their safety plans to ensure that Safe Routes to School issues are included. This amendment effort was led by Safe Routes Partnership.
- Rep. Lipinski (D-IL) secured the inclusion of an amendment to allow states and localities that are rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in a natural disaster to include Complete Streets elements. This amendment effort was led by the League of American Bicyclists.
- Rep. Larsen (D-WA) successfully advocated that state bicycle and pedestrian coordinators be required to be full-time. This amendment effort was led by the League of American Bicyclists.
- Rep. Finkenauer (D-IA) added language requiring that state Safe Routes to School coordinators reach out to rural school districts to ensure they are aware of available Safe Routes funding.
- Rep. Lynch (D-MA) included a new requirement to do a nationwide pedestrian and bicycle road safety assessment every two years and to produce a report and a database capturing recommendations to enhance safety for people biking and walking.
In addition, we wanted to note that none of the 300+ amendments proposed to eliminate or cut back the Transportation Alternatives Program. In fact, the Republican substitute amendment would have continued funding for TAP. This in and of itself feels like an accomplishment, since the last two House transportation bills included several attempts to completely eliminate funding for biking and walking. We are pleased that it appears that conservative members have accepted that biking and walking is part of the transportation system.
When you add these amendments to the improvements we highlighted in our summary of the original bill, here are the top three wins for Safe Routes to School, biking and walking in the House transportation bill (see our blog on the original bill for the full details on this and other provisions):
- The Transportation Alternatives Program is funded at $6 billion over four years, nearly double current law, plus a number of policy improvements will help get projects built more quickly and without requiring so much matching funding from localities.
- States and large MPOs will have to prioritize the safety of people biking and walking, through performing new vulnerable user safety assessments and spending an estimated $1 billion over four years.
- Safe Routes to School projects can now be built using safety funding, and state Safe Routes to School coordinators would again be required.
The INVEST Act now moves to a vote by the full House of Representatives, which is currently scheduled for July 1, 2020. We will be vigilant for any amendments that would dilute our wins. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its transportation bill last July, but it has not yet been considered by the full Senate. So we do have several more steps yet before the House and Senate can start to negotiate a final bill (hopefully before current law expires at the end of September).