After several weeks of reports that Congressional conferees on the transportation bill were making progress, last week saw a flurry of news stories in the Capitol Hill trade press that negotiations are on the rocks. House Republicans from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee say that Senator Boxer is discounting their priorities. Senator Boxer has stated she fears House Republican leadership is no longer committed to getting a transportation bill done.
This week may well be the tipping point in negotiations. Senator Boxer is rumored to be circulating some kind of draft conference report to the conferees, although House Republicans call it an “offer” for further negotiations rather than an agreement. It is unclear what will happen once this draft comes out—the conference could either break down, which would likely result in another extension, or everyone could come back to the table to keep negotiating.
I know it is hard for advocates to pay attention given these seemingly never-ending machinations in Congress. But, you have stuck with us for nearly three years after SAFETEA-LU’s original expiration date—so please help us keep the pressure on as we approach the end game.
Whatever happens this week in negotiations, we know:
- In a number of recent news articles covering transportation negotiations, House Republican freshmen serving on the conference committee have identified eliminating Transportation Enhancements “mandates” as one of their top priorities—up there with financing of transportation, state allocations and environmental regulations.This comes in spite of the fact that there is already language in the Senate bill that addresses concerns—the Cardin-Cochran agreement.
- Since we are still a target, it’s critical that members of Congress keep hearing from their constituents. Please make sure you and others you know contact your members of Congress. This is particularly important if a member of Congress from your state or district serves on the conference committee.
- Congress also needs to hear from prominent leaders. If you care about Safe Routes to School and your community has seen the benefits, ask your mayor, school board member or other local elected officials to write a letter to Congress.
- Our partners are pitching in. Just last week, we spearheaded a letter with America Bikes in support of the Cardin-Cochran agreement and local access to funding for Safe Routes to school, bicycling and walking. A total of 70 national organizations representing transportation, health, education, business, government and more signed on.
- Funding for bicycling and walking is widespread. In a new national poll released by America Bikes, 83 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats, support retaining or increasing federal funding for bicycling and walking.
There is much at stake in these negotiations. So please stay tuned for updates, and please be diligent and persistent in letting your members of Congress know that Safe Routes to School is important to you.