House Transportation Bill

House Transportation Bill Moves Forward; Strengthens Safe Routes to School

June 24, 2009

On Monday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee released its draft of the transportation bill, called the Surface Transportation Authorization Act. Although the overall bill is expected to ultimately include around $450-500 billion over six years, no funding levels are included for any program at this point. The bill is instead meant to outline the new structure for surface transportation programs and policy changes.

The bill was approved unanimously today by the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The next step will be for the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to work with the Ways and Means Committee in July to determine the financing for the bill. Once that has been worked out, the bill can continue forward through the legislative process.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership applauds the leadership of Chairman Oberstar and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee for including a number of changes in the legislation that will strengthen the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Specifically, the language would:

  • Improve project delivery and reduce overhead for Safe Routes to School, which should make projects easier to administer and quicker to implement.
  • Strengthen data collection and evaluation to ensure that the program can demonstrate its impact and success.
  • Move the program under the jurisdiction of the new Office of Livability, within the Federal Highway Administration, which will also administer other bicycle and pedestrian programs.
  • Make a number of technical changes that will strengthen the program’s implementation. Of particular note, SRTS funds will now have a 4-year expiration date, which will help ensure that State Departments of Transportation have an incentive to spend the funds in a timely manner.

The bill language does not, however, expand the Safe Routes to School program to include high schools and safe routes to bus stops, as recommended by the Partnership. These provisions are included in the Senate Safe Routes to School bill, S. 1156, so the expanded eligibility is still a possibility when action on the transportation bill moves to the Senate. Please continue to contact your Senators to encourage them to cosponsor the bill.

The Partnership will keep you informed as the legislative process moves forward. Additional information on how the bill affects other bicycle and pedestrian programs will be available shortly on the America Bikes website. A more detailed list of changes specific to Safe Routes to School follows.

Improves project delivery and reduces overhead:

  • Follows the recommendations issued by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Working Group on Implementation.
  • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue new guidance for the program that includes best practices to simplify and speed implementation of SRTS projects.
  • Requires State Departments of Transportation to adopt the new guidance and best practices.
  • Exempts non-infrastructure projects from federal regulations.

Strengthens data collection and evaluation:

  • Requires grantees to complete basic data collection forms on student participation levels, how children get to school, and impact on safety and traffic.
  • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop evaluation measures on health and environmental impacts of SRTS programs.
  • Adds an “innovative technology” fund that provides grants to State Departments of Transportation to test innovative technology that can improve measurements of student participation.

Puts Safe Routes to School under the authority of the Office of Livability:

  • Charges the Office of Livability with increasing transportation options and quality of life.
  • Has the Office of Livability, within the Federal Highway Administration, administer Safe Routes to School and with other bicycle and pedestrian programs, including Transportation Enhancements, the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, Recreational Trails, Scenic Byways, and the new US Bicycle Route system.
  • Requires the Office to develop mode share targets and timelines for accomplishing them, compile best practices and techniques to expedite the delivery of non-motorized transportation projects, and do research and data collection on livable communities and the benefits of bicycle and pedestrian transportation and public transit.

Makes a number of technical changes to strengthen the program:

  • Ensures that SRTS funds are now available to State Departments of Transportation for four years, rather than indefinitely, which provides an incentive to State Departments of Transportation to use the funds for SRTS initiatives within a reasonable amount of time. This brings SRTS in line with other transportation programs and funding streams.
  • Requires the clearinghouse (the National Center for Safe Routes to School) to issue best practices on how children with disabilities can be included in SRTS initiatives.
  • Clarifies several issues that have arisen over the past several years, including that SRTS funds can be used to pay for local staff time, that planning grants can be awarded, and that other forms of non-motorized travel, such as scooters, can be included in SRTS activities.
  • Maintains the provision that no local match is required for SRTS projects—but allows local projects to contribute additional funds to projects if they choose, while also ensuring that this cannot be a factor in selection of projects.
  • Requires that States consult with the state SRTS coordinator and the state bicycle/pedestrian coordinator when undertaking their statewide transportation planning processes.