Transportation advocates looking for a fully funded multi-year transportation bill got a boost last week when USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood told members of the Transportation Equity Network that he had received a green light from the White House to move on the country’s next 6-year transportation bill. According to Transportation for America, USDOT officials now expect to see a full reauthorization proposal from USDOT and the White House next February in the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2012.
The Obama Administration’s ability to move on a transportation bill next year will largely rest with the political appetite of Congress this fall. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU, the existing transportation law, expires on December 31. Insiders cited in the most recent issue of the Washington Letter on Transportation (subscription required) say Congress will weigh a new, 1-2 year extension of the law during this fall’s “lame duck” session. A short extension is key if a new long-term authorization bill is to move in 2011. If Congress instead opts for a two-year extension there would be “little to no likelihood” of passage of such a bill during the 2012 presidential election cycle.
In a comment on the Transportation For America campaign blog, Innovation Briefs founder Ken Orski points out that with Republicans poised to regain control of at least the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, the administration’s budget proposal may not matter that much. The next transportation bill “will be written by [Rep.] John Mica and his Republican colleagues in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” he predicts. “However, it will be interesting to see how much of the Administration’s proposal will survive.”
While the political tea leaves are murky, it’s clear that states are hungry for federal transportation funding. USDOT recently received nearly 1,000 construction applications totaling more than $19 billion for the $600 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) II grant program for highways, bridges, transit and ports. The overwhelming demand for TIGER dollars “shows the back-log of needed infrastructure improvements and the desire for more flexible funds,” Secretary LaHood said in a release.
The extreme demand for TIGER demonstrates that given the right federal incentives, states can shift their transportation priorities toward a more strategic, sustainable agenda. The next federal transportation bill should be backed up by national transportation objectives and performance-based planning that integrates land use and transportation. Merit-based funding and the use of clear goals and measurable outcomes ought to be the norm — not the exception — when it comes to how critical transportation dollars are spent.
Image: Rendering via NYCDOT.