With federal transportation policy set to expire on June 30, the conventional wisdom inside the beltway was that the Congressional conference committee negotiating a new transportation bill would give up and that lawmakers would extend existing law. But last week, Congressional leaders jump-started talks in a meeting with committee chairs Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.). Since then, the two lawmakers and their staffers have worked around the clock and through the weekend, reportedly moving closer to a deal. On Friday, Boxer said that “we are on the one- or two- yard line.”
But with talks coming down to two people in a room, advocates are worried that many of the positive reforms in the Senate’s transportation bill, MAP-21, could be sacrificed to get a deal done. House leaders are targeting the “Cardin-Cochran” provision of MAP-21, which guarantees that local communities have access to pedestrian and bicycle safety funding, and are seeking to gut the environmental review process, which ensures that local communities have a say over major transportation projects. MAP-21′s “fix it first” emphasis on repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges, and transit operating flexibility, could also be at risk.
As a member of Senate leadership, and as an advocate himself for smarter transportation policies, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is in a unique position to call on Sen. Boxer to defend these reforms. On Friday, Transportation For America asked New Yorkers to call Sen. Schumer’s office (202-224-6542) to ensure that our nation’s next transportation bill is the best it can be. Below is a phone script for advocates that want to remind Sen. Schumer that the public demands better transportation policy:
The House and Senate are on the cusp of finally striking a deal on the transportation bill. We’ve heard alarming news that some of the good provisions we’ve fought hard for that would make everyone safer, give us more transportation options and repair our roads, bridges and transit systems could be sacrificed to get a deal done.
Please call Senator Schumer … and leave this message with the person who answers the phone.
Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [PLACE]. I’m calling to ask Senator Schumer to stand up for three important provisions in the transportation bill being negotiated right now.
- Please preserve the Cardin-Cochran provisions and dedicated funding in MAP-21 that provides grants to communities to make walking and biking safer and prevent hundreds or thousands more pedestrian deaths. More than 3,500 pedestrians have died on New York roads in the last ten years — this small bit of money provided in the Senate bill could help save very real lives.
- Please defend and preserve the Senate’s strong plan to make sure we repair our roads and bridges. With more than 2,000 structurally deficient bridges in New York, we need the focus on repair to help reduce this backlog.
- Please ensure that our local public transportation systems are allowed to use some of their federal money to keep operating buses and trains during the recession. We need more affordable ways to get around during these hard times, not fewer.
There’s no guarantee Congress will reach a deal this week, even as speculation runs rampant over what such a deal might look like (the latest news is that Congress could combine the bill with legislation to maintain student loan interest rates). But with negotiations in full swing, advocates must push their federal lawmakers to support policies that will lead to a more sustainable transportation network. Call Sen. Schumer today.