The deal made last January to avert the “fiscal cliff” included a provision that eventually brought the monthly transit commuter benefit up from $125 to $245 to match the pre-tax benefit for parking. This was a big win for transit riders, albeit a temporary one: the pre-tax benefit for transit will fall back to $125 ($130 with inflation) per month on January 1 if Congress doesn’t extend (or better, make permanent) the parity that straphangers currently enjoy.
Today, New York Senator Chuck Schumer held a press conference at Grand Central Terminal to highlight the impending expiration date of the transit commuter benefit. Highlighting the Commuter Benefits Equity Act of 2013, legislation he introduced this past June to extend the tax break, the Senator noted that he will continue to push for parity between the parking and transit benefits.
According to Sen. Schumer, more than 700,000 people receive the benefit in the tri-state region, which saves employers and commuters $330 million that can be reinvested back into the economy.
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For the last three years, train and bus riders have had to deal with annual uncertainty over the fate of the commuter benefit for public transit. The latest band-aid for the transit benefit extended it at its current level of $245/month through the end of 2013. Without action from Congress, however, the transit benefit will fall to $125/month next year, costing commuters in the tri-state area hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The parking benefit would remain $245/month, meaning the tax code would, perversely, provide nearly twice the incentive for driving.
Now a bipartisan group of Congressmembers is pushing to set the transit and parking benefits permanently equal to each other, while also reforming a portion of the tax code (HR 2288). The Commuter Parity Act, introduced by U.S. Representative Michael Grimm (R-New York), who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn, and co-sponsored by Peter King (R-New York), as well as Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), would provide fixes for this inequity: it reduces the transit and parking benefit to $220/month. In addition, this reduction in the total benefit for both motorists and transit users would be revenue-neutral, potentially making passage a little more likely.
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Many of the cities that are eligible to apply for USDOT pedestrian safety grants are in some of the least healthy metro areas, according to the American Fitness Index. | Map: FHWA
Newly-released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that pedestrian fatalities are on the rise nationwide. According to NHTSA’s 2011 Traffic Safety Facts, released this week, 4,432 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2011 in the United States, a three-percent increase over the number killed in 2010.
In order to address pedestrian fatalities in cities (73 percent of fatalities were in urban areas in 2011), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) devised a list of 22 “Focus Cities“ with high pedestrian fatality rates that will be eligible to apply for a portion of $2 million in pedestrian safety grants.
A high rate of pedestrian deaths, however, isn’t the only thing these cities have in common: most of them also happen to be in some of the nation’s least healthy metro areas, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2013 American Fitness Index. The AFI ranks the nation’s 50 largest metro areas using personal and community/environmental health indicators. Fifteen of the 22 “Focus Cities” landed in the bottom half of the AFI’s rankings for community/environmental health indicators (rankings are in parentheses):
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Connecticut officials, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Governor Dan Malloy and DOT Commissioner Jim Redeker, have been pressing federal officials to expedite work on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Line (NHHS), according to a report in the Norwalk Hour. The behind-the-scenes advocacy is one of many steps Connecticut has taken in recent months to emphasize the importance of rail to the state’s transportation network.
USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and Governor Dannel Malloy. | Photo: Ebong Udoma/WSHU
Last Monday, new USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx made Connecticut his first official visit. Speaking at New Haven’s Union Station, Foxx said he “heard the message loud and clear about how much of a priority this is for the state,” though he did not commit to additional funding for the project. Connecticut has been asking USDOT to streamline administrative procedures for $190 million in federal grants awarded to the NHHS project. The State has not received approval to begin spending the grant money.
Foxx visited New Haven at the invitation of Sen. Blumenthal, who has emerged as a champion for rail since the May derailment of a Metro-North train near Bridgeport. Blumenthal sits on the Senate’s Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over rail issues. With the passing of longtime rail champion Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Blumenthal is now the most senior member of the committee from the tri-state region.
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Both houses of Congress have started moving on a Fiscal Year 2014 budget bill which funds transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The choice is clear. The Senate’s version of the T-HUD appropriations bill invests more in rail, transit, and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants — and it appears to have broader, bipartisan support. The House’s bill takes a slash-and-burn approach. The Transportation for America campaign has called for action in support of the Senate’s bill, saying on its blog that the Senate’s version of the bill is the only one to “face up to reality.”
Both bills provide the amounts of highway and transit formula funds required by MAP-21, but diverge greatly when it comes to other programs.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key transportation provisions in the bill:
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Skagit River Bridge | Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Mianus River Bridge collapse in Connecticut that killed three people and injured three more. The anniversary comes on the heels of a recently released Transportation for America report that shows one in nine bridges in the United [...]
Good Jobs First’s recently-released report, “Bosses for Buses,” finds a schism in business support for transit. At the local level, non-profits such as universities and hospitals, as well as local business coalitions largely recognize the importance of transit investment, pushing “state and local ballot initiatives for transit [that] consistently win more than 70 percent of [...]
Because the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield corridor runs alongside I-91, it may be eligible for funding through a federal highway program. | Image: nhhs.com
While it is well known that Connecticut does not fare particularly well under MAP-21, the federal transportation law adopted last year, the state appears well-positioned to take advantage of a new provision allowing [...]
State legislators and local officials and advocates learn about MAP-21. | Photo: Rohan Parikh, Parks & Trails New York.
Legislators, staffers, local officials and advocates from across New York gathered in Albany last Wednesday for “Making the Most of Our Transportation Dollars,” an event focused on exploring what New York can and cannot do [...]
Tri-State looked into the tax code to see if it incentivizes automobile use. | Image: Collateral Damage
Complaints that transit is subsidized while roads “pay for themselves” have been proven again and again to be unfounded. But with taxes due in less than a month, Tri-State took a cursory look at available and recently-expired [...]