Senate bill: increase localities’ control over transport budgets

September 29, 2014

A new bill would potentially give local agencies much improved access to federal transportation funding, reports Streetsblog. The bipartisan bill, introduced last week by senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, and Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, is called Innovation in Surface Transportation Act and, if passed would designate certain federal funds — long under the purview of state governments — to cities and towns.

Eastside Trail bridge in Atlanta

A rare bipartisan bill proposes devolving control over state transportation budgets to localities. Image from Atlanta Beltline.

Currently, state departments of transportation receive the large majority of federal transportation dollars, totaling in the tens of billions. Localities, meanwhile, are forced to “scrounge for money” for necessary improvements to transit, and for improving infrastructure such as adding bike lanes and building sidewalks. The Innovation in Surface Transportation bill would designate 10% of federal surface transportation funding, which amounts to about $5 billion annually, to local projects.

Under the bill, the local money would be distributed among the states, and then distributed competitively among local governments, regional planning agencies, and transit agencies, among other local entities, reports Streetsblog. The agencies would develop projects for consideration, and a panel filled by local stakeholders would be responsible for approving projects, based on their usefulness, and value to the local area and its economy.

The bipartisan bill is supported throughout Mississippi, says Senator Wicker. “Local officials in Mississippi are on the front lines of America’s transportation challenges but often lack the resources to pay for critical improvements,” Wicker explained in a statement. “This measure would enable these local leaders to have a larger role in deciding which projects merit consideration. In doing so, leaders could implement the most targeted and cost-effective solutions to meet unique and urgent infrastructure needs.”

At present, cities and counties receive less than 15% of all authorized federal highway funds. There is only one grant program available to cities and counties, and it is “overwhelmed with requests.” Senator Booker explained in a statement, “As a former mayor, I understand local leaders are often in the best position to make sound, cost-effective investment decisions. This proposal will give New Jersey’s 565 municipalities a seat at the table and greater opportunities to fund innovative projects that will create jobs and boost the economy.”

Other senators supporting the bill include Democrat from Alaska Mark Begich, Democrat from Pennsylvania Bob Casey, and Republican from Mississippi, Thad Cochran, who have each sponsored the bill. The Senate bill’s companion bill is currently in the House, where it is being held up in committee. Transportation For America, an alliance of business, civic and elected leaders that work for “smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions”, is another key supporter of the bill.

You can read the full text of the bill online here. Transportation For America’s communications director, David Goldberg, told Streetsblog that he did not expect the bill to be passed before the senate’s holiday recess, but that current support could help impact the next transportation bill. The organization recommends those interested in seeing this bill passed reach out to their senators to voice their support.

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Category: Legislation

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