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This guest post is by Jesse Prentice-Dunn with the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

Next Saturday, June 30, the law funding our nation's roads, bridges and transit systems will expire unless Congress acts.

As time expires, House Republicans are holding the transportation bill hostage and demanding that the Senate rollback core transportation provisions and tack on unrelated polluter priorities, such as permitting the dirty Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. At stake are 2.9 million American jobs and much needed certainty for investing in our nation's transportation system.

One central demand from House negotiators is that the Senate "streamline" the environmental review process for transportation projects. For more than 40 years, the environmental review process has provided citizens with the ability to provide input on transportation projects that will significantly impact their communities. Though many claim that environmental review is holding up road construction around the country, finding funds to build projects and overcoming local opposition are more frequently the culprits. Indeed, less than 4% of all transportation projects, only the largest, most complex, undergo the highest level of environmental review.

In transportation bill negotiations, the House has launched an all-out assault on the National Environmental Policy Act, which was passed by a broad bipartisan majority in 1969 and signed by a Republican president. Provisions proposed by the House would steamroll public input on proposed highways, bridges and transit systems that would dramatically impact local communities.

As a letter (pdf) sent this week by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 36 other organizations stated, "These provisions would have the severe impact of shutting out nearly all stakeholders -- including low-income residents and communities of color, people with disabilities, older populations, landowners, business owners, and local governments -- from transportation project decisions affecting the health, economy, and environment of their local communities."

Some of the most egregious proposals from the House include:

  • Combining unachievable deadlines for reviews with a rubber stamp – In an extreme departure from current law, the House would require that all environmental reviews be completed within 270 days and automatically approve any project that does not achieve that arbitrary deadline --regardless of the project's impacts on communities, the environment, or the economy. Instead of trying to find the best project for a community, this provision would rubber stamp any project as long as the sponsors ran out the clock.

    In my own hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, this provision would allow the state to move forward with the misguided Eastern Bypass, which would drive sprawl, displace residents and cross an M-bend on wild and scenic Hurricane Creek with five bridges. Despite local opposition, this project would be allowed to move forward because reviews have taken longer than nine months.

  • Eliminating reviews altogether for projects under an arbitrary threshold – Under the House proposal, no environmental review would be conducted for projects with a price tag of less than $10 million or where federal funding is less than 15 percent of the total project. Shutting the public out of decisions where millions are at stake would leave communities to bear the impacts of new projects, so long as they came in under such an arbitrary threshold. 

    It doesn’t take much imagination to see a state proposing a $100 million dollar project, then splitting it into 10 "phases" of less than $10 million, purely to avoid reviews. Already, cases, such as the Bay Bridge replacement in California, have been documented where authorities avoid using federal funds in order to skirt requirements that construction materials be made in America. This provision would allow states to similarly run an end around on the environmental review process.

These are only two of many proposals from the House to gut the environmental review process. A previous blog of mine details several other provisions from one House proposal.

Another demand from House negotiators is that funds for safe biking and walking infrastructure be reduced or eliminated altogether. Currently, biking and walking infrastructure receives roughly 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds, while biking and walking make up 12 percent of all trips taken across the country.

As I wrote earlier this week, what we aren't paying for in safe infrastructure, we are paying for in lives. Just yesterday, Transportation 4 America released a report detailing how many pedestrian deaths have occurred in each congressional district over the past decade. At a time when more Americans are biking and walking then ever before, it is imperative that we invest in infrastructure that gives people options to safely bike and walk where they need to go.

As transportation bill negotiations continue through the weekend into next week, it is critical that you pick up the phone and call your Senators and Representatives. Tell them that, while we need a transportation bill, they must preserve public participation in our environmental review process and maintain funding for safe biking and walking infrastructure.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Aquarius40, Roger Fox, jacey, marina

    Learn more about the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

    by Ann Mesnikoff on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 12:20:10 PM PDT

  •  I strongly support bike paths, trails, walking (0+ / 0-)

    Paths, etc..  

    I just don't think funding for these should come from the federal government, these should be done by state and local government.  Local funding better understands the trade offs of different proposals and local needs.  Even when federal funds are used state and local government largely run these projects.  I don't see a compelling benefit from having taxpayers sending money to Washington (with Washington keeping some of the money and imposing conditions citizens may not want) only to have the money sent to the states for these small scale projects.  

    Highways, major bridges are large scale and frequently impact national transport  - this is rarely if ever the case for bike paths, trails and pedestrian paths.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 12:43:39 PM PDT

    •  Local politicians (0+ / 0-)

      can be extremely shortsighted and vulnerable to influence that amounts to bribery. They are big fish in a little pond, and determined to keep things that way.

      •  I give you an example in Dallas TX (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        SH 289, Preston Rd. is the high-traffic volume, non-freeway state route running from near downtown north to Oklahoma.  In town, it's a 6-lane divided major thoroughfare with dual left turns and three-phase traffic signals (due to the high volumes) at many intersections.

        It also carries some of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system's highest ridership bus routes, and in a roughly three-mile stretch from IH 635 north to Arapaho Road, it has  LOTS of apartments on both sides for nearly the whole stretch.  In the entire time I have lived in Dallas, beginning when many of those apartments were built in the early 1980s, there have been NO continuous sidewalks along this major street, particularly adjacent to the apartments.

        It was a matter of policy: the City of Dallas did not require sidewalks to be built by the developers of those apartments, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had a policy in place that within city limits, sidewalks were the reponsibility of cities.  Thus, no sidewalks.  Never mind the paths running the full length in the grass and weeds between the curb and the property line, to and from the bus stops and the concrete pads and benches and shelters that DART had built at its bus stops, which paths were dusty when it was dry, and muddy when it rains (take your pick).

        Until last year...when there were ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds made available to build sidewalks along this major thoroughfare, for the first time in nearly THIRTY YEARS.  I haven't looked, but I imagine you might see the new sidewalks on a Google or other search engine set of aerial/satellite photos.  Or maybe the street view.  OR, if those are old enough (pre-2010/11), there will be NO sidewalks there.

        But, so, the sidewalks got built on a major thoroughfare with LOTS of demonstrable pedestrian traffic after THIRTY YEARS with federal funds.

        I can add nothing to this story.

        Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

        by tom 47 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 10:06:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  If only we could... (0+ / 0-)

      Trust cities and states to take the best practice.

      Cities and governments are shortchanging infrastructure in the broad sense, and anything that isn't for a car or a pickup is further shortchanged.

      I decided years ago to ride off-road exclusively because of experiences on road. Hit twice, run off the road, bottles and other stuff chucked at me, etc.

      I could have biked to work, but the routes available were not safe. Narrow lanes, high speed limits, no shoulders or even sidewalks - I just didn't feel safe. I was less than 10 miles from work, but getting there safely wasn't assured.

      Instead I drove to work.

      Meant I was part of the congestion, part of the pollution instead of "one less car".

      A better infrastructure would help. Bike paths or lanes make it safer. It would have provided me a choice.

      Local and state government were cutting funding for everything, including roads. If federal money improved the infrastructure, I wasn't against it.

  •  SO many good points - TnR (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Heres a big one

    finding funds to build projects and overcoming local opposition are more frequently the culprits.
    Last year we spent about 1.3% of GDP on infrastructure, we should be spending 5%.... even 6% initially, each year just to catch up..

    Funding is woefully inadequate, and yes even known safety improvements are not getting funding.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Fri Jun 22, 2012 at 02:15:06 PM PDT

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