Bicycle user groups are rallying their members to call Congress this week in support of federal spending on bike trails, lanes and other cycling infrastructure now facing the budget axe.
The U.S. House of Representatives was expected to vote on a six-month “clean” extension of the federal transportation bill (“SAFETEA-LU”) this week that would continue funding for walking and bicycling trails for six months until Congress can agree on a multi-year bill. In 2011, around $700 million of federal transportation funds was set aside under Transportation Enhancement projects. While just 2 percent of overall transportation spending, TE is the nation’s largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling.
“In 2012 that sum might be a big fat zero,” the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) warned its newsletter subscribers Wednesday.
IMBA and the Rails to Trails Conservancy both sounded the alarm when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) confirmed he plans to introduce an amendment to eliminate Transportation Enhancements from the SAFETEA-LU extension bill as part of a much broader plan to cut the $15 trillion federal deficit by $9 trillion and shrink the size of the federal overnment by about one quarter.
The cuts would help reduce SAFETEA-LU spending by $19.78 billion in fiscal year 2012 and by nearly $200 billion over the next 10 years. In his “Back in Black” report, Coburn notes that while the Highway Transportation Fund had an excess of almost $11 billion in FY05 ($20 billion in FY00), it ran out by the end of FY08 because Congress regularly commits to more spending than the fund can sustain. As a result, Congress has bailed out the HTF three times since FY08 for a total of $35 billion. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates an annual shortfall in the HTF of $13 billion to $14 billion and that the HTF will have drained the last of the $35 billion in bailout funds by the summer of 2012, according to the report.
“Federal transportation spending should only go to critical national priorities that ensure the safety and operability of crucial interstate infrastructure,” argues Coburn in Back in Black, his plan to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion. “Purely intrastate and parochial initiatives should not be prioritized by the federal government, but by states and localities. Congress can also no longer afford to spend billions of federal transportation dollars on non-transportation priorities such as scenic beautification, air quality, bike path, ferryboat, transportation museum, and pedestrian walkway projects.
Cycling advocates argue cutting funding for cycling will save relatively little money, particularly when compared to the health and lifestyle benefits.
“I’m always disappointed when I learn of opposition to trails and active transportation,” wrote Kevin Mills, a vice president with the Rails to Trails Conservancy. “These programs really have no downsides, and for such a minimal cost! The savings that would result from cutting these crucial programs account for less than two cents on every dollar that goes to other transportation programs.”
IMBA invites supporters to use their site to contact their Congress person on the topic.