Sunday, March 18, 2012

BikeWalkLee's report to MPO Board on federal transportation legislation & Action by MPO and BoCC

 Kudos to both the MPO Board and the BoCC for sending letters this week to Congressman Mack urging him to support a House transportation bill along the lines of the Senate-passed bipartisan bill.
At Friday's MPO Board meeting, BikeWalkLee representative, Darla Letourneau, updated the Board on the status of the federal transportation legislation.  At the February meeting, the Board agreed to send letters to Congress opposing House bill and in support of  the Senate amendment (Cardin/Cochran) to provide local control for bike/ped programs.
      Letourneau reported that the Senate passed a bipartisan bill on March 14th by a vote of 74-22, which incorporated the Cardin/Cochran amendment, along with other important reforms. The Senate 2-year bill consolidates programs and streamlines project delivery, while maintaining current funding levels.
     Her report highlighted a few items of key interest to the MPO:
1.       For first time, establishes national policy goals & performance measures & requires states and MPOs to use performance measures in long-range planning & short-term Programming processes.  It also includes a definition & encouragement of scenario planning  This is something BWL advocated during the 2035 LRTP and the Board adopted a resolution supporting the development and use of performance measures and of more scenario planning.  
2.       On transit, the Senate-passed bill continues 20% share for transit and provides some new flexibility to spend federal funds on operations.  There is also a new TOD planning program.
3.       Walking and biking programs are consolidated into one program and 50 percent
  of this new program goes directly to MPOs--this is welcome new local control (now FDOT controls all of it).  Both state and MPOs must create a competitive grant process to distribute funding.
4.       It includes a "Safe Streets" policy (aka Complete streets) that ensures federal funds streets are safe and complete for everyone.
5.       There's a new national freight program and new national freight strategic plan and allows some of the funds to be used on rail.  The Chair and other members of the MPO have expressed interest in a focus on freight.

                   NONE of the provisions highlighted above are in the House bill.
·         In addition to the elimination of transit from the trust fund and absence of above Senate provisions, Letourneau highlighted one other major flaw in House bill of great interest to MPO.  The House bill talks about devolving power away from Washington   but actually takes away existing local latitude.  A provision in the bill
      undermines the 1973 framework embodied in the creation of the MPOs--that there should be a shared partnership between state and local governments. in the distribution of transportation dollars.  The bill gives the Governor authority to override local planning decisions by allowing him to modify the MPO's transportation plan without approval by the MPO. 

 Action now shifts to the House and time is running out--SAFTELU expires 3/31. 

In response to this report, the MPO Board moved to send a letter to Congressman Mack urging him to support a House bill along the lines of the bipartisan Senate-passed transportation bill. Click here for the letter.  On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners agreed to send a similar letter.  Click here for their letter.

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