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Transportation Enhancements Beats Back Another Assault

9:50 AM PDT on October 19, 2011

A Republican lawmaker purporting to be acting out of budgetary concern has, once again, taken aim at a popular active transportation program — and, again, the Senate has rejected the effort.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today offered an amendment that would have greatly restricted, but not reduced overall funding levels, for the national Transportation Enhancements program, which consumes just one-and-a-half cents for every federal transportation dollar. The Senate voted to table the measure, which, according to Caron Whitaker of America Bikes, “will pretty much kill it.” She doesn’t expect this particular amendment to come up again.

McCain’s amendment would have kept TE funds from being used for landscaping, historic preservation, museums and welcome centers and other currently eligible uses he characterized as “low-priority.” The Transportation Enhancements program is also a major source of funding for trails, bike lanes and pedestrian projects to local communities.

If the overall funding level stayed the same and the number of uses competing for that funding was reduced, McCain’s amendment could potentially mean more money for bike/ped projects — already the primary destination for TE funds. But according to Kevin Mills of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, landscaping and historic preservation serve important transportation and economic development functions in communities across the country — especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Landscaping is often used to promote pedestrian activity. Mills offers the example of a small town using landscaping improvements as part of a struggle to attract foot-bound shoppers from a commercial strip on an outerbelt.

Historic preservation activities are surprisingly germane as well, he said. RTC’s local partners often use TE funds to rehabilitate historic train depots that serve as trailheads for rail-trails, becoming “valuable economic development centers” for local communities, he said.

The Senate voted to table McCain’s amendment at the request of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). But even conservatives like James Inhofe (R-OK), who has long sought to eliminate TE from the federal transportation program, indicated during the floor debate that they were not supportive of this amendment. Inhofe even urged his Republican colleagues to vote against it, since it limits local control over spending, especially since the restriction wouldn’t save any money.

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