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HR 7 Insanity: Air Pollution Funds Would Pay for Highway Expansion

10:01 AM PDT on March 14, 2012

We've gone over a lot of the things that are wrong with HR 7, the House transportation bill, i.e. the "worst transportation bill ever."

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Still, we've barely scratched the surface of how damaging this bill would be to communities. Since John Boehner appears intent on giving the legislation one more try, here's a great example of why people who care about cities, the environment, and fiscal sanity should be up in arms.

Yesterday, Transportation for America highlighted one of the most insidious aspects of HR 7, a provision that would allow the relative pittance dedicated to reducing air pollution be used to -- you guessed it -- expand highways:

After the environmental disasters of the 60?s and 70?s helped catalyze the movement to clean up our air and water, Congress declared clean air a national priority in the 1970s and Republican President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. On the transportation side, in the transportation bill written in 1991, Congress created a new program called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program (CMAQ), dedicated solely to helping communities deal with the negative side effects of over-reliance on major roads for rush-hour travel.

A provision in the House’s transportation bill (H.R. 7) upends that intention by opening that fund to construction of regular highway lanes.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program gives states a small pot of funding to help provide other options, promote carpooling, or address other impacts of too many people driving alone at peak hour. Washington, D.C. used some CMAQ funds to kick-start their world class bike sharing program known as Capital Bikeshare, which helps people make short trips throughout the city and part of the region without having to get in a car, a bus or a train. Other cities have used it to fund new transit service in or adjacent to a congested corridor, add new high-occupancy vehicle lanes to provide an option that rewards carpooling on congested roads, or improve the flow of traffic with more intelligent transportation systems.

Two amendments -- 191 and 97, proposed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) respectively -- would reaffirm CMAQ as an emissions reduction program and bar its funding from being spent on road expansions, except for carpool lanes.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Sustainable Montreal reports that the city is targeting a 35 percent transit mode share. And Hard Drive reports that the state of Idaho is considering legislation that would make it illegal for two cyclists to ride side by side in traffic.

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