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New bill cuts dedicated bike funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—A new transportation bill that would keep highway and transit spending at current levels through the end of fiscal year 2014 is likely to be approved by the House and Senate this weekend just as the previous funding extension is set to expire. 

But the latest funding package, which covers highway construction, student loans and flood insurance, deals a major blow to cycling infrastructure funding, advocates say.

“If 10 is a homerun and 0 is failure, I would call it a 5 today,” said Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong, about the bill, which was released at midnight Wednesday. “That rating could change as we learn more and if we do a really good job in the next few years of lobbying and pushing for local money. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Advocates say the bill effectively eliminates dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School, which totaled $131 million in the last fiscal year, as well as Transportation Enhancements, which totaled $266 million for bike and pedestrian projects. 

In the new bill, most bike funding programs fall into Transportation Alternatives, and as such, will now compete with environmental mitigation and new road and lane construction for allocations. Exactly how much money is available in this new category is still not clear, but early estimates put it at much less than what has traditionally been available to support bike infrastructure. In a statement denouncing the new bill (download attachment from link above), the America Bikes Coalition says funding is reduced by 60 to 70 percent. 

“Just about any money we get we’re going to have to compete for,” Blumenthal said. 

There is some silver lining, however. The new measure gives more power to cities and counties on how to spend half of the Transportation Alternatives money, whereas before, more authority was given to state departments of transportation. And local governments tend to value bike programs more than state DOTs.

“The other good news is what we avoided,” Blumenthal said. “The majority in the House wanted to eliminate all bike funding, essentially take $790 million from the last fiscal year and make it a big zero. Thankfully, they failed.”

Scrapped from the new law were plans to advance the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. A measure to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling was wrapped into the new bill. 

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