Connecting state and local government leaders
Their bill comes as infrastructure is getting renewed attention on Capitol Hill.
The federal government would offer up to $500 million annually in competitive grant funding for sidewalks, bikeways and other “active transportation” projects for cyclists and pedestrians, under a bill proposed by a trio of Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House.
Their bill was introduced as House Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a new “framework” for infrastructure investment, and as Congress works to develop a new transportation funding bill for roads and transit that would replace the five-year program that is set to expire in September.
Rep. Chris Pappas, of New Hampshire, is the lead sponsor on the bill, which was introduced Jan. 28 and proposes the funding for each of the five fiscal years between 2020 and 2024. Reps. Daniel Lipinski, of Illinois, and Jared Huffman, of California are cosponsors.
“To meet the challenge of climate change, while continuing to connect people to where they want to go, we need to think differently about our infrastructure and provide people with more, and better, transportation options,” Huffman said in a statement.
In a press release, the lawmakers indicated that they would like to see the bill included in the broader package of infrastructure legislation that House Democrats are planning to assemble in the coming weeks and months.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which advocates for pedestrian and bike trails and is currently pushing for the completion of a cross-country trail route, applauded the legislation.
“This bill is a major leap forward,” said Kevin Mills, the conservancy's vice president of policy.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy voiced support for the bill being included in the next round of highway funding legislation that Congress comes up with, along with increased funding for what’s known as the Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program.
A highway bill that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed last summer would authorize a total of $287 billion over five years. That bill proposes increasing funding for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure by 40% to $1.2 billion per year.
But beyond safety, bike and pedestrian advocates note that there can also be public health and environmental benefits if people forego driving and instead travel by bike or on foot.
The Department of Transportation would oversee the grant program proposed in the new bill.
At least 30% of the money under the program would have to go to projects that connect people with transit, or destinations like businesses, workplaces, schools and housing. Another 30% or more would have to go to “spines” connecting different communities, metro regions or states.
An eligible project, or groups of projects, would have to have a total cost of at least $15 million. Planning and design costs of $100,000 and up would also be eligible. Individual states and local government organizations could apply, as could multi-state groups of governments.
The bill has been referred to a highways and transit subcommittee within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.