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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home     Washington Bicycling Hub - Fall '03     Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home
Future Course of Bicycling Funding Uncertain:  
Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails Program
Temporarily Extended

By Charles Pekow

Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues. 

Don’t expect any changes in federal support for bicycling immediately. Both authorizing and appropriations legislation covering Transportation Enhancements (TE), the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and most other federal funding to states for bicycle trail construction, safety programs, etc. expired at the end of September. But an overwhelmed and divisive Congress failed to complete action on new law or spending, so it temporarily extended both, keeping everything about the same as before.

The House doused the fire that threatened to burn down TE, though. It voted for an amendment to restore the 10% of Highway Trust Fund money set aside for it in the FY 04 appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation. The House Appropriations Committee had earlier voted to end the TE earmark and allow states to use all the money for motor transportation projects (See the Summer '03 article in this subject).

The House then passed the bill with restored funding. The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved a bill to keep TE funding at about $600 million. But since Congress didn’t finalize a bill by the start of FY 04 (10/1), it passed a one-month extension bill funding the programs at last year’s levels.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century; the authorizing legislation for TE, RTP, etc., also officially ran out of gas September 30 and Congress hasn’t even seriously begun the arduous process of writing a new law and it probably won’t until next year. Therefore, Congress passed the Transportation Extension Act of 2003. The bill keeps the programs alive at last year’s levels through February (presuming continued appropriations). Congress will then have to consider long-term permanent reauthorization at the same time it debates the budget for FY 05. So it will have to consider the transportation bill with hundreds of billions of dollars at the same time it grapples with the federal budget strained by a ballooning deficit, tax cuts, rebuilding Iraq and ever-expanding homeland security issues.

But since transportation project money comes from fuel taxes earmarked for it, transportation programs face less pressure for budget cuts than they otherwise would. The question remains, however, whether Congress will feel in the mood to increase gas taxes to increase spending.

Keep an eye on state transportation officials in the short term, though. The five-month reauthorization allows a new type of transportation: states can transport money among transportation programs – as long as they pay it back eventually. So theoretically a state can decline to fund new TE or RTP projects until March. “We don’t think a lot of them will do that” however, says Martha Roskowski, executive director of America Bikes, the lobby formed to fight for bicycling in TEA-21 reauthorization. States could also transfer money from other pots to bicycling projects, but the legislation allows them to use other money for them anyway, so the cycling community gains nothing from the flexibility, Roskowski says.

Meanwhile, the future of the two-person America Bikes Washington office remains murky. The bicycle industry-supported Bikes Belong campaign provides most of the cash and only committed funding through 2003. The legislative process, however, will go on well into 2004. “We’re in discussions with Bikes Belong about continuing funding. I don’t think they’ve made a final decision but they acknowledged this is important. We’re fairly comfortable they’ll continue this effort into 2004,” Roskowski says.

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