GOP rejects Dem push for bike paths, sidewalks in $260B transportation bill

A Democratic effort to include money for sidewalks and bike paths in the $260 billion transportation bill that is being considered by the House Transportation Committee Thursday was defeated by the GOP-led panel.

Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) attempted to amend the American Energy and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 7) to include money in the bill for bike paths and sidewalks, but the amendments were voted down by the Republican majority on the panel.

“These are things that I think make small communities livable,” Edwards said as she introduced her amendment. “They give our states and our districts character."

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“It’s something that does get people out of their cars [and] it mitigates congestion,” DeFazio added during debate over his amendment to providing funding for creating “safe routes” for schoolchildren.

The transportation measure would spend $52 billion annually on road and transit projects if it is approved by lawmakers. Republicans on the committee argued that the money should not be used on so-called “transportation enhancements." They said they were not against enhancement projects, but they preferred to leave decisions about them to local communities.

“That’s for community to decide, not for our federal government to sit up here in Washington and decide,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said. “Not everybody uses a bike path. This is fundamental to the reforms that we are trying to include in this bill.”

The debate over transportation enhancement projects recalled a fight in the Senate last summer that threatened a second shutdown over the Federal Aviation Administration. At the time, GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma placed a hold on a funding bill for the agency to stop road beautification projects from being included in the bill.

Democrats on the House committee Tuesday argued that the federal transportation bill was intended to do more than build roads and bridges.

“Is this a comprehensive transportation bill or is this a highway bill?” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) asked. “I'm confused."

Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) told Democrats that there would be opportunities for the infrastructure bill to be changed in an eventual conference with the Democratically-controlled Senate.

“Everyone one of us would have written the bill differently,” he said.

However, Brown said it was presumptuous for Republicans to assume the Senate would accept the House’s “bad bill.”

The Transportation Committee is planning to continue voting on amendments to the surface transportation bill throughout the afternoon.