Transit advocates want more from bipartisan infrastructure bill
President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal invests a whopping $39 billion in public transportation, but advocates say it doesn’t go far enough to update aging transit infrastructure or overhaul outdated transportation policies.
Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said the bipartisan deal is a “very positive development” but noted that it cuts transit funding by roughly $10 billion from the initial plan agreed to last month.
“That’s a concern because we have a lot of unmet needs if public transit is really going to be a way that we can help deal with a number of issues confronting us as a nation,” he said, referring to issues of sustainability and transportation equity.
The Department of Transportation estimates that transit has a $105 billion repair backlog. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs to spend $176 billion to fully restore transit infrastructure.
While the Senate bill is still unwritten and specific details of the plan remain murky, transit advocates have also expressed concern about some of its transportation policies.
The bipartisan plan includes a five-year extension of current transit policy, forgoing more aggressive climate, safety and racial equity rules contained in Democrats’ $715 billion transportation bill passed earlier this month. It also incorporates highway policy from the Senate Environment and Public Works committee that climate advocates say doesn’t go far enough.
“I think it was a huge strategic blunder on the part of the White House and Democrats to agree to lump in five years of policy that they could have negotiated to a better place in the House had they left it out,” said Beth Osborne, director of pro-transit group Transportation for America.
Transit funding emerged as one of the final obstacles to a bipartisan infrastructure deal before negotiators clinched an agreement Wednesday. Republicans successfully pushed for cuts to transit and reduced the plan’s total new spending to $550 billion, down from $579 billion in last month’s framework.
Transit groups are hoping to secure more funding in the bipartisan plan, or look to Democrats’ $3.5 billion party-line budget reconciliation bill for additional money. Changes to transportation policy, however, will need to be addressed in the bipartisan bill.
The White House said the plan makes the largest federal investment in public transportation. Biden on Wednesday said the deal sent a signal to the world that “our democracy can function, deliver and do big things.”
The $39 billion in transit funding includes $8 billion in grants for light rail, subway and bus lines, and nearly $5.3 billion for electric or low-emission buses. The plan invests another $110 million in roads and bridges, $66 billion in rail, $25 billion in airports and $11 billion in transportation safety programs.
The Senate voted to advance the infrastructure plan Wednesday night, setting the stage for public debate after weeks of closed-door negotiations.
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