Every 6 years Congress adopts a new bill outlining federal spending on transportation. Yesterday the House Transportation Committee released its first draft, led by committee chairperson John Mica (R-FL). The key pieces of Mica’s proposal are that the proposed bill would:

  • Provide about $230 billion in federal transportation spending over 6 years, which would be a reduction of about 1/3 compared to current levels, and about half compared to the $550 billion proposal floated by Democrats last year. Such cuts would severely limit how many new projects would be able to move forward, and would cost almost half a million jobs lost.
  • Preserve the current 80/20 ratio of highway/transit funding, but eliminate all designated funds for bicycle and pedestrian programs, as well as high speed rail.
  • Eliminate or consolidate about 70 of the 100 various federal spending programs, with the intention that most of the money in the bill not be tied to a specific program. Rather, it would be up to state Departments of Transportation (which are almost always heavily focused on highways) to decide on what to spend federal money.
  • Eliminate red tape in some areas so that projects which can be funded are delivered more quickly.

One thing the bill does not do is raise new money for transportation, although it gives more authority to the private sector to engage in funding partnerships. That ignores what has long been a major request of transportation experts on both sides of the aisle. On Wednesday a bipartisan panel of House members sent a letter requesting funding be kept at current levels or raised, and opposing any cuts.

The response has generally been that the bill’s moves to streamline the planning process are probably positive, but that the funding cuts are a disaster, especially to projects that aren’t the sort of highway expansions favored by state DOTs.

Given the backlash both from both parties, it seems unlikely this bill will move forward exactly as it’s currently proposed. There’s plenty of support for cuts from budget-slashing hawks, but there’s also a ton of opposition to starving infrastructure investment. Traditionally the parties have been able to compromise on transportation bills, so it would be fair to expect a compromise one to eventually be produced here.

The complete outline is available here, and a more detailed summary/discussion is available at TheTransportPolitic.