Monday, May 14, 2012

Transformational Transportation

Chris Rall, Oregon Field Organizer at Transportation for America, contacted AIA-Southwestern Oregon Executive Director Don Kahle last week. He asked Don to marshal our chapter’s support for Congressman Peter DeFazio’s efforts as a member of the conference(1) committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the long-deferred transportation reauthorization bill. 

The form this support has taken is a letter of endorsement signed by the past-presidents of AIA-SWO, myself among them. Here’s the letter: 

Dear Congressman DeFazio:

You have been a champion for a reliable and robust transportation system for longer than most of us ever attend to a single project or problem. We watched nervously as the U.S. House transportation authorization bill went from bad to worse. Its lack of environmental protections and how it diminishes public transportation alternatives are just two of the worst features of H.R. 4348. But we don't have to tell you. You were there — not while it was being constructed behind closed doors — but you were there when it was announced.

Now the House bill is scheduled to be reconciled with the Senate's S.1813. Thank goodness you are there again, Mr. DeFazio! We want to encourage you to fight hard for the best alternatives to emerge from this conference. In almost every case, we believe the Senate bill will accomplish more good for more Americans than the House bill.


  • S.1813 provides local mass transit agencies greater flexibility with federal funds. During this recession, demand for transit alternatives is up, but fuel prices and decreased local revenue are forcing many systems to curtail services. The added flexibility won't relieve that pain, but it will help and it puts those hard decisions as close to the constituents as possible.
  • S.1813 provides local access to funding for community-based transportation initiatives. The Senate bill helps local communities build out a full transportation network under the “Additional Activities” program by sub-allocating funds to larger regions and offering competitive grants for others. Empowering local communities to program their tax dollars can spur economic growth, local civic pride, private investment, and better health and safety for everyone.
  • S.1813 contains provisions that prioritize the repair of our existing transportation infrastructure. Crumbling bridges need to be fixed, regardless of which government entity owns them. Citizens make no such distinctions — they hold government responsible for maintaining what we have. We all want a government that works together to solve hard problems and S.1813 provides some helpful framework to help that to happen more often and more easily. 
  • Although S.1813 has a disappointingly short duration, two years is better than nothing, which is how we have been functioning since 2009. That economic certainty will help everyone, and the jobs that construction will deliver to local economies couldn't come at a better time.
  • Finally, we like S.1813's requirement that states and regions develop and use performance measures in their long-range planning and short-term programming. Taxpayers want their dollars spent in a way that demonstrates performance and accountability. This represents a good step in that direction.
We urge you to include these provisions in the conference agreement. They represent significant reforms. These provisions have demonstrated bipartisan support, as a carefully crafted compromise. Thank you again for your leadership and we look forward to working with you to deliver a forward-looking transportation authorization bill. We're glad you're there.

AIA-SWO Past Presidents

Congress is supposed to prioritize the nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs and fund projects accordingly. Our representatives and senators wield the power to shape our communities for generations. The previous transportation bill expired on September 30, 2009 but lawmakers have kicked the proverbial can down the road ever since. The consequences of this failure to update America’s transportation policy will reverberate for years to come. We cannot afford further inaction and a lack of investment in our future.

With a new bill finally in conference, the AIA-SWO Past Presidents have added their voice to the debate. Don will hand deliver a hard copy of the letter to Congressman DeFazio's office in the nation’s capital this week while in town for the AIA 2012 National Convention.

(1) Conference is where the House and Senate reconcile their two transportation bills and produce a single final bill that both chambers will vote on. The Senate passed a two-year bill with changes to funding and policy, while the House passed a 90-day extension of current law simply as a vehicle for negotiation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wasteful transit projects like the West Eugene EmX extension need to be excluded from the Transportation Bill. Especially if the public majority opposes it.

Peter DeFazio made a public claim last year about the WEE, and said that federal funding was contingent on public support. Well, the majority will be outraged if the WEE is implemented!