MAP-21 and the problem with short-term extensions

May 22, 2015

Katy Hartnett, director of government relations

Image: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term extension (read: a bad patch job) for MAP-21, the federal program that writes the biggest check for funding bike-related infrastructure (the Senate is expected to pass the extension in the next few days, before leaving for recess). For example, in 2014 the federal government obligated $820.5 million helping states and communities build 2,485 bike-related projects.

Why? Congress can’t agree on how to raise the money to pay for the program long-term, so short-term extensions are all we’ll get until they come to an agreement and find a way to fund the program.

As we all know, infrastructure construction projects can take a long time, so think of it this way: if you’re not sure when or if your next paycheck is coming, you’re probably not going to commit to a big project, like remodeling your kitchen. Government entities are the same way: if they have an infrastructure project that will take two years to complete, they aren’t going to start that project if they only have a two month commitment for funding. That’s why these short-term extensions are far from ideal.

Want to dive even deeper into this subject? Keep reading!

On May 31, 2015, MAP-21, the current authorization and funding bill that governs our federal surface transportation spending, will expire. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that will extend MAP-21 through the end of July of this year.

Members of Congress argue that this short-term extension will allow them to develop a long-term funding solution to our surface transportation program, which is primarily funded through a gas tax. However, this will be the 33rd short-term funding and authorization measure passed by Congress over the last six years, each made with a similar argument.

So why does this keep happening? Unfortunately, the gas tax, which is the primary funding source for the surface transportation program (and bicycle infrastructure), is not keeping pace with the costs of making critical improvements to our transportation system. There has been a long standoff in Congress about how to raise more money for this program, so instead of finding a long-term solution, these short-term extensions have become the norm.

Congress has not passed a long-term funding and authorization bill since 2005. The certainty provided by a long-term bill enables states and communities to move forward with the planning or construction of critical transportation projects to meet their transportation challenges. As the primary federal funding source to help communities meet the growing demand for bicycle infrastructure, short-term extensions prevent communities from meeting the growing demand for bicycle infrastructure.

Instead of continuing to pass short-term extensions of MAP-21, Congress should pass a long-term reauthorization bill that invests in bicycle-related infrastructure. It is important for the legislation to continue the critical Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which is the primary federal program to build bicycle-related infrastructure. As more and more communities across the country are investing in bicycle infrastructure to be competitive in the 21st century, TAP is critical to helping meet the demand for bicycle infrastructure. Continued investment in TAP translates into real jobs both in terms of construction jobs as well as the jobs created in the community as a result of the economic development that stems from bicycle-related infrastructure projects.

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