Our national partners reported late last week that the US House of Representatives passed yet another extension of the current transportation legislation SAFETEA-LU. Whereas past extensions have been passed at the midnight hour, this one preemptively extends the expiration date from July 1 to September 30. The primary reason for this extension is to give the House and Senate time to take the Senate’s transportation bill, MAP-21, to conference committee. This will allow the two chambers to work out the details of the legislation.
Unlike past “clean” extensions, this one has policy changes. The good news is that the programs that matter most to biking and walking are untouched. The bad news is that the policy changes have to do with controversial issues like the Keystone Oil Pipeline, so it is unclear how the Senate will react. America Bikes described the next steps like this:
So what’s next?
This time, instead of just prolonging current transportation law, the House and Senate will conference this extension with MAP-21. Leadership in both chambers are discussing who will be ‘Conferees.’ Once all the Conferees are named, the two chambers could start work to reconcile the differences between the two bills and create a new transportation bill. Once the conferenced bill has passed Congress, President Obama can sign the bill into law.
When House and Senate go to conference, the two chambers will technically negotiate to reconcile the differences between MAP-21 and current law. Conference Committees are a black box, though, and sometimes what comes out doesn’t resemble what went in.
We will need to be vigilant and advocate to Conferees, leadership and all members of Congress to preserve dedicated funding for biking and walking, including Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails. We will also promote the local control provisions of the Cardin-Cochran amendment to MAP-21.
We keeping in close touch with our national partners to send out an action alert when the time is right. The good thing is that this extension gives some time to determine our next moves. Hopefully, biking and walking will come out unscathed from this process. As usual, we will depend on your voice to make sure that is the outcome.