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What new Federal Transpo Bill means for Indy

Last week, a federal conference committee released a report detailing the next federal surface transportation bill. If you follow transportation news at the national level, you know that this debate has further divided the left and right. Without delving into the arguing points, the report that was issued, and was adopted into law over the weekend, represents what happens when both sides are very far apart from each other.

Bridge Construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Bridge Construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Federal funding for highways & transit essentially will remain the same. The time that it takes for projects from both highway & transit will be reduced with the elimination of redundant review processes. One of the right wing’s largest arguing points over federal funding, was the elimination of bicycle and pedestrian funding (or TE – Transportation Enhancements). While they were not successful, funding was essentially cut in half. The silver lining was that cities will have a more direct say in half of the available funding while state DOT’s get the option to decide upon the other half. That is likely bad news for states like Indiana who are heavy roadway spenders. However, for cities which have invested heavily in bike and pedestrian infrastructure, like Indy, it will mean that our planned bicycle network expansion over the coming years, will be eligible to take advantage of federal funds. Unfortunately, Safe Routes to School, which has been responsible locally for new sidewalks near schools, is lumped in with the state share of bike/ped funding and will be subject to competition with such design features as left turn lanes, highway widening, etc. That is bad news for Indy with Indiana’s focus on unchecked freeway expansion. The bill also focused somewhat on a national freight program and there is some language in the bill which opens the door for freight rail grants. This could be good news for Indy with a pending AA (alternatives analysis) coming to relocate the downtown belt railway.

TOD along Lynx Line - Charlotte, NC (image credit: Curt Ailes)

TOD along Lynx Line – Charlotte, NC (image credit: Curt Ailes)

That brings up the next sticking point. This is not a long term bill. It is good until the end of fiscal year 2014. While that will provide some stability for planning and construction projections, it simply means that in another year or so, when the left & right start talking about the next transportation bill, the same arguments will flare up again. A conversation about INCREASING funding instead of keeping it level needs to happen. A conversation about highway funding tied to user fees needs to happen. The nonsense that highways pay for themselves is now dead with the infusion of billions from the general fund and some other budget wizardry to pay for this bill. A conversation about assisting transit agencies with operation funds needs to happen; currently, only capital funding projects for expansion exists.

NE Corridor @ 71st Street (image credit: Curt Ailes)

NE Corridor @ 71st Street (image credit: Curt Ailes)

In the meantime though, environmental review timelines for capital projects will be cut. In addition, and for the first time, federal planning grants for TOD will be available. For Indianapolis, we have the NE Corridor as well as the Central Corridors BRT in the planning phases which may be able to take advantage of this type of funding. I have first-hand knowledge (as member of the citizens advisory committee) that the current NE Corridor study has already been subjected to land-use planning; TOD planning will fit well into that sort of conversation.

Shelby Street Bike Track nearing completion (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Shelby Street Bike Track nearing completion (image credit: Curt Ailes)

In the end, what does this bill mean for Indy? It means planners and contractors have the stability they need to let contracts and speed up the delivery of projects. It means that some key transit projects in the planning phase should be completed sooner. The State of Good Repair program is still in place so bus repairs will be somewhat maintained. What it doesn’t do is change anything with Indy Connect or IndyGo‘s long term operational funding. Indy Connect is a local decision and local decisions form the foundation of federal funding partnerships. No additional operating assistance is coming from the feds to rescue IndyGo. So, we still have a lot of work to do here in Indy to insure that robust transit occurs.

3 Responses to “ “What new Federal Transpo Bill means for Indy”

  1. joshua says:

    Thanks for that info Curt. I appreciate the summary. I’ll have to look into greater detail on the TE funds to determine if that is a net positive or negative for rail-trail development (I’m working on the B&O Trail going west from downtown).

    • Curt Ailes says:

      Its a huge negative. The funding for bike/pedestrian projects has decreased and half of what is left is left up to competitive state grants. In Indiana, a bad deal. It will be interesting to see what sort of priority the city will put on granting money for the B&O project though.

  2. Kim says:

    Thanks, Curt! Here’s a link to side-by-side analysis of bike/ped funding in the new bill compared to SAFETEA-LU for those who are interested in more details:

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