On June 22, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a proposed draft of the next federal transportation authorization bill, with objectives "to transform Federal surface transportation to a performance-based framework to reduce fatalities and injuries on our Nation’s highways, address the mobility and access needs of people and goods, improve the condition, performance, and connectivity of the United States intermodal surface transportation system, provide transportation choices for commuters and travelers, promote environmental sustainability, public health, and the livability of communities, support robust investment in surface transportation, and for other purposes." The draft follows a 90 page preview of the bill released last Thursday by Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) and Ranking Member John Mica. Transportation advocates have been eagerly awaiting the draft to see what reform measures and innovations would be proposed after months of discussion and hints from the Chairman and staff that this bill would be "transformational".

Entitled the Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA), the bill does indeed contain substantial changes from the 2005 transportation authorization law known as SAFETEA-LU. Most visibly, the number of separate programs has been reduced from more than 100 to less than 10 -- a consolidation which had been recommended by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission created through SAFETEA-LU. Followers of the bill are questioning whether or not the consolidation will continue to serve the original purposes of the combined or eliminated programs while gaining administrative efficiencies.

Reform-minded interest groups such as Transportation for America and the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Transportation Policy Project have called for performance and accountability measures to ensure progress toward national goals and objectives, including goals to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Study Commission also recommended that transportation policy move to a performance-based system from a needs-based approach, in which funding has been distributed without considering actual project outcomes. And while the bill’s opening description (see first paragraph above) articulates a performance orientation, how such performance will actually be achieved is still somewhat unclear and the subject of ongoing analysis.

Notably, the bill contains several provisions that EESI has examined for their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. These provisions include:

  • Blueprint planning tools that would help transportation agencies compare the greenhouse gas emissions of alternative development scenarios;
  • Climate planning requirements that would direct states to establish greenhouse gas reduction targets and plans; and
  • " Complete streets " policies that would promote the integration of transit, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities with the vehicle road network, especially in neighborhoods and town centers.