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Gutting Alternative Transportation

My ex-co-worker and all-around good guy Michael Morrissey blogs about possible reductions in funding for bike paths and walkways:

Salon reports that the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies has put together a bill that "will entirely eliminate some $600 million worth of annual federal funding for bike paths, walkways and other such transportation niceties in fiscal year 2004." Meanwhile, the bill increases highway spending: they would receive $34.1 billion in fiscal 2004, up $2.5 billion.

This is incredibly frustrating. On one hand, the government (and the people) are concerned about the environment, declining health and rising levels of obesity, our ever-growing dependence on oil, and the lack of community in this country. On the other hand, politicians are worried about being re-elected far more than they worry about long-term goals. And people are more worried about a few pennies missing from their next paycheck than they are about the long term good of their society. (And lobbyists are only worried about one thing: themselves.)

Here's an excerpt from the original Salon article:

Fresh out of subcommittee, a new congressional transportation appropriations bill will entirely eliminate some $600 million worth of annual federal funding for bike paths, walkways and other such transportation niceties in fiscal year 2004...

Members of the House's Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies know that what America needs now is fewer bike paths and walkways -- but more highways...

Under the new bill, which the full Committee on Appropriations is likely to consider this week, before it goes to the House floor for a vote, highways would receive $34.1 billion in fiscal year 2004, which is $2.5 billion more than this year, while the Transportation Enhancements program that funds bike paths and walkways would get nothing...

Micah Swafford, press secretary for Rep. Ernest J. Istook, R.-Okla., who chairs the subcommittee that wrote the bill, argues that, with the prospect of a $455 billion federal budget deficit and anticipating declining revenues in the highway taxes that fund transportation programs, the committee had to cut something.

"It's more important to provide the basic funding for roads, before you provide money for enhancements whenever you're facing a shortfall," Swafford says, citing Department of Transportation statistics that there are 6,476 structurally deficient bridges on the national highway system as one of the reasons that highways were the subcommittee's priority.

But Rep. Istook put out a press release on Friday, July 11, the day the bill made it out of the subcommittee, bragging that "$518 million is headed to Oklahoma!" leading one environmental lobbyist to attribute the whole issue to "parochial Oklahoma politics."

"Actually, it's kind of sad. He's basically eviscerating these programs that are important to a lot of other states for the sake of benefiting Oklahoma," says Deron Lovaas, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, another group fighting the cuts.

Representative Istook was also in the news recently for slashing funding for Seattle's planned light rail line (stories here and here), most recently giving Seattle's Sound Transit only one-fifth of the amount requested by President Bush. It would seem he has been a busy beaver.

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