Infrastructure Update: Federal Transportation Policy, Upcoming Events, and More

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Federal Transportation Policy

USDOT Spending Bill. November turned out to be a busy month for transportation in the nation’s capital. Congress passed a spending bill for the U.S. Department of Transportation, appropriating funds for transportation through September 2012. The final bill rejected the House’s attempts to make drastic cuts to transportation spending, restoring highway and transit funding to near their current levels. In a blow for high-speed rail, the program was zeroed out. However, capital funding for Amtrak and New Starts, which mostly funds expansions to urban fixed-route transit systems, did not face cuts.

The Senate also rescued the USDOT’s innovative TIGER grant program, which in its last competitive round received applications requesting $14.1 billion for only $527 million in available funding. The House succeeded, however, in closing down the Obama administration’s Sustainable Communities grant program. This modest program had been managed by HUD and funded regional planning and local community initiatives to coordinate housing, economic development, and infrastructure.

Transportation Reauthorization. Congress also began serious conversations about re-authorizing surface transportation legislation, which has been surviving on repeated short-term extensions since October 2009. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously passed Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which sets out the “highway” portion of a new bill.

MAP-21 is a two-year authorization, instead of a more traditional six-year authorization. Despite its short-term time horizon, MAP-21 proposes significant reforms. It consolidates 90 separate programs to less than 30, eliminates earmarks, reforms the Transportation Enhancement program, and significantly expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. Three more Senate committees still need to weigh in before the final bill moves to the floor.

The House also announced its plans to move surface transportation legislation soon. Past announcements have included promises to consolidate programs, expand TIFIA, speed up environmental reviews, and eliminate state mandates for non-highway expenditures (like pedestrian and bicycle facilities). New to this announcement was a funding plan that expands oil and gas drilling to generate revenue for infrastructure spending.

Upcoming Events
Forum- Retooling Places and Leveraging Transit: Overcoming Funding and Coordination Challenges to Build a Better Region. December 6-7, 2011, Atlanta, GA. This forum will explore how Atlanta and other U.S. metropolitan regions are approaching transit investments, and development around transit, in the new economy.

Webinar- Bus Rapid Transit and Land Use. Tuesday, December 13, 2011 1:00-2:00 PM EST. Metro areas across the country are planning and building bus rapid transit (BRT), but what about land use? Are there development opportunities around BRT? This webinar will explore how BRT is changing approaches to transit-oriented development in Seattle.

Read More in Urban Land Online
Transit, Jobs, and Housing: Rethinking TOD. Achieving TOD 3.0—the latest iteration of transit-oriented development—means thinking at the level of a transit-oriented district, not just individual developments.

Suburban Infill – Solving Infrastructure and Financing Challenges. When it comes to creating more density in the suburbs—especially in today’s difficult development environment—innovative solutions are key.

Federal Transportation Bill Forecast: Continued Uncertainty. The uncertainty surrounding the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill is likely to continue for some time, according to transportation experts at ULI’s 2011 Fall Meeting