A major transportation bill making its way through the House of Representatives has caused an outcry as politicians come out against Republican-led cuts to federal funding for mass transit, biking, and Safe Routes to School programs, among others.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Paterson) held a press conference Monday at the Secaucus Junction train station to protest the cuts to mass transit funding. The bill also eliminates federal funding for biking programs and the Safe Routes to School program, which could jeopardize future programs of the Hudson Transportation Management Association and local safety programs to build sidewalks along pathways to schools.
“Infrastructure investments like mass transit are the linchpin of our economic recovery.” – Bill Pascrell
A separate transportation bill authored by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez does not contain the same level of cuts. Menendez last week promoted the Senate transportation bill, and said that it will provide New Jersey with $519 million in federal transit funding, an increase of $62 million per year.
Mass transit dollars at risk
“New Jersey has been shortchanged and we are not going to accept that,” said Pascrell on Monday at the Secaucus Junction Station. “The Republican transportation bill eliminates the direct line of funding for mass transit, which puts $117.5 million dollars of mass transit construction and expansion at risk. This is the first time we have ever done this.”
The $260 billion transportation bill eliminates mass transit money, which receives 2.86 cents of the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax for the Highway Trust Fund. Proposed in 1982, President Ronald Reagan supported the federal gasoline tax as a way to provide funds to prevent the national highways, roads, and bridges from deterioration.
“Infrastructure investments like mass transit are the linchpin of our economic recovery,” Pascrell said. He said that New Jersey is the fifth highest recipient of public transit dollars in the country.
“Not only do we create jobs here,” he said, “but we fix our roads, ensure that bridges are safe. Make sure the trains are on time and quite literally lay the groundwork for future economic growth and development.”
Pascrell is the only representative from New Jersey who is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He served for many years on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Pascrell is currently in a heated primary battle for the 9th District against Rep. Steven Rothman (D-Fair Lawn). The clash is the result of redistricting, as the U.S. Census forced portions of Congressional Districts 5, 8, and 9 to combine into two districts. Secaucus and Kearny are the only Hudson County municipalities in the new 9th Congressional District.
This was Pascrell’s second visit to Secaucus in the past week. He attended a fundraiser for Jessica Huse, a young woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury, at the Meadowlands Hospital last week. Mayor Michael Gonnelli, Deputy Mayor John Bueckner, Councilwoman Susan Pirro, and Councilwoman William Clancy attended the press conference. Gonnelli has already publicly endorsed Rothman.
Eliminating biking, hiking, and safe routes
“We try to get people to get out of their cars and take mass transit, to walk, or to use a bicycle,” said Jay DiDomenico, director of Hudson Transportation Management Association (HTMA). He said that the elimination of the funding would not impact the current work of the Hudson TMA but that it would have an effect on the expansion of the agency’s work.
“We do a lot of work with schools and with children by getting them to walk to school rather than have them dropped off by cars. The Safe Routes to School grant helps us do more of that work,” said DiDomenico.
Some are concerned about the elimination of federal funding for biking and hiking programs.
“The bill that is currently in the house is a huge threat to the successes that the bicycling community has made over the past 20 years,” said Hoboken Transportation Director Ian Sacs. He said that he and Mayor Dawn Zimmer reached out to national representatives to voice their concerns.
Positive aspects of bill
But Republicans tout positive aspects of the bill.
The five-year, $260 billion bill rewrites the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, which is set to expire on March 31. The bill would expand the interstate highway system by building more toll roads and links highway construction, which is now funded by user fees such as fuel taxes and tolls, to fees from oil and gas drilling.
“This bill will put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges and developing new sources of low-cost energy,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), House transportation chair, in a statement released by his committee. “This legislation may be the most important jobs measure to pass Congress this year.”
But Pascrell sees the bill as one that has tampered with funds that were in a “lockbox.”
“Last week, the extremists who control the agenda, decided to throw this history of bipartisanship out the window,” said Pascrell. “This is the first time we have not had a bipartisan approach to transportation in America.”
Congress is expected to vote on the Surface Transportation Authorization bill in the next two weeks. The bill is expected to pass the House and move on to the Senate for a floor vote. It then goes to conference committee for reconciliation with a different Senate transportation bill.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.