March 12, 2015

Cardin, Cochran Offer Bipartisan Plan to Preserve Local Transportation Authority

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today announced that they are again working jointly to preserve local control over transportation dollars for priority, non-highway community projects.

The Senators have introduced the Transportation Alternatives Program Improvement Act (S.705), which makes minor improvements to the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). These improvements would not change the structure of TAP, but instead address implementation issues that have arisen during the first two years of the program’s existence. The hallmark of TAP is creating new flexibility for states, while allowing locals to maintain control of and access to federal transportation dollars.

“This is about letting local communities have more say in what they need to enhance their neighborhoods, improve economic development, quality of living and air quality. Transportation alternative projects reduce traffic congestion, provide children with safe routes to school, and give communities more affordable transportation options,” said Senator Cardin. “I’m proud to work together again with Senator Cochran on this important legislation to empower our local transportation and planning authorities who often understand the transportation needs of their communities better than officials at the state level.”

“The technical changes we propose would improve the ability of local communities to make transportation infrastructure decisions and implement projects that can add greatly to public safety, health, economic development and livability,” Senator Cochran said.  “I look forward to this working with Senator Cardin to advance these improvements.”

 In 2012, Cardin and Cochran authored an amendment to the MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) that consolidated three U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) surface transportation programs (Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements, and Recreational Trails) into the new Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).  Under TAP, local communities can apply for funds for a variety of local transportation needs, including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, Safe Routes to School initiatives, community improvement activities, recreational trails and more. These funds help communities improve safety for their residents, create transportation options and become more economically competitive.

Under its current structure, the Transportation Alternative Program:

  • Sub-allocates a portion of funds based on population to large metropolitan areas, and requires that states fund projects in smaller cities and rural areas, proportionate to the state’s population.
  • Requires that all TAP funds be made available through a competitive process, ensuring that the mayors and community leaders that best know their own needs can seek funding for projects addressing their needs.
  • Allows states to transfer up to half of the TAP funds to other transportation priorities.  Yet, only 19 states have transferred approximately 10 percent of the TAP funds available to them, clearly showing the demand for these funds across the country.

S.705, while maintaining the structure of TAP and the types of eligible projects, would:

  • Maximize resources available to cities and rural areas. 
  • Restore funding for TAP to the 2012 funding levels that existed for the three consolidated programs (Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails) that were consolidated to create TAP.
  • Ensure that two-thirds of the program’s funds are distributed by population, ensuring that rural areas, small towns and large cities are able to access appropriate shares of resources.
  • Give states the flexibility to meet federal cost-sharing requirements across the entire program, which would result in lower matching requirements for lower-resourced communities being offset by higher matches from larger communities within a state.
  • Make small technical changes, including allowing nonprofit organizations and small metropolitan planning organizations to compete for funds.
  • Remove unused TAP provisions, such as a provision allowing states to opt out of the Recreational Trails program.

The text of the Transportation Alternatives Program Improvement Act is available here.