Trails in Indiana

TRANSPORTATION DEBATE UPDATE

Late last year, we reported that federal transportation budget bill news had stalled. Not so, anymore. The oft-delayed and extended surface transportation budget is now definitely fuel for hot debates, and it is likely to remain in the boiler room for some months.
The fate of this issue is of great interest to trail-builders because transportation, as defined by more recent transportation budget re-authorizations, has included consideration for alternative modes such as bicycles, recreational and commuter trails, as well as the conventional car, truck, rail, and marine systems. Specifically, trail transportation has been awarded millions of dollars in recent years—via the federal budget—to further our local and nationwide network.
To give some background to this debate, an Army Corps of Engineers publication states: “The Federal Surface Transportation Program is codified in U. S. law and is generally reauthorized every four to six years. Congress made a major policy shift in surface transportation legislation through the Inter-modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. For the first time, trail projects became eligible for Federal highway program funds.”
Though trails folks were enthusiastic about the 1991 law, different interests saw this as siphoning off needed funds from highway and other infrastructure projects. There are interrelated issues such as balancing the national budget, the highway trust fund’s need to borrow to make ends meet, a flat economy which reduces tax revenues, and yo-yo gas prices that have everyone nervous. It’s no wonder that trails organizations are a bit paranoid that ferocious budget-cutting measures will hit trail-funding first.
Some transportation interests cite post-election transportation proposals as dire predictions, such as the Transportation 4 America blog from Stephen Davis: “The budget proposal from the Republican Study Committee . . . calls for completely eliminating the main federal transit program, zeroes out Amtrak, cuts all funding for the metro system in the nation’s capital and slashes $2.5 billion in high-speed rail grants.”
Along the same wavelength, American Trails writes: “As the 112th Congress convenes in Washington , DC , the big topics are the Federal budget, the deficit, and proposed cuts to spending on every aspect of national programs. This means that every program we rely on could be cut or eliminated. Funding for all these programs could disappear: Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails Program, Safe Routes to School, etc.”
Suffice to say, we don’t yet know how things will work out. One must remember, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was a House Republican, too, and he has repeatedly voiced support for high-speed rail, and bike and pedestrian modes of travel. In addition, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair, John Mica, has recently announced that his committee will be hosting field hearings across the U. S., including Indianapolis, where he will be asking for input: “The nationwide meetings with state and local officials and transportation stakeholders will help inform the Committee’s drafting of a long-term reauthorization of the nation’s highway, transit, and highway safety programs. The legislation will help improve our transportation infrastructure and promote job creation . . .”
Mica also includes a need to “increase private sector investment in our infrastructure, identify creative financing alternatives, and other ideas for writing the legislation.” Sounds a bit like one Midwestern state we all know, and similar to President Obama’s ideas on finding non cookie-cutter ways to pay for needed projects.
Aside from political debates on transportation—which are far from over—maybe trail builders need to be asking whether they can re-think and construct their corridors in less expensive ways. One spokesperson with the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council suggested recently that the use of asphalt, which is a petroleum-containing substance, could be phased out in favor of other, cheaper surface-types, such as wood mulch or crushed limestone.
Yes, money is tight, but everyone is feeling the pinch. That does not mean we have lost the native ability to think and to create and to find another solution to a problem.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
The tentative date for Representative Mica’s Indianapolis field hearing has been listed as either February 19 or 20th. Indianatrails.com will post the definite time, date, and location when they become available. If you have ideas or solutions to air, find a field hearing to attend. Besides Indy, there is one in Columbus , OH , and one near Chicago , in addition to sites in other parts of the country, all occurring between February 14th through the 25th.
Further, stay informed on the debate: President Obama is supposed to be announcing his transportation and other budget proposals on or around Valentine’s Day, February 14th.
Finally, the list below includes Indiana ’s Senators and Congressmen and their contact information:
DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN CONTACT @
1) Peter Visclosky------202-225-2461; fax 202-225-2493; 2256 Rayburn House Office Bldg, Wash DC 20515; Visclosky.house.gov/contact/
2) Joe Donnelly---------202-225-3915; fax 202-225-6798; 1530 Longworth House Office Bldg, Wash DC 20515; donnelly.house.gov/
3) Marlin Stutzman-----202-225-4436; fax 202-226-9870; 1728 Longworth House Office Bldg, Wash , DC 20515; stutzman.house.gov/
4) Todd Rokita----------202-225-5037, fax 202-226-0544; 236 Cannon House Office Bldg, Wash DC 20515; rokita.house.gov/
5) Dan Burton-----------202-225-2276, fax 202-225-0016; 2308 Rayburn Office Bldg, Wash , DC 20515-0001; burton.house.gov/
6) Mike Pence-----------202-225-3021; fax 202-225-3382; 100 Cannon Office Bldg, Wash , DC 20515; mikepence.house.gov/
7) Andre’ Carson -------202-225-4011, fax 202-225-5633; 425 Cannon Office Bldg, Wash DC 20515-1407; carson.house.gov/
8) Larry Bucshon--------202-225-4636, fax 202-225-3284; 1123 Longworth House Office Bldg, Wash , DC 20515; bucshon.house.gov/
9) Todd Young-----------202-225-5315; fax 202-226-6866; 1721 Longworth House Office Bldg; Wash , DC 20515; toddyoung.house.gov/
SENATORS
Senator Richard Lugar-------202-224-4814; fax 202-228-0360; 306 Hart Senate Office Bldg, Wash , DC 20510; lugar.senate.gov/contact/
Senator Daniel Coats---------202-224-5623; fax 202-228-1820; B-40E Dirksen Senate Office Bldg, Wash DC 20510; coats.senate.gov/
(NOTE: Andre Carson has said that written mail can take a couple of weeks to clear).