A U.S. Senate committee’s passage in mid-May of a six-year transportation bill was encouraging news for politicians and highway builders nationwide, but everyone knew that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s vote with bipartisan support is a long way from final approval, and proposed changes are on the way.
One proposal that should interest Tupelo and other Mississippi cities comes from a writer for the conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation. It would abolish the Transportation Alternatives Program, a $1.6 billion component of the existing highway law, MAP-21, which would be extended by the Senate committee’s vote.
The proposed six-year bill would spend about $53 billion a year.
The TAP provides funding for programs and projects defined as transportation alternatives, “including on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, community improvement activities, and environmental mitigation; recreational trail program projects; safe routes to school projects; and projects for planning, designing, or constructing boulevards and other roadways …”
Those categories sound familiar because some have been planned or undertaken by Tupelo and other local governing entities in Mississippi, either from TAP funds or from former, similar programs.
It follows that if Tupelo and other local governments plan to seek TAP funds the outcome of opposition to the program becomes important as an on-going issue.
The Heritage Foundation writer says “because the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) that pays for it is projected to run short of cash this summer … culling the program of its myriad local activities and those that have no relation to improving or maintaining the interstate system of highways and bridges should be Congress’s first priority.”
Limiting trust fund support to interstate highways would deal a body blow to most states like Mississippi whose highway programs rely heavily on cost-share support from the trust fund, supported with fuel taxes.
The people who would use alternative transportation infrastructure under TAP also pay taxes in the main because most people use some kind of transportation for which a fuel tax is levied.
The Heritage article by Emily J. Goff does not recognize that states and localities clamor for the federal funds she sees as not useful and beyond the scope of federal highway aid.
Local and state governments should join the debate about TAP and its role.