Posts about Congress
the act's bipartisan support and nonpartisan elections.
Some members of Congress were really concerned in 1973 about letting DC have power over its own criminal justice system. During the debate over the Home Rule Act, there were a few proposals to limit DC's authority; one would have kept the mayor from appointing the chief of police.
Why? Some worried that giving up the police power to local officials would let them blockade the Capitol and force Congress to submit to the will of local residents. Others, amazingly, feared that a popularly elected leader representing the people of DC might not actually be in favor of law and order.
Control of the police is, in fact, the reason there is a District of Columbia in the first place. In the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, 400 soldiers of the Continental Army briefly besieged the delegates of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, demanding payment for services during the Revolutionary War.
The Pennsylvania Executive Council, then the executive branch of the Pennsylvania state government, refused to guarantee it would protect the Congress from the protest, so the delegates moved the capital out of Philadelphia. That experience was the reason the Constitution's authors provided for a federal district, to which the federal capital eventually moved in 1800.
Members worry the Mayor would not want order
In 1973, memories of the 1968 riots were still very fresh. The President had used the National Guard to keep peace, and members of Congress worried that without federal control, this might not happen. But why? At least a few members actually worried that the Mayor would actually be unwilling to act.
Congressman Delbert "Del" Latta (R-OH) said,
Another matter that concerns me about this bill is the matter of who is going to take over this police force in times of revolt or revolution or riot, whatever you have, like we had in the city a couple of years ago.Rep. Charles "Charlie" Rangel (D-NY, and still in Congress today) said, "One ... rationale, commonly used by persons against home rule is that home rule will result in a drastic increase in the crime rate for the District. ... Opponents of self-determination for the District are implying that the local government of the city, specifically the Mayor and City Council, would act in bad faith. (1723-1724)
If we have an elected Mayor who is going to be looking to his constituency in the District of Columbia to reelect him the next election, is he going to respond when the city is burning such as we saw from the Capitol steps a few years ago, as readily as if the President of the United States had the authority right now to sign an order and take over the police department of the city? (p.1764)
Then-Police Chief Jerry Wilson wrote a letter to Congress addressing some of the concerns:
I recognize, as I am sure you do also, that some of the concerns over home rule for the District of Columbia directly relate to fear that local control of the police may result in misuse or nonuse of the police power in a manner adverse to the interests of the city, either as a local community or as the national capital. ...The bill's authors and other members of Congress also noted that the President would have the authority to take over the police in a true emergency. Rep. Charles Diggs (D-MI) replied to critics, saying, "The committee felt that the President has inherent power to invoke whatever police power is required in case of an emergency. We are prepared to put this in more explicit language." (1764)
Personally, I feel that apprehension over local control of police power in the District is misplaced. My own sense of this community is the overwhelming majority are responsible citizens who want effective law enforcement just as much as residents do in any other city. If the city of Washington is to be treated substantially as a local community, albeit a special one, rather than a federal enclave, then there is no reason to deprive local citizens of control over that fundamental local service, the police force. (1699)
A provision specifically emphasizing this power was then part of the committee print of the bill which went to the House floor.
Amendments try to take the police chief appointment away from the Mayor
Some Congressmen were still not satisfied. Ancher Nelsen (R-MN) tried to introduce amendments that would have given other people besides the mayor the power to appoint the police chief.
His first proposal was to set up a Board of Police Commissioners with 3 members: the head of the US Secret Service, the head of the FBI, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. They would submit 3 candidates for police chief to the President, who would pick among them. (2406)
Nelsen notes there was a Police Board in the 1860s, DC's previous episode of home rule, but it was abolished when Congress took control of the District back.
Rep. Brock Adams (D-WA) pointed out that there are lots of federal police forces to protect the federal interest, such as the Capitol Police, Park Police, Secret Service, FBI and more. This was not the case in 1783, when the Continental Congress did not even control the military during peacetime and depended entirely on state militias.
Stewart McKinney (R-CT) also disagreed with Nelsen, saying, "With regard to the problems we have been having in urban centers a police chief has to be one of the strongest and most compatible figures in the community's relationship." (2409)
This was also not something the White House had asked for, and the House defeated Nelsen's amendment, 132-275 with 27 not voting.
Nelson tried again, this time having the board of 3 commissioners nominate individuals to the Mayor. (2424)
Diggs said, "I would just like to understand from the distinguished ranking minority member of the committee [Nelsen] just what is his rationale behind wanting to have this kind of insulation with respect to the Police Commissioner or Chief of Police for this community." (2425) The House rejected this amendment on a voice vote, and that was the end of the matter. (2426)
However, Congress did limit the District's power over its criminal justice system in other ways, which we'll discuss in coming installments of this series.
All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.
Today, the day Americans exercise their most fundamental right to participate in government, it's worth remembering what some of this nation's leaders said forty years ago about District of Columbia residents' right to participate in government. Here are a few quotations from the legislative history of the 1973 Home Rule Act.
The condition of our Capital city is a sign of the condition of our nation
— and is certainly taken as such by visitors, form all the States of the Union, and from around the globe. ...
Besides the official Washington of monuments and offices, there is the Washington of 850,000 citizens with all the hopes and expectations of the people of any major city, striving and sacrificing for a better life
— the eighth largest among the cities of our country.
Full citizenship through local self-government must be given to the people of this city: the District Government cannot be truly responsible until it is made responsible to those who live under its rule. The District's citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing
— or to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizenship.
— President Richard M. Nixon, April 28, 1969 (p. 1685-1686)
Not only did President Nixon support Home Rule, but so did many (but not all) Republicans in Congress.
Dear Republican Colleague:One of the primary sponsors of the Home Rule Act spoke about how the bill was supposed to be only the first step toward even fuller representation for District residents.
Monday, in his second State of the Union address, the President reiterated his endorsement of self-government for the District of Columbia.
[In] regard to the President's desire to see "true and effective self-government" in the District before the American Bicentennial, passage of Home Rule this session would enable the residents of the District of Columbia to see their first elected mayor and city council in over one hundred years take office in 1975.
This issue has been before the Congress for the past twenty-five years, and we hope that you will agree that it is time to take positive action by passing H.R. 9682 on September 24th.
Gilbert Gude (R-MD, 1923-2007, US Rep. 1967-1977),
Stewart B. McKinney (R-CT, 1931-1987, US Rep. 1971-1987)
Henry P. Smith III (R-NY, 1911-1995, US Rep. 1965-1975)
September 12, 1973 (1687)
In 1969 I first proposed a series of actions intended to bring about an orderly transfer of political power to the people of the District of Columbia. I called for a Constitutional Amendment giving the District at least one representative in the House and such other additional representation as the Congress may approve.One of the most moving speeches in the Home Rule Act debate came from Hawaii Rep. Spark Matsunaga, who had spent years pushing for voting rights for his own people.
I proposed, and Congress enacted, legislation providing for an interim non-voting Congressional delegate and for the creation of a Commission on the Organization of the Government of the District of Columbia, the so-called Nelsen Commission [whose findings formed the basis of the Home Rule Act].
— Donald Fraser (D-MN, b. 1924, US Rep. 1963-1979, Mayor of Minneapolis 1980-1993) (1686)
I believe we can all agree without any reservations whatsoever that nowhere in America should the principles of democracy be more firmly established than the Nation's Capital. However, democracy is at its weakest in the District of Columbia, for it stands noticeably as a bastion of taxation without representation.All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.
By a cruel irony, a nation founded as a haven from tyranny and oppression denies to the citizens of its Capital City the very blessings for which it stands. Incredible but true, it is still accurate to describe the District of Columbia as "America's last colony."
Fresh in my memory is Hawaii's own struggle for self-determination. For far too many years, the Congress decided the destiny of Hawaii while its citizens had little or no voice in their own affairs. Many years of my life were devoted to Hawaii's struggle for statehood, and as I walked the Halls of Congress trying to develop support for Hawaii's cause, I encountered many of the same arguments I now hear advanced against home rule for the District of Columbia. I am no more impressed now than I was then by these same arguments. ...
Tte citizens of Washington deserve to share in the right of self-government, the birthright of every American citizen. Today, the citizens of Washington are virtually disenfranchised. They are allowed the "privilege" of paying taxes, but not the right of selecting their own government, or determining how those tax revenues will be spent. They do choose a Delegate to Congress, but he is a nonvoting Delegate. Their right to help shape their own governmental structures is limited to selecting a School Board. ...
Home rule is not a partisan issue, nor should it be. It is a goal which has borne the endorsements of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. In discussing the principle of self-determination in 1960, the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:
"Human beings everywhere, simply as an inalienable right of birth, should have freedom to choose their guiding philosophy, their form of government, their methods of progress."
How appropriate his remarks are for this issue before us here today. Home rule for the District of Columbia is one of the final chapters in America's long struggle to secure freedom for all of its people. ... Let us wipe out the last vestige of colonialism in America.
— Spark Matsunaga (D-HI, 1916-1990, US Rep. 1963-1977, Senator 1977-1990) (2190)
During Hurricane Sandy, I passed the time by reading the legislative history of the DC Home Rule Act. This 1973 bill, which gave District residents the right to vote for local leaders who can make local laws for the first time in 99 years, established the system of government DC has today. But what might have been?
Congress considered a lot of different alternatives for Home Rule. Very different bills passed the House and Senate. The House made some amendments on the floor, and then the conference committee made some of its own changes to reconcile the House and Senate versions.
One system that almost was: nonpartisan elections for DC Council and Mayor.
DC's current system includes a 13-member council. 4 at-large members and the chairman run for office citywide, while each of the 8 wards elects one member. All run in partisan elections, with primaries in April (September up until last year) and the general election in November.
But neither the House nor Senate bill specified that. The House bill had the 13 members, 5 at-large, but the Council would have chosen the chairman from among the 5 at-large members each January. (2249) The Senate bill, meanwhile, had only 3 at-large members (2 plus the chairman) for a total of 11 councilmembers. The voters would choose the chairman at-large directly, as they do today. (2887)
House bill had nonpartisan elections with runoff
The House bill also specified nonpartisan elections for Mayor and Council. In the open general election, the top vote-getter would win only if he or she received at least 40% of the votes. Otherwise, there would be a runoff 21 days after the election. For elections for 1 person (like ward councilmember or mayor), the 2 top finishers would participate in the runoff; for at-large elections with 2 to be elected, the runoff would involve the top 3. (2347)
The House's version put elections in November of even-numbered years that aren't Presidential election years (where they are today), but the Senate placed them on Presidential years with primaries in September.
Both these bills leave much to be desired; to my thinking, elections should be partisan, without runoffs (only Southern states have them) in even numbered non-Presidential years, with primaries in September and generals in November ... with no runoff (like Seattle). (2891)Business, labor, parties all favored partisan elections
Most local groups favored partisan elections as well. Rep. Donald Fraser (D-MN, b. 1924, US Rep. 1963-1979, Mayor of Minneapolis 1980-1993) said that "Testimony before the House District of Columbia Committee was overwhelmingly in favor of party designation for these elections."
Walter F. McArdle, president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, spoke in favor of partisan elections, as did George Apperson, president of Greater Washington Central Labor Council, who told the committee:
We think it would be wrong to prohibit partisan politics in elections in the District of Columbia. Partisan politics helps to focus responsibility and that's what we need in the DistrictThe DC Republican Party also agreed, saying, "There is no question but the present political parties in the District of Columbia can provide the machinery by which a candidate aspiring to office can best bring his or her views of the electorate." So did the League of Women Voters.
— responsible politics and responsible government.
Fraser concluded, "In my own State of Minnesota, nonpartisan elections for mayor and city council in the large cities did not work well. The State legislature has reinstated party designation. I believe this is wise. (1684)
Hatch Act drove push for nonpartisan elections
If so many people supported partisan elections, how did the House pass a bill with nonpartisan? The committee reported out a bill with partisan elections, but a dissenting commentary from a number of Republicans who opposed a great many provisions of the bill (including Arlington, Virginia Rep. Joel Broyhill, 1919-2006, US Rep. 1953-1974), argued for nonpartisan:
Based on information recently provided by the United States Conference of Mayors' that a total of 152 cities with populations over 100,000, 92 or 60% conduct nonpartisan elections, 49 or 32% conduct partisan elections, and for 11 cities the information is unknown. ... Several such cities with nonpartisan elections are Detroit, Seattle, Oakland, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Francisco, San Diego, San Antonio, Memphis, and Columbia.The subcommitee and committee markup sessions don't include a lot of debate over the merits of partisan or nonpartisan elections, but they do contain voluminous debate over the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in partisan political activity.
It would appear that in a city such as Washington, D.C., which is the Nation's Capital, where the Federal and local interests are so inextricably interwoven, that nonpartisan elections would best serve the interests of the Federal government, as well as the local residents. ...
It is doubtful if other cities of the size of the District of Columbia have as many Federal employees within their boundaries. Obviously, the drafters of this legislation recognized this in trying to amend the Hatch Act and permit the Federal employees to be partisan political candidates for the office of Council Member and Mayor. How much better it would be to avoid the question of amendment of the Hatch Act, which as is argued elsewhere in these views would undoubtedly result eventually in the repeal of the Hatch Act in its entirety, and hold the elections, in the District of Columbia, if authorized, on a nonpartisan basis. (1585-1586)
During Senate debate, then-freshman Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM, Senator 1973-2009), said, "in the District of Columbia, 135,141 or 40% of voters would be subject to Hatch and unable to actively participate in the election process."
In fact, the Civil Service Commission issued an opinion that the then-sitting Mayor and City Councilmembers, who were federal appointees at the time, "would have to resign in order to run for office" under the new Home Rule system. (3613) Congress amended the Home Rule Act in 1974 to exempt the mayor and councilmembers from the Hatch Act, but problems with the way the Hatch Act applies to DC continue to this day.
At the beginning of floor debate over the bill, the chairman of the District of Columbia Committee introduced a "Committee substitute" that made a number of changes (2361). One of these was to replace partisan elections with nonpartisan. That provision never came up in the floor debate itself, and was part of the bill the House passed, but the members of the District of Columbia Committee who'd passed the original bill with partisan elections put it back in conference.
All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.
Because the Congressional "supercommittee" failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan, WMATA is likely to lose about $12 million from the federal government in 2013. This could spell trouble for an agency that has already had to raise fares to keep up with its significant capital needs.
Under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011, without a supercommittee deal, nearly every item in the federal budget will suffer a 10% "sequestration" effective January 1.
Most of the nation's transit systems will be protected from this cut because they get formula grants from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is immune from sequestration. WMATA, however (like Amtrak), receives a direct annual appropriation from general taxpayer funds, $150 million a year for 10 years to make needed repairs that was part of 2008's Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, or PRIIA.
WMATA got that $150 million in fiscal 2012 (which ends September 30). A continuing resolution approved last week will continue this funding level through at least March 31, 2013. But after that, sequestration would take hold.
The HTF gets most of its money from gasoline taxes. Thanks to Congress's refusal to raise the gas tax, even to keep up with inflation, there hasn't been enough money in the fund to meet its obligations for the past several years. Thus, Congress has chosen to infuse general fund money into the HTF to keep it solvent.
These general fund infusions may be subject to sequestration, but none of the HTF's obligations to the states and transit agencies will be reduced. The most likely result is that Congress will have to infuse more general fund money into the HTF sooner. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have some leeway in applying the sequestration within each federal department and agency.
The WMATA cut is not the only way sequestration could hurt our region. If OMB chooses to apply the cuts retroactively to TIGER grants that the US Department of Transportation has already awarded, this would delay the completion of TIGER-funded projects like bus priority improvements and completing the Anacostia Trail.
Another possible victim is the Silver Line, much of whose funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which is not funded by the HTF. Many other capital projects in the region, including the Purple Line light-rail corridor, have yet to receive federal funding, and any reduction in the amount of money available for grants would put them even farther back in line.
The only alternative to sequestration is another grand debt-reduction deal from Congress. But such a deal could hurt some programs more than sequestration would, in order to preserve others. Even transit-friendly members of Congress from Maryland and Virginia may vote to axe Metro in the end if it means preserving other pots, such as Pentagon spending, that provide huge sources of employment for their constituents.
While members of Congress are campaigning in their districts throughout October, consider taking an opportunity to remind them how important investments in infrastructure that reduces traffic congestion and enhances mobility in a sustainable manner are to you and to the region's economy.
You can also make the point that we could avoid this whole sequestration mess altogether if they could muster the gumption to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, place a small tax on financial transactions, or finally raise the gas tax.
Besides, deficit spending really isn't a bad thing, especially with the economy in recession.
Last week, Amtrak unveiled a master plan for the future Union Station. Most press coverage immediately focused on the dollar figure in the plan, $7 billion, and even many transit advocates fretted that this cost sounded unrealistic. But we should not criticize Amtrak for suggesting a $7 billion plan. Instead, we need even more big plans to go along with this one.
That's because this plan isn't just for today, and isn't just for Amtrak. It's about what it will take to update a 100-year-old commuter and intercity rail bottleneck that we haven't invested in for generations. It even goes far beyond Union Station, and there need to be plans for all of it.
Plus, transportation planning is not about what we need today. States put things on the plan which have no money at all, but decades later, they get done. If we want a commuter and intercity rail system that can grow for the next 100 years, we need to plan investments 30 years hence, today.
Make no little plans, because other transportation agencies are making big plans
The Washington region's transportation investment primarily revolves around the Constrained Long-Range Plan, or CLRP. The Transportation Planning Board, a commission of government officials from DC, Maryland, Virginia, many local cities and counties, WMATA and more, creates and approves this plan.
The current CLRP plans for spending $222.9 billion in capital and operating money over 30 years. That's the size of the region's transportation spending to keep roads and transit running and add new capacity on both. It includes the DC streetcar, 11th Street Bridge, Silver Line, Beltway HOT lanes, I-95 HOT lanes, Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, Columbia Pike Streetcar, widening I-66, widening I-270, and widening nearly every major road in Northern Virginia and many in Maryland. It's got a few bike and pedestrian projects, too.
In short, this plan contains almost everything the state and local governments currently want to do over the next 30 years. But a lot is not in the plan. There are no new Metro lines through the core. There are no dedicated bus lanes. There are a lot of road and rail and bus and pedestrian and bicycle projects that regional governments want to do, but had to cut because of that C in CLRP: constrained. The CLRP requires there to be some concept of where the funding will come from, like federal transportation dollars between 2025 and 2030 or something like that.
Make no little plans, because your problems are not little either
The CLRP also doesn't have projects to do something about one of the most severe transit bottlenecks in the region: trains in and out of the core. Right now, Amtrak and MARC trains from 3 lines have to all come together at the "K interlocking," the spot near K Street where all the tracks merge, and they also have to fight for space with VRE trains that go out to a storage yard in Ivy City.
Farther south, VRE and some Amtrak trains go through a tunnel to the L'Enfant Plaza area, where they merge with CSX tracks coming through Capitol Hill. 4 tracks, 2 from each, merge down to just 2 tracks over the Potomac's Long Bridge and out to Virginia. The L'Enfant VRE station is horribly undersized for its need, especially since, being near the intersection of 4 Metro lines, it is a better transfer point for many riders.
MARC, VRE, and Amtrak could all move far more people than they do today if they could load and unload more passengers at Union Station and L'Enfant Plaza, fit more trains in the area, and commuter railroads could run trains through from Maryland to Virginia and vice versa. They'll also need to fix bottlenecks elsewhere, like in Baltimore.
We've been gradually upgauging roadway capacity in the area for at least 60 years, but during most of that time we neglected 100-year-old rail infrastructure because transit was declining. Now it's growing quickly, and could grow even more if it had the room.
The platforms at Union Station are far too narrow compared to modern intercity and commuter rail stations, especially major terminals. The railroads can't load and unload trains from more than one side of a platform at once, and therefore Amtrak says they can't let anyone wait on the platform for trains before they are ready to board.
That means the too-small waiting areas become even more massively overcrowded. Other large train stations let people access the trains from more than one end.
Union Station is also more than just trains. It's got the Metro station with the most people coming in or out, even though only one line serves it. It's a major loading point for tour buses. Many intercity buses now stop there. Numerous local bus lines serve it, including 2 Circulators, and soon the streetcar will as well. It's a huge parking garage and a major mall.
Many people also got confused by thinking that this plan is an Amtrak plan. Amtrak was the lead agency, though they made a major tactical mistake by focusing the rollout around themselves and reinforcing the idea that it was an Amtrak plan. This is a master plan for a place that serves many, many modes and agencies.
Make no little plans when you really need an even bigger plan
A good master plan considers all of the needs for all of the modes and all of the agencies, then fits everything together like a massive puzzle. This plan not only includes a complete rebuild of the inadequate tracks and too-narrow platforms, but also a fixed K interlocking, 3 new concourses, underground parking (some of which we might be able to do without), a whole bus station, rebuilding the H Street bridge (something DC says needs to happen anyway), more space in the Metro station (another severe problem even today), more retail which brings in more money, supports for buildings atop the railyards, and more.
But this plan doesn't even cover everything. We also need an even bigger master master plan, that goes along with the Union Station plan, for the railway corridor from at least Springfield through to Baltimore. The master master plan should look at what it will take to integrate MARC and VRE into a commuter rail operation that runs through from one state to the other, if that turns out to be worth the cost.
This even more comprehensive plan should look at how to untangle passenger and freight on the Long Bridge, include the cost of a better 4-track L'Enfant station, improve connections to Metro at stations, and even new Metro lines to serve Union Station.
A potential future Metro system, if the commuter rails ran frequent service and served as "express" lines.
Then, that plan needs to go on the CLRP. Maybe that's a $25 billion plan. That could be 10% of the region's investment in the 30-year timeframe, but this is also even more significant to the federal government. This is the gateway to the nation's capital, a pair of stations by the United States Capitol and the densest cluster of federal offices, the way many visitors come to see our monuments and memorials.
Make no little plans when by the time they happen, big plans might be realistic
Sure, right now Congress seems entirely hostile both to having a great capital and to investing in infrastructure across the nation. But 30 years ago a lot was different, and by 30 years from now a lot will change again, for better or worse. The stimulus popped up very fast, and rewarded everyone who had "shovel-ready" projects. A lot could change one day, and maybe almost overnight.
Meanwhile, the railroads, Metro, and everyone else needs to price out these projects and get them onto the long-range plans. If they don't, someone else will put something on instead. It's not like the state DOTs will just put in a 5-, 10- or 25-billion dollar placeholder for "really important stuff we will figure out later."
No, they'll stuff the tail end of that pipeline full of just about everything anyone can come up with, and grab all of the future money. Even if most of that stuff is also worthy, and even if not everything from the Union Station plan gets built, the only way stuff like fixing the commuter railroads and Union Station overcrowding will ever get done is if someone puts it into the hopper along with everything else now.
We should cheer Amtrak, the commuter railroads, USRC, Akridge and everyone else for thinking big. We need similarly big plans for Metro, L'Enfant and the Long Bridge, and everything else. Then all transit supporters need to push Congress and the states to invest as they should, today and 30 years from now, and in the meantime, push to at least fund the highest priority pieces.
Yesterday, Dan Malouff wrote about the long-term planning from Gaithersburg versus Rockville. Gaithersburg planned ahead by about 10 years, while Rockville didn't, to its detriment. Dan wrote, "Proactively plan for what you want, or lose out to someone who did."
He could just as easily have been talking about Union Station or any other transit expansion plan. With this plan, what Union Station needs might or might not happen. But without it, it definitely won't.
Update: Another problem, which I meant to include but didn't get in, is that Amtrak only released a top-line cost number, without details about where the $7 billion comes from or how much each element contributes to the cost. Amtrak will need to be more forthcoming with details as it moves forward so that people can better understand the dollar figure and either understand why it is the size it is, or challenge assumptions that make it so large.
One of the predominant myths about the District is that the federal government fully compensates any costs or lost revenue it incurs as the Federal District. In reality, DC residents bear a heavy fiscal burden
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, clearly understands this, stating last week that he is open to a measure that would shrink this deficit.
What about House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer? It was disappointing enough that the powerful Maryland Democrat came out immediately against Issa's proposal. Did he have to do it by evoking the myth that won't die?
The District's structural deficit begins with the fact that the largest employer and landowner in the city Continue reading Ken's op-ed in the Washington Post. And please congratulate Ken for his first op-ed for the Post! We hope to see more of Ken's articles on the editorial pages in the future, as well as those from other frequent contributors.
Continue reading Ken's op-ed in the Washington Post. And please congratulate Ken for his first op-ed for the Post! We hope to see more of Ken's articles on the editorial pages in the future, as well as those from other frequent contributors.
Congress passed a major transportation bill last week, authorizing more than $100 billion in spending for highways, transit, and other modes over the next 2 years. The bill changes a number of rules and shifts the ways in which money is distributed, in an effort to preserve highway funding.
The bill generally maintains the status quo of federal transportation spending, but attempts to stretch the amount of money available for highways. Transit gets the same amount of money as before, which is not nearly enough for the projects states want to build.
Bicycle and pedestrian programs got consolidated into a single, smaller program, half of which state governments control directly. States uninterested in building sidewalks and bike trails can spend the money on more roads instead.
The bill makes $54.6 billion available per year for the next 2 years. About 80% of funding will go to highways, and about 20% will go to transit. Both the overall funding level and the 80/20 split are comparable to existing allocations.
The gas tax will remain at 18.3¢ per gallon, as it has since 1993 when gas was $1.07. Since this won't produce enough revenue to maintain current spending, almost $20 billion in federal general fund money will be infused into the transportation fund.
As in every previous federal transportation authorization, the bulk of spending authority goes to highways. Most of the money will be automatically distributed to state Departments of Transportation, which will have the authority to determine spending on roads within their borders.
Little about this system will change, except that a little bit more money is available for highways due to cuts to other modes.
One thing that may change is the make-up of the fleet of cars and trucks using the highways. This bill eliminates the so-called "gas guzzler tax," which raised a small amount of money but provided a disincentive to buying the least efficient cars and SUVs.
Another change is that more funding, up to $1 billion per year, is being directed to the TIFIA program, which offers loans to states and localities for major capital projects, instead of direct grants. TIFIA loan details are more favorable than private market deals, so this is a good option for large projects that don't get grants. Meanwhile, by expanding a program that requires participants to pay it back, the feds stretch limited dollars further.
At one stage of negotiations, Republicans in Congress sought to eliminate transit funding altogether. That would have been a disaster. Thankfully, it didn't happen.
Much of the transit money flows to transit providers through automatic formulas, similarly to how highway money flows to state DOTs. The largest pot of non-automatic money is in the New Starts program, which is the major federal source for money to build new rapid transit routes.
New Starts is funded at $1.9 billion per year, which is $50 million per year less than the existing allocation.
For that money, the list of project types that are eligible to receive New Starts grants has been broadened, to include more BRT projects, as well as projects that expand the core capacity of existing transit lines. Also, a special category has been established for "demonstration projects" that are primarily funded with local or private money, and only need a little federal funding.
New Starts is extremely important. Virginia received $900 million from it to help build the Silver Line, and Maryland is counting on it to help fund the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Baltimore Red Line. Expanding the list of eligible uses is good, but it further spreads out an already-diminished pot of money.
The competition for New Starts grants will be fierce, and the supply definitely won't meet the demand.
Tax-exempt benefits for transit riders will continue to be capped at $125/month, while drivers can still get corresponding parking benefits of up to $240/month. This is a blatant subsidy for driving over transit use, and is extremely unfortunate.
Some positive news is that there are two new transit programs established in the bill.
The first is a safety program that will institute nationwide safety standards for railcars, and require large transit agencies to establish safety plans. This is a direct outgrowth of WMATA's problems in recent years, especially the June 2009 Metrorail crash.
The second new program will offer planning grants to help communities plan and build Transit Oriented Developments around transit stations, which is a nice win for smart growth.
Bicycle and pedestrian funding was a major target for attack, and a major point of contention. Many rural and conservative congresspeople don't understand the importance of these modes to urban transportation, and view them as unnecessary luxuries.
At several points throughout the negotiation process, it looked like dedicated bike/ped funding might be eliminated entirely. With the final adopted bill, it was reduced from about $1 billion annually to about $700 million annually. That's too bad, but the fact that any survived at all is good news.
Of that $700 million, half will be distributed via automatic formula to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) for use on bike/ped projects. Previously all of this money had been distributed to states, so sending it to metropolitan areas is an interesting change, and could be seen as an experiment in funneling money directly to metropolitan areas instead of through states.
Unfortunately, the other half of the $700 million in bike/ped money will go to state DOTs, who will have the option of either using it for bike/ped projects, or flipping it into their highway funds and using it for road projects. If all the states do this, it will decrease the total amount of federal bike/ped funding to just $350 million.
Although it is not strictly a dedicated bike/ped fund, another pot of money that is often used for bike/ped projects is the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program (CMAQ). Capital Bikeshare has largely been funded via CMAQ, so it is a significant program.
The good news is that CMAQ funding levels appear to be level. The bad news is that the list of eligible project types that can use CMAQ funds has been broadened to include a larger variety of road projects.
Republicans in Congress had wanted to include in the bill funding for the Keystone Pipeline, which would have transported crude oil from Canada to refineries in the US. Democrats opposed it, and the fight was one of the most widely-reported sticking points in the negotiations.
Funding for the pipeline was not included, which was the major Republican concession agreed upon, in response to Democrat concessions regarding bike/ped and transit funding.
However, another aspect of the bill may have even more important and widespread effects.
A rarely-reported provision aimed at streamlining project delivery will eliminate the requirement for federal environmental review for a wide range of projects, including those within existing right-of-way, those that are below certain cost thresholds, and those that replace damaged infrastructure.
Excluding those projects will undoubtedly save millions of dollars, and months or even years of project planning. But it will also eliminate a key step in project review, and reduce the ability of localities to object to undesirable projects imposed on them by states. It is definitely a mixed blessing.
Just about everyone in the transportation policy world agrees that the current federal funding system isn't working. Costs keep rising, and with the gas tax flat, spending power keeps dropping. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees about what to do.
Some want to find more sustainable revenue sources, and use them to build multimodal 21st century infrastructure. Others want to eliminate multimodal programs and focus on spending limited money on what they see as the most important priority, highways.
This bill is a compromise. It puts off the larger questions of our country's long term needs, and takes a slight regressive lean, in order to continue for 2 more years the overall status quo of an 18.3¢ tax going to an 80/20 highway/transit split.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name