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Last week, Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) put forth two amendments to the FY10 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill and fortunately, both were defeated. These amendments were heavily opposed by physical activity advocates, for if passed, they would have effectively eliminated the majority of federal funds for trails, walking and bicycling. Amendment 2370 would have prohibited the use of federal funds for pedestrian or bicycle facilities, as well as other specified Transportation Enhancement (TE) projects if the Highway Trust Fund could not cover unfunded highway authorizations. Many, many trails and bike/ped facilities have been funded the past several years through the TE program.
Amendment 2371 was a bit misleading…in that it claimed to allow states to opt out of spending on TE projects, however, our friends at the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy pointed out that the actual amendment text in fact noted that "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement" TE projects.
Passage of these amendments would have been detrimental to the nation as providing opportunities for Americans to walk, bike and take transit to get where they’re going not only improves our communities’ health and livability but can also increase jobs and save money. Rails To Trails spearheaded an effort by physical activity advocates to contact Congress and ask that they vote against both amendments and they were fortunately, both were defeated.
Some physical activity advocates are having a bit of difficulty reconciling Senator Coburn’s outspoken efforts to remove physical activity opportunities from the Transportation bill with the fact that he is a physician who has spoken out before of the need for people to get active. In a HELP Committee hearing on Prevention and Public Health: The Key to Transforming our Sickcare System, held late last year, Senator Coburn stated the need to increase physical activity and questioned what he perceived to be a lack of action that had accompanied the Physical Activity Guidelines. The clip can be heard just past the 47 minute mark in the above link. While advocates can appreciate the challenges and difficulty with forming such a massive, integrated and above all, very expensive act, it is critical that any act looking at transportation include bicycle and pedestrian related projects as well as those associated traditionally with transportation such as roads, bridges, mass transit, etc.