House transportation bill: What’s at stake for Chicago

What the House transit cuts could mean for Chicago

If the transportation spending bill in the House of Representatives is signed into legislation, public transit agencies across the country will immediately lose about $8 billion in grants used for capital improvement.

The bill, formally known as the American Jobs and Infrastructure Act, HR7, makes these transit cuts by seriously weakening two laws that have stood as bulwarks against the complete capitulation to car culture in this country.

One is the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (1982), which provides revenue from federal gas taxes for transit. The other is the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, 1991), which created Transportation Enhancements, the dedicated funding for biking and walking infrastructure. Both laws have saved and maintained the transit infrastructure and service in the economic engines of this country — our cities. They helped meet growing demand for transit, ridesharing, and biking as rising fuel prices have increased pressure on household budgets.

Some national context: Total annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have remained flat since peaking in 2008, when the price of oil hit $147 per barrel and kicked the bottom out from under demand. Traffic fatalities have declined for 15 straight quarters to less than 34,000 in 2009, the lowest level since 1954. Bike commuting has experienced enormous gains in the last five years, more than doubling in some cities, including Chicago and New York. Transit ridership over the same time frame has grown to record levels nationally and new services in places like Dallas, Charlotte, and the state of Utah are extremely popular.