Handful of Steps to Bust Gridlock, Ease Pollution Survive Amid Riches for Roads

WASHINGTON (July 29, 2005) -- The $286 billion transportation bill expected to pass the Senate today contains a handful of important measures redirecting federal dollars away from sprawl and congestion, and toward safer, cleaner, more community-friendly solutions to the gridlock on our transportation system. The bill cleared the House earlier today. Overall, the package remains mired in the pork barrel tactics of the past, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Congress missed a major opportunity to steer a new course, one that would lead to more transportation choices, cleaner air and water and less suburban sprawl," said Deron Lovaas, deputy director of NRDC's Smart Growth program.

In keeping with the standard set more than 20 years ago, the new transportation bill ensures that congestion-relieving transit options such as light rail and buses will continue to receive 20 percent of new federal gas tax revenue. The bill also follows the tradition of increasing funding for biking and hiking trails.

But the bill takes several wrong turns, according to NRDC. For example, it sharply curtails the timeframe in which concerned citizens can raise environmental and community impact challenges to new highway projects, and makes it easier for bureaucracies to override Clean Air Act accountability.

Congress also eliminated a modest but important stormwater cleanup program championed by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), which would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for communities struggling with lakes, rivers and streams polluted by runoff from highways.

The bill includes hundreds of harmful "pork" projects -- Alaska alone will receive hundreds of millions of dollars for dozens of projects, including notorious "bridges to nowhere": the Gravina Island and Knik Arm bridges.

"We applaud the leaders who worked to protect bedrock environmental laws against repeated threats during this two-year process, especially Congressmen Oberstar and Dingell, and Senators Jeffords, Carper and Warner," Lovaas said.

"What matters next is how the law is implemented. We will continue to work with city officials and local citizens to make sure that state transportation agencies spend taxpayer dollars in ways that reduce pollution and enhance the quality of life in our communities," he concluded.