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 April 8, 1998

ISTEA goes to House and Senate Conference

The Senate and House have both passed their ISTEA reauthorization bills (S1173 & HR2400) by overwhelming majorities, largely keeping the ISTEA structure and framework intact. While most media coverage has focused on the controversial ìpork-barrelî provisions of the bill, grassroots advocates nationwide have waged an aggressive campaign to preserve many of the positive provisions in the bill. Our coalition has chosen to focus its limited political capital on affecting how money is spent rather than how much is spent -- and we've succeeded.

Many new proposals also strengthen ISTEA and forward many of our collective transportation reform goals -- the Access to Jobs and Reverse Commute programs (bigger and better in the Senate), state flexibility for Amtrak (Senate only), some new emphasis on maintenance, some new planning innovations (Land Use pilot program in Senate, rural planning). But we still have much to lose -- the House-Senate conference committee will decide many critical differences between the two bills. If your Representative or Senator is on this critical committee, we need your help now! (see list below)

Publicly, all sides state that ISTEA will be signed by the President by May 1, but some think it could take longer. In any case, Congress is home April 2-19, and that is a key time to get our message out directly to Members and the media.

Our Members of Congress need to continue to maintain and strengthen ISTEA in the Conference. ISTEA 2 should expand mobility for all Americans, while continuing to create affordable transportation choices, determined by local citizens and local governments.

Specifically, focus on the following points:

* Thank you for supporting ISTEA 2/BESTEA. We commend your work to preserve the environmental and local control aspects of the 1991 ISTEA law.

* Reject Transferability for CMAQ & Enhancements -- BESTEA allows state DOTs to transfer money from CMAQ & enhancements to other programs. Please reject transferability and adopt the Senate provisions.

* Support funding for the Recreational Trails Program at the higher levels passed in BESTEA.


* Fax and mail a letter to your Congressional Member. Highlight the points in the message section above.

* Send a letter to the editor of your local paper (see sample below)


Draft Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor:

The federal transportation bill that is now working its way through Congress contains more than just reckless pork-barrel spending. Indeed, many provisions that are now before the Conference Committee could greatly benefit [YOUR STATE]: fixing aging roads and bridges, ensuring better transit and Amtrak service, providing needed bicycling and walking facilities, as well as ensuring that transportation spending protects the environment.

Rep. xx and/or Sen. xx will soon make these critical decisions on behalf of all of us. He/She should, in particular, make sure that: [SELECT A FEW OF THE FOLLOWING THAT ARE PERTINENT]

(a) federal environmental review processes for transportation projects are protected under the National Environmental Policy by rejecting the House language;

(b) funding for local walking and bicycling projects is protected by rejecting the House language allowing state transportation agencies to transfer a portion of these funds to highway construction programs;

(c) mass transit funding is adequate by supporting the Senateís overall funding level with the House language to provide support from the trust fund rather than general funds;

(d) remove the prohibition on states who want to spend transportation dollars on Amtrak but have historically been unable to do so by supporting the Senate language promoting flexibility;

(e) provide incentives for employees to use mass transit to get to work by allowing companies to issue tax-free transit passes in much the same way they can now offer tax-free parking as a benefit, by supporting the Senate language; and

(f) ensure that local communities are involved in the decisionmaking process by adopting the planning provisions written by the Senate Banking Committee.






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