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Compromise Could Limit Access To Federal Transportation Money

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As congressional negotiators near a deal for a massive transportation bill, bicycling and pedestrian advocates say access to funding used by local governments to make streets safer may be eliminated as part of the final compact. 

A deal is expected to be announced as early as today on a two-year, $109 billion transportation funding measure for roadways, bridges, and mass transit projects. As part of the compromise aimed at giving state transportation agencies more control over federal dollars for larger projects, House Republicans are insisting that access to the 1 to 2 percent of the federal transportation funding typically used for projects like fixing dangerous intersections or building bike lanes is cut.

"It’s important to have local control over some transportation funds so that local officials who know their streets can make the best decisions over safety improvements," said Barbara McCann, the executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.

If congressional negotiators reach a deal today, advocates say they probably won’t know until Thursday if the local access survived. Although House Republicans sought to eliminate it, a bipartisan compromise was struck in the Senate to keep the program in place, co-authored by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin.

"It is really a mystery as to why [Congress] targeted this small amount of money that really saves lives," McCann said.

Bicycle riders and pedestrians represent 14 percent of roadway fatalities, and two-thirds of these deaths occurred on highways built by federal dollars, according to America Bikes. Advocates say this abysmal safety record could worsen if local governments are prevented from using federal transportation money for sidewalks, curb cuts for wheelchairs, bike lanes and other safety measures.

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