WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government has a new warning to states seeking billions of dollars from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act to widen roads: Protect the safety of pedestrians and cyclists or risk losing funds.
In a new report submitted to Congress and obtained by The Associated Press, the Department of Transportation says it will aim to prioritize the safety and health of the multiple users of a typical 21st century highway, commuters public transport and from electric scooters to Uber carpooling. pickups and people delivering goods. Projects such as bicycle paths and roundabouts, landscaped sidewalks, pedestrian routes to bus stops and transit routes will be prioritized in the distribution of funds.
In doing so, the department led by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is seeking to change the states’ longstanding goal of directing federal money toward adding lanes to relieve congestion and speed the flow of cars — often at the detriment of predominantly non-white communities living next to busy roads. .
“Safety is always DOT’s top priority,” according to the report, which was written in response to a House request a year ago to address record spikes in deaths on U.S. roads during the COVID pandemic. -19.
The report states that the Federal Highway Administration’s adoption of the “Complete Streets” strategy, which is already followed by hundreds of communities, “will have a positive impact on the safety of all road users – reversing the trend increasing fatal and serious injuries and creating a healthier, greener and fairer surface transportation system.”
About one-third of road fatalities in the United States are people outside of vehicles, such as motorcyclists and pedestrians.
“A complete street is safe and feels safe for everyone who uses the street,” said Stephanie Pollack, assistant director of the highways administration. “We can’t keep people safe on our roads if we don’t have safer roads and roads that slow drivers down to safe speeds. Through our Complete Streets initiative, FHWA will play a leadership role providing an equitable and safe transportation network for travelers of all ages and abilities, including vulnerable road users and those in underserved communities that have faced historic disinvestment.”
The groundbreaking change promises a boost to the cities of Atlanta and Austin, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee, which have worked to raise funds to create environmentally friendly transit options, reduce deaths by slowing traffic and assembling racially divided communities by highways after states balked at providing funds for this purpose. In 2020, according to the latest available data, black road deaths in the United States jumped 23% against 7% in total. According to the report, low-income black residents are more likely to live next to pedestrian crash hotspots, and during the pandemic they were disproportionately represented among essential workers who continued to commute to work, often by public transport.
Still, the effort could add to tensions with states and Republican-led governors who bristle at the idea of giving up wide leeway to choose their road projects, with some making the bipartisan law a vehicle for Biden’s liberal causes. Others fear that rural areas will lose out in the process.
“Americans expect new roads and real infrastructure to be dealt with — not a vehicle for the administration’s woke agenda,” said Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the Transportation Committee. bedroom.
In a letter to governors last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., one of 19 Republicans who voted in the Senate 50-50 for approve the infrastructure bill, criticized a December memo from the Highway Administration that urged states to use new funds to maintain and improve highways before adding lanes. McConnell and Capito said states should continue to spend formula funding as they see fit to meet local needs.
“The act addresses infrastructure issues in a way that reflects input and bipartisan consensus and avoids binding and prescriptive requirements,” they wrote. “Nothing in the (law) gives FHWA the power to dictate how states should use their federal funding formula, or to prioritize public transit or bike lanes over new roads and bridges.”
Although the report to Congress does not have the force of law, the department points to potential legal authority under federal laws to refocus the money for up to 70% of the nation’s highways and does not rule out larger efforts. important in pushing states to comply. The department said Wednesday that “plug and seam” projects proposed by many cities to build green spaces atop underground highways would likely be eligible for different pots of federal funds. Buttigieg cited the need to rectify a history of racist pavement design.
The department’s report acknowledges the difficulties in ensuring that states incorporate road safety devices, noting that data measuring their effectiveness in protecting non-motorists is limited. He has pledged to strengthen overall oversight of his distribution of federal money.
Pollack, a hands-on manager who previously ran the Massachusetts Transportation Agency under a Republican governor, actively pushed federal highway design standards. Last year, the FHWA temporarily halted Texas’ proposed expansion of I-45 in Houston over civil rights concerns, a rare assertion of federal power to investigate potential racial impacts. The agency has since lifted parts of that grip as it negotiates a resolution with the state that seeks to limit economic and environmental harm to nearby low-income, black and Latino communities.