After months of congressional wrangling, President Obama signed the $105 billion compromise transportation bill on Friday. And while the road to reauthorization was long and winding, there was one provision that was never really at risk. It was in the Senate bill and some form would have made it into the House version, too. It extends loan financing for infrastructure projects and was championed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who both pushed for the provision and was a key architect of the bill.
The measure--America Fast Forward--expands the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funding from $122 million a year to $750 million in fiscal year 2013 and $1 billion in fiscal year 2014. That's more than double the amount proposed by the Bipartisan Policy Center last year. It's been touted as letting a handful of major projects move forward, including New York's Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project and a set of projects in Los Angeles.
But even the expanded TIFIA program has its critics. Steven Higashide at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, for example, criticized lawmakers for having "removed most of the criteria for judging applications to the program (these criteria had included environmental sustainability, project significance, use of public-private partnerships, and more), turning it into a rolling application program instead." The main remaining criterion would be creditworthiness, Streetsblog reported.
It may be easy for big cities like New York and L.A. to prove their good for it, but many (smaller) cities have lately faced the threat of credit downgrades. Is TIFIA a gift only for cities with good credit? Or is it, as its champions like to characterize it, a perfect short-term solution for a system in dire need of reform? Did the compromise hurt its effectiveness? Or is it an example of Congress actually getting something right?