They finally did it. In an 11th-hour turnaround, Congress passed a compromise transportation reauthorization (including a student loan interest rate extension and flood insurance reauthorization).
The 599-page bill reduces the number of highway programs by two thirds. The controversial coal ash and Keystone XL provisions House Republicans pushed for were dropped, but the streamlining provisions they wanted made it in, including exempting from environmental review certain emergency infrastructure replacements and programs that receive less than $5 million in federal funds. The cuts aren't as deep as many conservatives wanted and the concessions went too far for some Democrats.
Transportation enhancement funding--for things such as bike paths--remains, but a compromise split the funding between localities and states, which have an opt-out. The bill reduces the deficit by $16.3 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The Highway Transit Fund, the key funding source for highway projects, will be exhausted some time in fiscal year 2015.
What do the changes to the transportation enhancement program mean for bike paths and alternate transit? Is the program consolidation going to work? Will the streamlining really help to speed up products? What more could the bill have done to accelerate project delivery? What critical provisions is the deal missing? Is this bill an early Christmas present or a lump of coal?