With strong bi-partisan support, the U.S. Senate yesterday voted 74-22 to pass Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a federal surface transportation authorization bill that provides $109 billion over two years for investments in highways, transit, safety, and other programs.
Among other provisions, the bill restores a tax benefit that will allow commuters to spend up to $240 month in pretax dollars for transit expenses. That benefit had been cut nearly in half to $125 a month after it expired in December 2011. MAP-21 also makes federal funds available for bike and pedestrian projects, and includes emergency provisions to allow transit agencies to avoid service cuts and fare hikes.
The Leadership Conference welcomed MAP-21 provisions that will expand research opportunities focusing on the needs of communities that are the most dependent on having access to reliable and affordable public transportation to reach employment, health care, and educational centers. Transportation equity advocates say more research and understanding is critical since these communities, which include people of color, low-income people, and people with disabilities, are disproportionately affected by the decisions of both rural and urban transit agencies
The current short-term extension of the federal transportation reauthorization expires on March 31, 2012. The U.S. House of Representatives, currently on a one-week recess, could take up a version of the Senate bill or its own multi-year reauthorization.