Sen. Coburn amendment to redirect federal bike path spending to bridge repair defeated 80-18
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
states "we should not be spending money on bicycle paths for our
own leisure, comfort, and exercise when we have bridges that are falling
From the Congressional Record - Sept. 11, 2007
Below is the transcript from the Congressional Record on yesterdayŐs Senate floor debate on Sen. CoburnŐs (R-OK) Amendment 2811 to the FY08 Transportation Appropriations Bill. Amendment 2811 would have prohibited the use of the billŐs appropriated funds for bicycle paths so that the funds can be used to improve bridge and road safety.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes on the Motion to Table (Motion to Table Coburn Amdt. No. 2811 ) defeated by a vote of 80-18.
Statement of Purpose: To prohibit the use of funds made available under this Act for bicycle paths so that the funds can be used to improve bridge and road safety.
Mr. COBURN: Mr. President, maybe this will not be as painful an amendment. Again, referencing what Senator Klobuchar said today about repairing the bridge that has collapsed and cost 13 people their lives and many others injuries, we decided not to order priorities with the last amendment but hopefully will give a little bit better consideration to this one.
About 2-1/2 weeks ago, a friend of mine, who has been a friend for over 20 years, talked me into getting a bicycle. I have to say I have markedly enjoyed that exercise. This amendment says that for the $12 million to $18 million in this bill, which is not clear how much is actually for bicycle paths, we should not be spending money on bicycle paths for our own leisure, comfort, and exercise when we have bridges that are falling down.
It is very straightforward. It prohibits funding bicycle paths until we have our bridges and highways in order. Through the years, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on bicycle paths. It is great, it is fun, they are enjoyable, but it isn't as important for us to have fun and enjoyment as it is for us to be responsible in repairing the roads and bridges in this country. This is simply a prohibition that says for the funds that are in this appropriations bill for bicycle paths, we are saying, no we won't spend that money; we are going to spend the money on fixing roads and bridges.
I guess one could say we could do both. We can fix the roads and bridges and we can have bicycle paths. The problem is this body adopted an amendment creating another billion dollars for bridges just yesterday, and what that does is shorten the life of the trust fund. What it does is move the empty, the zero on that fund to 2009. We have addressed some of that, but we haven't addressed it near to the need I believe we should.
I ask my colleagues to give some thought about whether bicycle paths or the safety of our people in cars on bridges and roads in this country is more important.
I will give some examples. There is $3 million for three bike trails in Illinois. Illinois has 290 structurally deficient bridges.
There is $500,000 for the CEMAR Trail in Iowa. Iowa has 61 structurally deficient bridges.
There is $500,000 in Maryland. Maryland has 43 structurally deficient bridges on the National Highway System.
Mississippi has $2.2 million earmarked for bicycle trails and has 28 structurally deficient bridges.
Missouri has $750,000 for the Heart of America bicycle/pedestrian bridge and has 123 structurally deficient bridges on our National Highway System.
North Dakota has $800,000 for the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail and has nine structurally deficient bridges.
The State of Washington, the chairman's State, has three bike earmarks, $3 million, and 76 structurally deficient bridges.
West Virginia has 98 structurally deficient bridges, but yet $1 million is going to the Paw Paw Bends Trail in Morgan County.
That is not the complete list. I can go on. I have five more pages of States around the country.
It is interesting that in Chesapeake, VA, the council voted in June to build a 2-mile bicycle path estimated to cost $16 million. That is to be paid for with federally earmarked funds and a match. The mayor of that city, in arguing against this expenditure, cast the lone vote, saying: It reminds me of a bridge somewhere to nowhere. You are talking about Government spending. To spend that kind of money on a bike path that would rarely be utilized is astounding to him. The traffic in that area, pedestrian and bike, is four people per day.
I don't deny that it is a wonderful experience that many millions of Americans are getting to enjoy the bike paths we build. The question is, Should we stop for a while and do what we should be doing with our other transportation needs?
A quote from Mary Peters, Secretary of Transportation, is the following:
"Americans would be shocked to learn that only about 60 percent of the gas tax money they pay today actually goes into highway and bridge construction. Much of it goes to many, many other areas. Ten to 20 percent goes into areas that are not directly transportation related."
Bike paths and trails happen to fit into that category.
The highway trust fund was set up to build highways and maintain bridges. When 40 percent of it is not used to maintain highways or build bridges, we have missed the priorities the American people have asked for.
The last time the gas tax was increased in 1993, it was 4.3 cents. We have had many people say we need a tax increase on transportation dollars to afford the Transportation bill. I don't believe that is true at all. I believe we ought to be spending the money on true transportation needs--roads and highways and transit--and we should have less of the other.
SENATOR COBURN THEN REQUESTS THAT AN OP-ED PIECE WRITTEN BY KATHERINE KERSTEN IN THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE CRITICIZING CONGRESSMAN OBERSTAR'S SUPPORT FOR BIKE PROJECTS BE INSERTED INTO THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD.
Read more about debates on trails and bike/ped facility funding:
SecretaryPeters' remarks at 2004 Trails Symposium
Sen. Coburn's proposal to redirect federal bike funds
Rep. McHenry opposing bicycling and trails funding
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Updated September 14, 2007