WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government has a new warning to states asking for billions of dollars from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act to widen roads: Protect the safety of pedestrians and cyclists or risk losing fuel. money.
In a report submitted to Congress and released Wednesday, the Department of Transportation says it will aim to prioritize the safety and health of all users of today’s modern roadway, commuters in common and electric scooters to Uber rideshare pickups and people delivering goods. . Projects such as bike paths and roundabouts, landscaped sidewalks, pedestrian routes to bus stops and transit lanes will be prioritized in the distribution of the money.
The department led by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to change the longstanding focus of states that have spent federal funds adding car-only lanes to reduce congestion and increase speeds — often at the expense of communities primarily non-whites 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 American 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. New data released on Wednesday shows that 38,824 lives were lost in traffic crashes in 2020, with particularly high levels for motorcyclists and cyclists.
“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.”
The 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 the number of deaths by slowing traffic and assembling racially divided communities by highways after states backed down. by 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 ceding power 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 considered — not a vehicle for the administration’s woke agenda,” said Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the committee’s top Republican. transport and infrastructure of the Chamber.
In a letter to governors last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., two of 19 Republicans who voted in the Senate 50-50 to 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.
During a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Buttigieg said he would consider safety, climate and other factors in awarding billions in competitive grants.
“It certainly reflects our priorities,” he said. “As far as discretionary grants … security, good health, economic strength, resilience – these are national priorities and administration priorities, and things that will certainly guide me within the parameters of the law in our decisions.”
When it comes to formula funds, Buttigieg said his department would seek to work closely with states to help them understand things “they might not even know” about money. available for security. He cited the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, which provides flexible funding for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and transit capital projects, including intercity bus stations.
The FHWA announced Wednesday that it will release updated guidelines on how the money will be used in the coming weeks.
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 “cap and stitch” plans proposed by many cities to build green spaces atop underground highways and connect divided communities would likely qualify for different pots of federal money. Buttigieg cited the need to rectify a history of racist pavement design.
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.
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