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Given the bipartisan gushing that accompanied the release of the DRIVE Act on Tuesday, it came as no surprise that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill unanimously yesterday, with more gushing for good measure.

The insertion of a few little words will make the DRIVE Act a virtual complete streets policy for the entire National Highway System (except interstates). Photo: ##http://www.ca-city.com/complete_streets/fundamentals.html##Crandall Arambula##
The insertion of a few little words into the DRIVE Act may lead to safer designs for walking and biking on major streets. Photo: ##http://www.ca-city.com/complete_streets/fundamentals.html##Crandall Arambula##
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None of the 30-odd amendments offered for the DRIVE Act passed, but the committee leadership did accept some changes in what’s called a manager’s amendment, a group of amendments agreed to by the chair and ranking member and inserted into the bill. By and large, these small changes improved upon some provisions that were already a step up from the current law, known as MAP-21.

Transportation Alternatives Program: The bill had already improved upon MAP-21’s version of Transportation Alternatives Program by giving all biking and walking money directly to local governments instead of giving half to the state. But in its original form, the DRIVE Act allowed states to take back half that money, making the “improvement” symbolic at best. The manager’s mark struck that part, meaning local communities will have the certainty that they can spend 100 percent of their biking and walking funds without fear of having some taken away.

Complete Streets: Inhofe and Boxer added the word “safety” in a key place: a provision requiring traffic engineers to consider “the access and safety” of non-automobile modes on non-interstate roads. According to Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists, “These two changes taken together come very close to a Complete Streets policy for the National Highway System.”

Research: A small transportation research grant program saw eligibility extended to local governments and metropolitan planning organizations, not just states.

Transportation for America laments that an amendment by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) wasn’t included in the manager’s mark. The measure would have folded the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act into the reauthorization, creating a small discretionary grant program in each state that could fund innovative street design projects.

With the EPW Committee’s unanimous and enthusiastic passage of the bill, all eyes turn to the other three Senate committees that will contribute to this bill: the Banking Committee, which writes the transit title, the Commerce Committee, which writes the rail and safety title, and the Finance Committee, which has the hardest job of all -- figuring out how to pay for it all.

With lawmakers about to leave for Independence Day recess, they’ll have less than four weeks to make all that happen, get the House on board, and get the president to sign the bill before the federal transportation program runs out of funding July 31.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

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