Wednesday, October 20, 2004

De-Sprawling The Highway Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Among the big-ticket items it didn't get around to this fall, Congress failed to finish work on a six-year transportation spending package. Even a $299 billion compromise between House and Senate versions, 37% bigger than the 1998 highway bill and reportedly backed by the White House, fell short of coming to a vote.

Good riddance, according to Don Chen, executive director of the anti-sprawl group Smart Growth America. "We prefer extension of the debate to passage of a bad bill," he says. "We're still looking to see a bill that actually carries out the wishes of the American people."

For Chen and colleagues, those wishes are embodied in the goals of the "smart growth" movement: to reduce traffic, preserve open space and develop communities where people can get to work and leisure without their cars. In policy terms, that means favoring repair of existing roads over new construction, creating incentives for transit-oriented real estate development, and more funding for mass transit and programs to encourage walking and biking.

This is no easy agenda to push at the federal level, especially given legislators' historic fondness for laying pavement. But as far as the highway bill goes, smart growth proponents at least have some time to press their case. Two weeks ago, President George W. Bush extended existing transportation spending laws through the end of next May.

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