Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky wants to fix the federal Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill with a couple of super-important amendments.
First of all, the budget-conscious senator wants us to stop sending military money to Egypt, because, “based upon current law, which the United States is legally prohibited from providing foreign assistance to nations that experience a military coups d'état [sic].” The money saved, per his amendment, would go to repair bridges here in the United States.
Another amendment Paul is pushing to get money for bridge repair? He wants to cut all funding to the Transportation Alternatives Fund, which pays for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, environmental mitigation, safe routes to school projects, and other initiatives to make it easier for people not in cars to get around without being killed.
If Paul has his way, the $800 million in the program – roughly the federal equivalent of the change you’d find in your couch, representing just 2 percent of total federal transportation dollars – would also be redirected to fixing the nation's bridges.
What good would that do for Paul’s home state of Kentucky, to take one example? Well, as Tanya Snyder pointed out last week at Streetsblog, not a whole lot. The state receives less than $13 million in Transportation Alternatives funding, of which it can already divert half to whatever it wants. The Federal Highway Administration estimates the state needs $952 million to fix its bridge-related problems.
Paul tried to eliminate Transportation Alternatives funding back in 2011, too, accusing it of being used for “beautification projects” such as "movie theaters, squirrel sanctuaries, turtle tunnels and flower beds.” Never mind that it actually goes toward building bike lanes, sidewalks, and countless other facilities that allow the nation’s citizens to move around cities and suburbs safely. That amendment failed, 38-60, and opposition to his current effort has already formed.
So why should we care about Paul’s kneejerk resistance to facilities for people on foot and on bicycle? Because this is, believe it or not, a man that many see as one of the Republicans’ best and brightest hopes for the 2016 presidential election. In a poll conducted last week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, Paul has emerged as the Republican frontrunner in that far-off race. And his opposition to drones and NSA surveillance is winning him fans on the left as well as the right.
So it's worth keeping in mind in the campaign-saturated months and years leading up to the next presidential election that Paul has consistently failed to recognize the growing importance of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to the physical and economic health of this country. Not only that, he has repeatedly and actively tried to crush it.
He may be promoting himself as the future of the GOP, but his attitude toward transportation is dangerously antiquated.
Top image: Sen. Rand Paul departs the weekly Republican caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)