Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users
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The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (Pub.L. 109–59; SAFETEA-LU) was a funding and authorization bill that governed United States federal surface transportation spending. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 10, 2005, and expired on September 30, 2009.
The $244.1 billion measure contained a host of provisions and earmarks intended to improve and maintain the surface transportation infrastructure in the United States, including the interstate highway system, transit systems around the country, bicycling and pedestrian facilities, and freight rail operations.
Congress renewed its funding formulas ten times after its expiration date, until replacing the bill with Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act in 2012.
Support and opposition
In 2006 Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, championed a $207-million earmark inserted in the omnibus highway bill for the Prairie Parkway, a proposed expressway running through his district. The Sunlight Foundation accused Hastert of failing to disclose that the construction of the highway would benefit a land investment that Hastert and his wife made in nearby land in 2004 and 2005. Hastert took an unusually active role advancing the bill, even though it was opposed by a majority of area residents and by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The law garnered a large amount of bipartisan support, though support was not unanimous, particularly among those who believed it to be laden with too much pork barrel spending. Early versions of the bill budgeted over $300 billion, but President Bush promised to veto any surface transportation bill costing more than $256 billion. Eventually a compromise of $284 billion was reached, and signed into law by the President. When the speaker became frustrated by negotiations with White House staff, Hastert began working on the bill directly with President Bush. After passage the President even traveled to Hastert’s district for the law’s signing ceremony before thousands of workers in a Caterpillar Inc. factory.
Four months later Hastert sold the land for a 500% profit. Hastert’s net worth went from $300,000 to at least $6.2 million. Hastert received five-eighths of the proceeds of the sale of the land, turning a $1.8 million profit in under two years. Hastert's ownership interest in the tract was not a public record because the land was held by a blind land trust, Little Rock Trust No. 225. There were three partners in the trust: Hastert, Thomas Klatt, and Dallas Ingemunson. However, public documents only named Ingemunson, who was the Kendall County Republican Party chairman and Hastert's personal attorney and longtime friend. Hastert denied any wrongdoing. In October 2006, Norman Ornstein and Scott Lilly wrote that the Prairie Parkway affair was "worse than FoleyGate" and called for Hastert's resignation.
In 2012, after Hastert had departed from Congress, the highway project was killed after federal regulators retracted the 2008 approval of an environmental impact statement for the project and agreed to an Illinois Department of Transportation request to redirect the funds for other projects. Environmentalists, who opposed the project, celebrated its cancellation.
Though often touted as a "highway bill", SAFETEA-LU was also the primary source of funding for other modes of surface transportation, including transit. Notably, the bill included funding for the New Starts program, which among other things helped to fund most of the new rail transit systems that opened in the United States during this time period, as well as extensions to existing systems.
The New Freedom program was a new formula grant program authorized in SAFETEA-LU to support new public transportation services and public transportation alternatives beyond those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq.). This program is codified at 49 U.S.C. 5317.
The New Freedom Program grew out of the New Freedom Initiative introduced by the Bush Administration under Executive Order 13217, "Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities," on June 18, 2001. President Bush included funds for the New Freedom Program in the annual budget request to Congress since FY 2003; however, it was not until the enactment of SAFETEA–LU that funding was authorized by Congress. Funding was first appropriated for the transportation provision in Fiscal Year 2006.
"Bridge to Nowhere"
Among the many earmarks in the bill, one line item became particularly infamous. Over $200 million was apportioned for the construction of the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska, which would connect sparsely populated regions at tremendous cost. The bridge came to be known in the national media as the "Bridge to Nowhere," and is considered a quintessential example of pork barrel politics.
On March 2, 2011 when H.R. 662: Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 was up for debate there was a proposed motion to recommit the bill, argued for by Jared Polis, D-Colorado, in order to add an amendment to strip funding for this project that has shown up in previous bills' earmarks. When put to a vote "On Motion to Recommit with Instructions: H.R. 662 Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011" the vote "Failed 181-246, 5 not voting" The votes in support and against broke along party lines with only 7 Democrats voting against the motion and no Republicans voting for the motion.
In support Jared Polis (D)-Colorado (in part) argued @4:16:19: "This motion rescinds all remaining funds, about $183 million, provided for the planning, design, and construction of the two bridges under SAFETEA-LU" ...stoppage, Speaker Pro-Tempore requests house to be in order, then resumes... "This is a very simple choice, there's no politics in this, we're not changing other parts of the bill, we're not trying to catch people off, we're not trying to trap people for 30 second spots to say they're for pornography like as has been done in previous sessions while the bill is gutted elsewhere. What we're simply providing, is a clean vote on The Bridge to Nowhere. According to the CBO [(the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office)] this motion will reduce the deficit by $160 million by eliminating funding for these two bridges, nothing else."...
In opposition, Rep. John Mica (R)-Florida responded @4:18:42: "I rise in opposition to the motion to recommit." "Well congratulations my colleagues welcome to the era of smoke and mirrors and that's exactly what this motion to recommit is and I urge its defeat. And you heard the gentleman describing bridges and he again is trying to mislead the entire house on this particular motion to recommit. It is smoke and mirrors, and I urge the defeat of the motion to recommit."
- Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
- Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act
- Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act
- Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century
- "A Summary of Highway Provisions in SAFETEA-LU". FHWA.
- "Remembering Lu Young".
- Matea Gold & Anu Narayanswamy, How Dennis Hastert made a fortune in land deals, The Washington Post (May 29, 2015).
- Melissa McNamara, Speaker Hastert's Land Deal Questioned, CBS/Associated Press (June 22, 2006).
- Paul Merrion, Group claims Hastert benefited from highway bill, Crain's Chicago Business (June 14, 2006).
- Norman Ornstein & Scott Lilly, Worse than FoleyGate, New Republic (October 13, 2006) (reprinted by the Center for American Progress).
- "Compromise Highway Bill Completed After Two-Year Clash." In CQ Almanac 2005, 61st ed., 18-3-18-7. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 2006.
- James Kimberly & Andrew Zajac, From the archives: How Hastert benefited from real estate sale, Chicago Tribune (June 18, 2006).
- Hastert's Prairie Parkway suffers two likely fatal blows, Crain's Chicago Business (August 23, 2012).
- "FTA - Formula Grants - New Freedom Program (5317)". Federal Transit Administration. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- "FTA Authorization Fact Sheet - New Freedom Program" (PDF). Federal Transit Administration. September 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- H.R. 662, Legislation. GovTrack.us. Retrieved March 4, 2011. "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011"
- H.R. 662 Roll Call Votes, Legislation. GovTrack.us. Retrieved March 4, 2011. "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 Roll Call Votes"
- House Session Mar 2, 2011, Legislation. c-spanvideo.org. Retrieved March 4, 2011. " C-SPAN Video Library "
- U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Federal-Aid Highways: Trends, Effect on State Spending, and Options for Future Program Design,” GAO-04-802, 2004.
- National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, “Transportation for Tomorrow,” 2008.
- Bush signs highway bill into law
- Full text of SAFETEA-LU
- Impact of SAFETEA-LU on California's Transportation Program
- 112th Congress (2011) (Feb 11, 2011). "House Vote #159 (Mar 2, 2011)". Legislation. GovTrack.us. Retrieved March 4, 2011.
On Motion to Recommit with Instructions: H R 662 Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011