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 $286.4 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[edit]

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. 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.


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.[citation needed]

New Freedom[edit]

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.[1]

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.[2]

"Bridge to Nowhere"[edit]

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[3] 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"[4] 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:[5] "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:[5] "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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FTA - Formula Grants - New Freedom Program (5317)". Federal Transit Administration. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "FTA Authorization Fact Sheet - New Freedom Program" (PDF). Federal Transit Administration. September 2005. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  3. ^ H.R. 662, Legislation. Retrieved March 4, 2011. "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011"
  4. ^ H.R. 662 Roll Call Votes, Legislation. Retrieved March 4, 2011. "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 Roll Call Votes"
  5. ^ a b House Session Mar 2, 2011, Legislation. 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.

External links[edit]

  • 112th Congress (2011) (Feb 11, 2011). "House Vote #159 (Mar 2, 2011)". Legislation. Retrieved March 4, 2011. On Motion to Recommit with Instructions: H R 662 Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011