As 2010 winds to a close and Americans reflect on what we've struggled through together over the past year, it's easy to feel discouraged. Just 17% of Americans say they're satisfied with the way things are going in this country. Official unemployment is still nearly 10 percent -- that's 15 million people unable to find work. If you include workers who are underemployed and those no longer looking for work, the number jumps to 25 million people.
When it comes to the fight for transportation access and equity, there have also been disappointments. The transformative six-year transportation bill so many of us have been fighting for has not yet come to fruition. One of America's leading Congressional champions for equity in transportation, Rep. James Oberstar, did not win re-election in November. The economic crisis has led to brutal service cuts, fare hikes, and layoff of transit workers in every part of the country.
The truth is, 2010 wasn't an easy year for anyone. And that's what makes the string of transportation equity victories we've won together this year even more extraordinary.
Just as 2010 began, advocates for smart growth and healthy communities scored a major victory when the USDOT adopted new livability-based funding guidelines for major transit projects, overturning narrow Bush-era criteria and fulfilling a longtime TEN demand.
Shortly after, TEN member ISAIAH and the Stops for Us coalition successfully argued that a planned light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul should include three additional stops in underserved, low-income communities.
In February, a federal civil rights complaint by TEN member GENESIS and allies stopped the use of $70 million in stimulus funds for a rail project that would have violated the Civil Rights Act.
In April, TEN member MCU and allies led a successful campaign in support of a ballot initiative to reinvest in transit in St. Louis city and country. Voters overwhelmingly supported a half-cent sales tax that will provide $75 million a year for transit service.
This May, following calls from TEN and national allies to support transit options for the most vulnerable Americans, the USDOT released $775 million in federal funds to help transit systems maintain and upgrade their bus systems.
In September, just four days after TEN's report More Transit = More Jobs refocused national attention on transit's job-creation potential, President Obama proposed $50 billion in transportation infrastructure investments as a path to job creation and economic development.
In November, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $600 million in grants for innovative transit projects through the TIGER II program. Thanks to the work of Ron Achelpohl and other community leaders from TEN member MORE2, all $600 million of the grants will include strong workforce equity requirements -- provisions to ensure that the projects will benefit low-income workers and other disadvantaged communities.
These are just a few of the victories TEN and its allies won over the past 12 months, in spite of the enormous challenges facing transit and equity advocates -- and all Americans.
That's why we're ending 2010 hopeful and energized for the year ahead. Just last week, TEN launched a national letter-writing campaign asking President Obama to support transit in the upcoming federal budget.
If you'd like to get involved, visit our website and consider writing a letter to the President telling him how important transit is to you and your community. Together, we can continue to transform transportation policy in 2011 and beyond to create a more just, prosperous, and connected America
Follow Laura Barrett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TransportEquity