03/21/2012 08:49 am ET Updated May 21, 2012

The Road Forward on Transportation Policy

By Karen Hopper, Policy Fellow, NCLR

Since Latinos in America represent both the fastest-growing segment of the labor force and those most dependent upon public transit and safe pedestrian options, it is essential that Congress send a comprehensive transportation reauthorization to President Obama before time runs out. Current transportation funding is set to expire March 31, and while the Senate has acted to reauthorize funding, representatives continue to drag their feet.

The federal government finances half or more of the capital investments to build, maintain, and improve roads, bridges, railways, and other transportation systems, with a match from state and local governments, making transportation authorization an essential component in our economic recovery by creating jobs and keeping commuters safe on their way to work and school.

Last week, the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill with a bipartisan vote of 74-22. While it is likely that House leadership will make way for a short-term extension of current law, the long-term fate is uncertain. Further stalling is detrimental to businesses and local government and threatens millions of jobs. While the House is likely to consider stopgap measures to temporarily extend funding beyond the March 31 deadline, there is no path forward with HR 7, the destructive House version of surface transportation authorization. NCLR calls upon Speaker John Boehner and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate bill to keep Americans at work and our commuters safe.

The Senate bill, titled "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century," or MAP-21, includes provisions that will expand research opportunities that focus on the needs of communities that are most dependent on reliable and affordable public transportation. Since people of color, low-income people, and people with disabilities are disproportionally affected by the decisions of transit agencies, these research opportunities go a long way toward understanding how to make systems more efficient for all. The Senate also voted to hold states accountable for safe upkeep of roads and bridges, extend the commuter benefit for transit users, and preserve funding to make our streets safer for bikers and walkers.

The MAP-21 also creates or saves nearly 3 million jobs. Overall, the transportation and utilities industry employs a staggering 7.1 million workers per year. Since the transportation sector is responsible for adding a significant share of new jobs that are helping the economy recover, especially within Latino communities, it is essential that the House of Representatives act quickly by considering MAP-21 in its own chamber.

While there are still improvements that could be made to the overall bill, NCLR is pleased that the Senate overcame partisan gridlock in order to prevent actual gridlock for millions of Americans. Now it is time for the House of Representatives to do the same--or we could face another obstacle in the road to economic recovery.