Groups Call for Feds to Invest Transportation Funds in Local Jobs, Clean Air

Representatives Jeff Denham and John Mica Hold Hearing in Fresno on Federal Bill

February 22, 2011, Fresno, California – Advocates packed a closed hearing today to call for reauthorization of the nation’s federal transportation bill, which will go through a crucial committee chaired by Florida Republican Congressman John Mica and including freshman California Congressman Jeff Denham. Fresno is one of 14 locations Rep. Mica will visit as part of a series of national field hearings and public forums on the pending major surface transportation legislation.

The San Joaquin Valley faces an unemployment rate hovering around 18%, the highest in California. The region also leads the nation in air pollution, with transportation contributing a whopping 80% of pollutants. Transportation investments, if targeted correctly, could create local jobs and significantly cut air pollution, setting the stage for a healthier future in the Valley.

“The Valley’s air quality woes are a burden on our economy – for businesses, as well as for households struggling to cope with rising fuel costs, asthma and other diseases, and neighborhoods where it’s unsafe for children to walk and play,” said Elizabeth Jonasson of the Coalition for Clean Air.

“We need federal investment in infrastructure solutions, such as bus rapid transit and cleaner freight rail, that will cut down on air pollution and offer more options for everyone, to support a comprehensive air pollution reduction strategy in the Valley.”

The nationwide meetings with state and local officials and transportation stakeholders is designed to help inform the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s drafting of a long-term reauthorization of the nation’s highway, transit, and highway safety programs.

The San Joaquin Valley is particularly primed to take advantage of transportation funding to leverage economic growth. The first phase of California’s high-speed rail project, planned to extend from Fresno to Bakersfield, is expected to yield 80,000 jobs in the region, and accommodate increased travel with clean, efficient trains.

“Investing in high-speed rail will put the San Joaquin Valley back to work now building communities for the future,” said Daniel Krause, Executive Director of Californians for High Speed Rail. “Support for this project is evident throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and we’re further ahead than anywhere else in the nation. Yet to fulfill this vision and realize the full impact, Congress must commit to long-term funding for a national high-speed rail program that includes California.”

“We must invest in 21st century transportation infrastructure that breaks our addiction to oil, protects clean air and public health, and provides transportation choices to all Americans while putting the country back to work,” said Chip Ashley, Sierra Club California Executive Committee member and Fresno County resident.

“We look forward to working with members of the Committees to achieve these goals.”
Additionally, a recently awarded $4 million federal Sustainable Communities Grant will help the Valley’s cities conduct strategic planning to guide new development and transportation priorities through the Smart Valley Places program.

“Transportation investments shape not only our economy, but also the very structure of our
communities,” said Mayor Virginia Madueno of Riverbank. “As the San Joaquin Valley develops local land use and transportation plans to shape our future, federal transportation dollars will make or break our efforts to create regions with more choices and sustainable communities. Smart growth policies can make our communities better places to live, but only if we have access to transportation programs that support options like public transportation, walking, and biking.”

“We’re already working together to solve these problems here in the region,” said Mike Dozier, Lead Executive of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. “If the federal government can align transportation policy with local strategies for cleaning the air and strengthening the economy, it would provide a huge boost to our efforts. We are most efficient when we work together.”

And efficiency is the name of the game in a still-struggling economy. The most cost-effective options are those that help communities and households stretch dollars farther while still achieving the desired results.

“Mile for mile, dollar for dollar, investments in biking and walking facilities are extremely cost-effective,” said Ed Smith, Chair of the Fresno County Bicycle Coalition. “Fresno recently added 30 miles of new bike lanes that will improve safety and mobility for all road users. The price tag was a fraction of what you’d pay for similar increases in automobile capacity, and the value of these projects will only increase as our bike network grows.”

The need is clear, but Washington is a long way away. The Valley needs Representatives Denham and Mica to advocate for investment in cleaner transportation options if our region is to thrive in the decades to come.

“It’s not every day that the San Joaquin Valley welcomes a visit from the chairman of a committee that can really make an impact on our lives,” said Jonasson. “Hopefully Congressmen Mica and Denham hear what San Joaquin residents are demanding—we want more transportation options, local jobs and less air pollution.”