The Elections and Transportation in 2021

Now that Election week is over, and Joe Biden has been declared the next President, we wanted to take a few minutes to look forward to 2021.

However, a big question still remains to be answered: whether the Senate is in Republican or Democratic hands will have to wait until January for the run-off elections in the two Georgia Senate races.  If one or both are won by Republicans, the Senate will continue to be run by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  If both are won by Democrats, the Democrats will take over control, but with any close vote requiring the Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris to break the tie.

President-elect Biden released a detailed plan during his campaign calling for a significant investment in infrastructure that would convert vehicles to clean power, expand rail and public transportation, and increase safe infrastructure for walking and biking.  Altogether, his plan, which also included housing, clean energy technology, clean power, and other items tallied up to a $2 trillion investment over four years, paid for through a tax increase on corporations and high-income Americans. His priorities are repeated on the transition website.

President-elect Biden’s plan coincides neatly with the need for Congress to pass a new surface transportation law, given that current law has been extended only through September 2021.  House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair DeFazio (D-OR) has indicated that Biden’s team has shown support for moving quickly on infrastructure, as early as February 2021.  However, even in a Democratic Senate, the very tight margins will make it challenging to do transformational reform, particularly given the significant cost of a bill like that, which would require either tax increases or deficit spending to move forward.  The COVID pandemic could also affect timing:  while transportation can be a good stimulus to jumpstart jobs and the economy, the pandemic would need to be improving for Congress to shift attention towards recovery. 

On the climate front, he has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  While some of these goals can be accomplished through the regulatory process, such as rolling back the Trump administration’s rules that weaken environmental protections and increase fuel economy standards.  Other goals would require Congress, which will hinge on the final outcome in the Senate early next year.

Given these limitations and the outstanding question of Senate control, it remains to be seen whether Congress will start with the more conservative, bipartisan Senate transportation bill or the more progressive, climate-focused House transportation bill (which was attached to a broader and bigger climate-focused bill).  Either way, we are hopeful for biking and walking, as we had strong wins in both the House and Senate bills.  And, hopefully a good transportation bill will be able to make it over the legislative finish line this year.