Alternative Transportation: Why we need it and what MCV is doing to support public transportation in Montana.

Gas prices are soaring and most of us are feeling the sting when we fill up the tank in our car this summer. Wouldn’t it be nice to travel around our state without a hit to our wallet and our planet?

In Montana, using non-motorized or public transit isn’t always an option.  Montana Conservation Voters is working with a broad coalition, T4 America, comprised of national, state and local organizations, to reform the federal transportation bill from a policy largely focused on building and maintaining highways into one with clearly identified national goals that promote smart growth, public and non-motorized transit, and reductions in the lengths we drive.

The single biggest opportunity to influence U.S. transportation policy is the federal transportation bill, which expired in September 2009 and is reauthorized every six years. While the ratio of highway to transit funds has traditionally been about 4 to 1, we are working to ensure that a larger portion of the funding goes to transit and other low-carbon transportation options.

Last week, MCV and other statewide organizations signed on to a letter asking our congressional delegation to support more funding for public transportation, citing the positive benefits it would have for our environment and the folks who cannot or do not drive.   You can read the letter here.

Montana Conservation Voters, along with the many partners in the Transportation for America coalition, are also supporting legislation that would increase requirements that streets are designed to meet the needs of all users – pedestrians, cyclists, public transit riders, children, the elderly and those with disabilities – not just cars. This legislation, recently introduced by Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH), H.R. 1780 “The Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011,” builds on these same “complete streets” improvements that over 200 local municipalities and 23 states have already gotten underway.

Another important piece of legislation being considered is the Rural Marker bill, which would help folks in rural Montana reach vital services. The bill, also known as Transportation for Rural Communities and Small Towns, would consider the needs of rural communities and increase funding to boost access and connectivity. In particular, the bill would establish a competitive grant program that would allow small cities and towns—in non-metropolitan areas and on tribal reservations—to revitalize their existing town centers, promote economic development, leverage private dollars with public investments and provide a variety of transportation options, including car sharing, accessible walking and biking paths, intercity buses and public transportation.

How can you help? You can start by reading more information about what’s happening federally regarding transportation and educate yourself on why we need public transportation and safer streets here in Montana. Then you should contact Representative Rehberg and tell him to support more public transportation funding in the transportation bill, as well as HR 1780, “The Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011”. You can also contact Senator Baucus and Senator Tester about this important issue!