An obscure program that is a fraction of the total spending at the Department of Transportation has been receiving a lot of attention in recent weeks. Known as the transportation enhancement (TE) program, the initiative requires that state transportation departments use at least 10 percent of their federal Surface Transportation Program allocation for projects such as bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways, or trails, for example.

Even though the requirement makes up only about 2 percent of all federal highway spending, curbing or eliminating the program was the subject of several amendments during the recent floor debate in the Senate of the FY 2012 Department of Transportation appropriations bill. While none of the amendments were approved, they demonstrated the degree to which the TE program has become a target in Congress.

It appears that changes to the program in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill are almost a certainty. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and panel Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) have hinted that while the program will survive, the 10 percent mandate for state DOTs may be lifted. House Transportation & Infrastructure committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) is likely to eliminate the program in his highway bill proposal.

However, a recent examination by the Associated Press of the claims made by TE opponents in the Senate showed that many of the projects that were criticized actually received no federal transportation funding.

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