House panel drives past bicycle advocates

A bill to block use of gas tax funds for bike and pedestrian projects won approval of the House Transportation Committee Tuesday, reports the Times-Free Press.

The committee voted 8-6 in favor of House Bill 1650, despite the impassioned pleas of bicycling advocates who made their case before the panel.

The bill, which would greatly restrict the use of gas tax revenue in the development of bicycle lanes, also was addressed by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means committee on Tuesday.

That committee chose to roll the bill another week to give its members ample time to evaluate the bill, which came with a negative recommendation from a Senate subcommittee.

“I am here to urge you today to heed the recommendation of your colleagues and oppose this dangerous legislation,” Bike Walk Tennessee President Anthony Siracusa told the Senate committee. “We here in Tennessee will soon have the unenviable task of deciding whether to raise the state gas tax, and my primary point here today is that this issue of how we fund biking and walking in our great state should be part of this larger discussion of transportation in Tennessee, and not dealt with piecemeal in a small, single bill.”

Senate sponsor Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, attributed the bill’s negative recommendation to himself for not properly articulating its purpose to the subcommittee two weeks before.

Hours later, Siracusa and Bike Walk Tennessee executive director Matt Farr sat before the House transportation committee to again make a case against the legislation.

They were met with an aggressive defense of the bill by several committee members before the bill ultimately advanced to the finance committee, which House sponsor Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, has said will be a formality since an amended version of the bill has no fiscal note.