Democratic control of the U.S. Senate creates a path to a new green infrastructure bill that has eluded sustainable transportation advocates for decades.
With victories now projected in the dual Georgia runoffs in favor of both Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Senate Democrats will soon welcome two more advocates for green transportation reform to their ranks just in time to pass a replacement for the deeply auto-centric Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which will expire in September. Sources close to President-Elect Joe Biden have said the new administration could begin its push for a new infrastructure bill as soon as February, and the new Senate is widely expected to move immediately to secure additional COVID-19 relief for state and local governments and transportation providers.
Both Ossoff and Warnock voiced a strong commitment to expanding access to climate-friendly transportation alternatives during their respective campaigns. Warnock called for a major reinvestment “in a clean economy based on green transportation and energy infrastructure,” and specifically cited the importance of “improving and expanding public transportation” along with “investing in multi-modal transit to build communities of roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks.” (He also committed to “repairing our crumbling roads and bridges,” which is basically the center square on the Bingo card of U.S. politician buzzwords.)
Ossoff placed less emphasis on the particulars of this green energy wish-list in his campaign materials, opting instead for more open-ended promises, like a push for “an unprecedented American infrastructure program that includes big, overdue investments in transportation and transit,” as well as more moderate objectives, like reversing Trump-era rollbacks on fuel economy standards. The soon-to-be youngest Senator in the country was more specific on Twitter, where he offered a brief, emoji-studded love-letter to light rail and greenbelts in March.
Neither senator-elect has been quite so outspoken connecting police racism to street safety, though both Ossoff and Warnock each noted general racial disparities in policing and the need to demilitarize law enforcement and end mass incarceration in America. Both emphasized a need for reform over abolition, and neither specifically cited racist police brutality as a barrier to transportation access, which it is.
Still, some advocates remained optimistic that the Georgia election results could at least position the Senate to pass a range of transformative infrastructure investments that, if done right, could become profound tools for mobility justice, and help repair the damage wrought by decades of racist transportation policy.