AASHTO Journal, 2 March 2012
“This is the biggest reform bill for transportation going back 50 years,” Tymon said. “We are trying to really streamline the programs on the highway side. More flexibility will be given back to the states. We are funneling more money as a percentage than has been done in 20 years through formulas back to state DOTs so state DOTs can choose which projects to fund without Congress telling them.”
HR 7 would eliminate all discretionary programs except for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan account, which would receive $1 billion per year, a large increase from the current $122 million authorized for credit assistance. It also contains provisions to speed up project planning and construction.
“You know your priorities better, so you should choose which projects to fund,” Tymon said of state DOTs. “Almost everything in our bill from a streamlining point of view has been generated by state DOTs out there or AASHTO.”
AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley concurred that the House bill contains numerous provisions that state DOTs support, saying that House T&I Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Florida, “has led a process that has produced one of the best state-friendly bills we’ve seen in generations.”
Tymon stressed that there’s not a lot of difference between the current House and Senate bills regarding programmatic changes.
Homer Carlisle, a staff member for the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, agreed. Carlisle, whose committee has Senate jurisdiction over mass-transit programs, said work is already underway at the staff level to begin reconciling some of the differing provisions in advance of a formal House/Senate conference committee, which would meet if both chambers pass their bills. The current surface transportation authorization law expires March 31. (see related stories for this week’s developments on the House and Senate bills)
Carlisle highlighted important transit provisions in S 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, including authorizing $10.4 billion per year for public-transportation programs this and next fiscal years (maintaining current funding levels plus inflation), offering more investment for “state of good repair” maintenance efforts by shifting previously earmarked accounts to guaranteed formula funding, and speeding up the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts review process for new transit capital projects.
“If a transit agency can meet certain pre-established criteria, it should not have to go through the entire New Starts process, which can take up to 10 years,” Carlisle said.
A slideshow of Washington Briefing photographs is available at bit.ly/WB12slideshow. This week’s “Transportation TV News Update” covering the Washington Briefing is available at www.TransportationTV.org.